Frontier Silicon Trials Roadster Automotive DAB Module

Frontier Silicon Trials Roadster Automotive DAB ModuleAutomotive DAB market gets a boost with successful road trials and three new design wins for Frontier Silicon.

In possibly the longest sentence we’ve ever read in an announcement (68 words long!), Frontier Silicon breathlessly informed us of the success of their trials with the Roadster automotive DAB module.

The Roadster module, launched last year, is based on the award winning DAB technology already in use in over 70% of DAB radios on the market today.

The module allows OEM (original equipment manufacturer) fitting of DAB into integrated head units in the car, giving drivers a wide choice of DAB services.

In addition, the module supports telematics features such as Traffic Message Channel (TMC), TPEG and other emerging traffic data services at the full DAB decode rate.

The vertically mounted module is a fully shielded, self-contained complete system featuring Eureka 147 DAB receiver, dual band (Band III and L-band) high performance RF front end, base band processor, power supply, flash memory for program and data storage, additional random access memory and a full suite of firmware.

The Roadster module operates from a single 3.3V supply, pulling just 800mW power while decoding DAB, and also includes a phantom antenna power supply to support active antenna arrangements.

Frontier Silicon Trials Roadster Automotive DAB ModuleThe whole caboodle measures only 55mm x 37mm x 13mm and is designed to mount inside a 1DIN radio/CD player.

Steve Evans, VP sales, Frontier Silicon, opened up his big book of industry buzzwords and let rip: “The automotive Infotainment market is an exciting area and a natural extension of the consumer DAB radio market which we have successfully helped to grow over the last three years.”

“The key factors that enabled our Roadster module to be successful in Winning the design slots with these manufacturers are its RF performance, power consumption and small size as well as the robust and feature-rich firmware that we are able to supply alongside the module. The ability to support TMC on the module was also considered an advantage.” He added, “We are looking forward to seeing the first production cars later this year with DAB functionality enabled by the Roadster module.”

Frontier Silicon

Frontier Silicon Raises $28m For DAB And Mobile TV Chip Tech

 Frontier Silicon, the British company that makes chips for mobile digital television and digital radio products, has completed it US$28 million (€21m/£14.5m) investment round funding.

Irish venture capital firm ACT led the US$28 million investment in Frontier Silicon, with other participants in the venture funding round being Apax Partners, AltaBerkeley Venture Partners, Quilvest and Bluerun Ventures (formerly known as Nokia Venture Partners).

Frontier Silicon has developed two new products, the Apollo chip and Kino chip, which allow mobile phones to receive and record television programmes on their mobile phones, electronic organisers or MP3 players.

Anthony Sethill, founder and chief executive of Frontier Silicon, said that the money raised would be used for product development and marketing purposes.

He boldly predicted that half of all mobile phones would be capable of receiving television programmes within a year or so at an additional cost to the user of under $50 (€37/£26).

Frontier Silicon currently employs 60 people between its English, Hong Kong and Chinese operations and boasted a turnover of more than $30 million (€22.7m/£15.6m) in 2004.

 “This latest investment allows us to aggressively target and drive market share in the emerging mobile digital television market in the same way that we have established our chips in over 70 percent of DAB digital radios,” said Anthony Sethill.

Frontier Silicon produces chips for DAB digital radios, with its customers including such industry heavyweights as Bang & Olufsen, Grundig, Hitachi, Philips and Samsung.

The company also delivered the world’s first complete system-on-chip designs for DAB digital radio as well as the world’s first Combined Digital TV and Radio Chip.

Frontier Silicon

DAB Brings Multimedia to Mobiles

DAB brings multimedia to mobiles In an announcement apparently penned by a writer playing buzzword bingo, the WorldDAB Forum promises to demonstrate “the growing synergy between DAB digital radio and mobile technologies”.

Reading between the acronyms and industry double-speak, let us translate. DABsters are getting pretty darn excited about the future and in our view, rightly so. The possibilities of using the data segment of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) to economically send out data to large groups of people has a huge potential.

Following the tremendous growth of DAB digital radios in UK homes (over a million units sold), and sales of audio products growing across Europe, the telecom industry is looking to get a slice of the action.

With the ability of DAB chips to be integrated into new mobiles (or added by software tweaking to existing handsets), telecom operators are being enticed with the prospect of increasing their ARPU (that’s ‘Average Revenue Per User’ to normal people).

And what better way to get their ARPU soaring than by developing DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) technology to use the DAB platform?

Within the industry they discuss such things as “early investment offering operators the opportunity to position themselves strategically and gain a market advantage for the future” as well as enthusing about “DAB offering audio and video streaming over DAB based on both MPEG 2 transport streams and IP”.

Or to put it another way, the new technology will allow telecom providers to transmit television, video and data to mobile devices alongside existing DAB radio services and charge punters for the privilege.

The market is large. There’s already a well established DAB network infrastructure reaching 80% of Europe, with over 600 DAB services capable of reaching 330 million people in 40 countries.

LG Electronics has already launched the first DMB mobile and several countries in Europe are already lining up to start DMB trials as early as Q2 2005.

The technology sounds great. When we hear more, we’ll attempt to translate it into English again.

If you fancy a weekend talking in acronyms, pop along to the World DAB forum, Hall 5, Stands M42 – M56 at 3GSM 2005, February 14 – 17 in Cannes.
WorldDAB Forum (PDF file)

DAB EPG for Bug Launches – Radio TiVo

PURE Bug with EPGPURE Digital announced today that it’s offering support for an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) for the Bug DAB digital radio.

Using the EPG, Bug users will be able to browse the programmes coming up over the next 7-days, read additional information about them and select them for recording. In the same vein as a Personal Video Recorder (DVR), does this make it a DRR – Digital Radio Recorder?

While the Bug has been able to record and rewind live DAB radio since its release (in May 2004) onto SD memory, the addition of the 7-day EPG provides the another piece to make it perform like a TiVo. It is the first DAB radio to support an EPG.

The EPG system has been in development for about a year. Back in September 2004, Jonathan Marks highlighted ETSI Doc. number TS 102 818) that is part of the Eureka 147 DAB standard, under the auspices of WorldDAB.

The final version of the Bug EPG software release is expected in Q1/2005, after completion of the EPG trials.

The EPG software that runs in the Bug was created by Ensigma and the EPG Management system that runs at the radio stations has been developed by Unique Interactive.

DAB radio is becoming accepted by the UK listener. Last week it was announced that over 1 million DAB radios had been sold in the UK with a forecast of a further 1.2m in 2005.

PURE Digital is a consumer products division of Imagination Technologies, who were originally called Videologic many moons ago.

Buy the PURE Bug from Amazon UK

The Bug – EPG Trial v1.3; release notes
Unique Interactive

Bug images, courtesy of Unique Interactive

HD Radio – More Channels or Music Sales to Bring Income?

The US radio industry is looking to make additional income from music downloads, we’re told by Reuters – while listening to the radio, they’ll be able to select the playing track for paid download.

The piece announces the catch-all snappy name of HD Radio, that’s iBiquity Digital’s offering, which digitised the FM and AM bands. European readers will be well aware of equivalent FM services under the banner of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) which has been available for a considerable period of time, and the currently lesser known drm (Digital Radio Mondial, not Digital Rights Management) which offers FM-quality listening on the AM frequencies.

The benefits brought by HD Radio/DAB/drm are digital compression of the audio, enabling more radio stations to be broadcast on the same amount of frequency. As the broadcast is digital, additional information can be distributed with it, such as the name of the artist and track playing.

As with all things compressed for digital distribution, there is a balacing act between number of stations and the audio quality of those stations. Digital doesn’t have to equal quality. The quality of the audio isn’t assured – the amount of the compression directly controls the quality.

US “terrestrial radio”, as it is being called by some to differentiate it from its satellite-delivered competitor, is under pressure from numerous sources; satellite radio (XM AND Sirius); Nokia’s Visual Radio; Internet-based radio stations; digital music player; podcasting, and don’t appear to have acted that quickly to respond.

The current cost of radios to receive HD radio are in the range of $500-$1,000 (~€382-€764, ~£270-£540), but as we’ve seen in the UK with DAB, it’s just a matter of time before these drop to the £49 (~€70, ~$91) levels, as more efficient chip sets become developed and a mass market is formed.

We found the comments by Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of distribution development at the dominant US radio station company, Clear Channel, the most illuminating, “We don’t think the business model associated with downloads is nearly as attractive as adding additional audio channels.”

In Clear Channels view there’s still more money to be made from advertising revenue than from music downloads, not least because they don’t have to share the revenue raised with the record companies – who are not known for their willingness to take small proportion of sales.

Radio Broadcasters Mull Digital Music Stores: Reuters

DAB Gets Big pre-Xmas Push from BBC

BBC DAB Xmas campaignThe BBC will be launching a multi-format campaign starting at the end of November to promote Digital Radio in the run up to Xmas. It’s being previewed in London today.

Running across TV, radio, online (including the BBC home page) and posters, it will be a comprehensive campaign. The TV element, which airs this Saturday, will use animations of a computer-generated world to relate its message, marketing news site reveals (reg. req.). In the piece, Robert Senior, the managing partner from the company that created the campaign, Fallon, goes on about a “wider spectrum of emotions” – but that’s quotes from marketing publications for you.

An industry insider tells us that this year the BBC will highlight what makes DAB special, rather than just talking about their additional channels, as happened last year. DAB features such as digital-quality sound and scrolling text should be highlighted.

This is a big year for DAB in the UK. Each of the major electronics retailers will be featuring DAB equipment prominently in their advertising. This year DAB receivers have also been in all of the glossy magazine with them falling over themselves to feature DAB in their publications. Last year they wouldn’t touch it.

The BBC’s isn’t the only campaign. The Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB) will be running a campaign over 257 commercial radio stations around the UK telling all and sundry that receivers can be bought for ‘under £50’.

The desired effect of all of this should be two fold. To give a boost to the sale of DAB receivers, at a time people are starting to think about presents for their friends and relatives; as well re-reminding the UK public that there is a wider variety of radio content available over DAB than on the analogue channels.

We learnt from the DRDB that 801,000 DAB units had been sold in the UK in the year to September. Their sales target for this year? “We’re aiming for 1 to 1.2m units before the end of the year” Ian Dickens, Chief Exec of DRDB told us.

With over 100 models now available in many different forms factors, they’ve got a strong chance of hitting it.

Rajar Propose Move to Electronic Measurement

Rajar, Joint Radio Audience Research Ltd, has published its roadmap for updating the way that it measures radio audiences in the UK.

The schedule includes a tendering process to begin in April 2005, with the new contract to be awarded in September 2005, or later. After that, new versions of the Arbitron Portable People Meter (PPM) and the GfK Radiocontrol systems will be vaildated and tested, alongside a new meter from Eurisko.

Sally de la Bedoyere, managing director of RAJAR, said in a statement: “The RAJAR roadmap to enhanced radio audience measurement is ambitious, but certainly achievable. It is the final stage of a journey RAJAR began in 2001 and it leads to a seismic change in radio audience measurement, namely the possible move to electronic measurement. We are optimistic that, by 2007, we will be heralding the introduction of an audio-meter based methodology, which measures analogue, digital, digital TV and Internet listening and we shall continue to work vigorously in the pursuit of this goal.”

Kelvin Mackenzie has already announced that the tests are “twaddle”, and indeed his Wireless Group is suing Rajar, as they are claiming lost revenue due to the lack of an electronic measurement system.


Gadget review of IBC04

IBC was good this year. There was real stuff to see. Ideas that were whispered two or three years ago are now products you can play with rather than vapourware. But you had to be cheeky to find some of them. Marching up to the stands with a request for a 90 second product demonstration certainly helped to cut through the sales bitch, sorry, pitch. Camera man Dave Allen and I spent a couple of days preparing our "gadget safari", looking for products, including software, of interest to the independent producer.

The Long Slow Fade
I am currently making a documentary on DV-CAM about the (slow) death of analogue radio. The question is whether digital radio will replace it in the form we were all expecting five years ago. In the UK, DAB is working. Elsewhere on the continent, it is a mixed bag. In Holland, for instance, the Dutch public broadcasters have stuck 6 of their channels on the air. But there is no added value for listening on DAB – the data is just the RDS feed and, with so few mountains, people are not writing to their favourite FM stations complaining about reception. Commercial broadcasters, still smarting from a crazy Dutch government auction of FM frequencies, refuse to play the DAB ball until they see a way of getting a return on investment.

With hindsight, the radio dial is the worst human interface ever invented. Millions of pounds of valuable content is hidden behind a number – or in the old days the name of the transmitter site! Do you know anyone who sorts their address book by their friends phone number? If you do, probably best to avoid them for intellectual conversation! It is unlikely that they floss very often too.

Pure Bug with DAB EPGWith all the competition from the "red button" and "iPod favourites" radio needs an electronic programme guide – an EPG. At IBC, Unique Interactive together with two receiver manufacturers – Morphy Richards and Pure Digital demoed the first attempts. Yes, the programme schedule is in there. But the intelligent radio that knows your preferences, anticipates and pre-records shows you might like is some way off. We’ll probably see the "personalised" software on Wi-Fi enabled MP3 players before the radios are out there.

In South Korea, the national broadcaster, KBS, is working with Samsung to make a multimedia enabled radio. On the WorldDab stand they showed how they’re putting video over the DAB network and calling it Digital Multimedia Broadcasting [Watch a QT video of DMB]. Korean Digital Multimedia BroadcastingThey know the broadcast network is ideally suited to mass distribution of media rich content. The economics of sending 3 minutes of video to 100,000 people make 3G a very expensive way of getting content broadcast, especially in a crisis. Nokia know that, but have chosen partners such as NTL and HP to work on a competing method of content distribution, DVB-H. Both are really in the physics experiment stage – no-one has developed stimulating content for these platforms yet – and it is not going to be ringtones that save the day [Watch QT video of NTL].

DAB, the other DRM, Wi-Fi
Two other technologies seem to be moving along. DAB has a complementary technology designed to make AM (long wave, medium wave and short wave) sound like FM. By turning the transmitter into a giant modem, and using 1/3rd of the power, the results are impressive. The RTL group plans to revive the "great 208" and see DRM (in this case, Digital Radio Mondial) as a cheap way of covering audiences spread over large distances. Three radios were on the DRM stand. I was particularly interested in a ?199 (~$245, ~£135) "cigarette box size" radio from Coding Technologies. It plugs into the USB port of a laptop and is also powered from the USB port. You need a bit wire as an antenna (keeping it away from the laptop processor), but the concept is a true plug and play [Watch a QT video of DRM].

As Wi-Fi takes off, a Wi-Fi enabled radio would be handy. There is a huge choice of radio programming streamed on the web. But you can’t carry it around the house. Philips StreamiumPhilips has a system called Streamium, which is more of a Wi-Fi enabled hi-fi/boombox. A clever piece of kit, but Philips haven’t a clue on how to promote it to the public. A Cambridge based research company called Reciva, on the other hand, had a much better concept to show at IBC – a kitchen radio format with a familiar tuning knob to change channels [Watch a QT video of Reciva].

It is no longer cool to be just a supplier to the "radio" journalist. Most of the people making recorders or editing systems are coupling the audio editing to some form of video editor. Handheld Digital audio recorders look pricey (?1000 +) when put alongside the new Sony HDR-FX1 HD-CAM cameraSony HD-CAM, the HDR-FX1, which will offer entry-level hi-definition video for the prosumer market for around €3,500 (~$4,314, ~£2,390). It also seems crazy that many of the best video editors can be downloaded for a couple of hundred bucks for personal use and yet some audio editors have made it impossible for the freelance community to buy cheap personal copies of the software. They forget what power of persuasion these people have in getting technology adopted within many broadcasting stations.

Our shortest visit was to Canford audio who have nothing on their stand – except one of the world’s biggest catalogues of audio equipment. In the back we spotted a pair of headphones, the DM H250 with a USB connector and a built in DA/AD converter – ideal for newsrooms with audio workstations that don’t want the expense of a separate analogue sound network. The headphones retail for around £110 (~$136, ~€75).

And finally on the audio side we picked up an iPod with a difference. It is actually a company within Harris called Neural Audio that was showing what their codec technology can do with a very limited number of bits. You got what sounded like perfect mono at 24 kb/s, and 5:1 surround sound at 96 kb/sec [Watch a QT video of Neural Audio].

Then onto stuff for the video/journalist in the field?and we found something that really is for someone like me. You are out on location with a complicated story?how do you remember your lines? Telescript has a small Teleprompter that works with a lap-top and is bright enough to be useful in the field. It will set you back £1,500 (~$2,700, €2,200). The batteries last for a day’s shooting. [Watch a QT video of the Telescript]

It doesn’t take long for videographers to realize that steadycam isn’t steady enough for the bigger screens we see today. But the tripod and dolly manufacturers guess correctly that we don’t want to spend our old age in a home for the bewildered with back pain. IBC had a lot of useful equipment for the documentary maker. The Italian company Manfrotto had a carbon-fibre tripod with gimbles, just the thing to keep the camera level on uneven terrain. They also had useful remote controls for handycams allowing for much smoother zooms using buttons on the tripod. LED backlights and even dim-able LED spotlights were on show – and much closer to daylight that I expected [Watch a QT video of the lights]. Perhaps one of the fastest demos was from Microdolly Hollywood who have a portable dolly-track which folds up in 5 seconds -flat! [Watch a QT video of Microdolly] I also bumped into an Israeli company called DVTEC. They have some useful devices to take the weight off your shoulders with a heavy camera, plus a compact car mount which, although light, won’t come off as you drive [Watch a QT video on DVTEC’s product].

My vote for originality goes to Puddlecam from the Norwich based EV Group. They’re in the sports TV business, trying to offer way in which to make unique action shots without ruining the camera. The indestructible Puddlecam is ideal for getting those action shots from the side of the road – in fact from anywhere where ordinary cameras fear to tread [Watch a QT video of Puddlecam].

I think software concepts also deserve a prize. If you want a complete set of test and measuring equipment while doing important DV recordings in the field, look no further than DVRack from the US company of Serious Magic. It is like taking a broadcast truck on location – except the software runs on a laptop. Download the demo to try before you think about purchasing [Watch a QT video of DVRack]. Personally, I was impressed, especially since you can start using this software to save DV to hard-drive and only use DV tapes as back-up. US$495 (~?403, ~£274) is the download price. If you need maps on location, then the Norwegian company of MAPcube offer a special deal to independent journalists who need to draw accurate maps, perhaps for a TV documentary or a website. They take publicly available data from NASA, but then adjust the presentation to make it usable for the broadcast industry [Watch a QT video of MAPcube]. Finally, the satellite company of SWE-DISH caught our eye with a satellite dish, FA150T, that can be folded and carried as a back-pack – at 38 kg (84 pounds) a bit heavy for the overhead locker, but ideal for expeditions to some of the remote areas of the world. Why are these devices still so heavy? Because they need a power amplifier to make contact with the satellites. This one from Sweden uses GPS to find the location of pre-programmed satellites. It is controlled from a laptop. A perfect case of shoot the video, then automatically point to dish to transmit [Watch a QT video of SWE-DISH].

That’s all we can squeeze into this space. This survey was done independently of the stand holders – no money changed hands nor was any equipment donated. Colleagues from other IBC sessions in the series also found other gadgets. Perhaps we can persuade them to share their discoveries for a follow-up column. If you want to see the stuff in action, watch the videos!

About Jonathan Marks
Jonathan Marks has worked in public broadcasting in the Netherlands for just over 24 years, but started his own consulting company in the middle of last year called Critical Distance. He produced a popular communications show on Radio Netherlands called "Media Network". He now plays devils advocate to a number of companies, questioning their strategies, but at the same time preparing alternative scenarios for what technology is making possible.