XM Radio – quality issues and long term business

XM LogoI like XM (or Sirius) as a concept (audio delivery virtually anywhere). I actually like using it and have it in my car. But the quality of the audio drives me nuts.  It’s like listening to 64Kbps MP3s – and it might be that level of compression. They were playing Avril Levigne’s Complicatedand there is this harmonic overtone thing filtered through some kind of sine-wave thing in the bridge and I could almost hear the drop out – it was a mess. Then I switched over to classical and it was Haydn Symph #104 (a classic for his trickiness – big dramatic exordium in the exposition then right into a light theme 1) and that was a mess too. The strings aresomewhere between noisy mush and electric guitars. Total lack of definition.  

Am I being too hard?

Maybe, but there is a business problem as I see it.  They have chosen to deliver audio in an ultra-compressed format to save on cost – fine.  Except that the quality of the audio is degraded. As a user, that’s no good. If I had a choice of higher quality audio with coverage like that of XM, I would certainly choose it. And that is a business problem.

Enter cellular or wi-fi radio (or audio delivery). It’s not there yet, and the cellular carriers might balk at the bandwidth needs, but that would do it. Higher quality audio, selection, etc and enhanced delivery options. And just like that, XM would be done.

When MP3 first hit, it was all about mass consumption of music and quality didn’t matter as much.  Satellite radio is similar – all you can eat for one low price – at the cost of quality. But now that the offering has become common place, the next question is going to be quality. 

So – the current offerings are XM (64kbps-96kbps or so) and the standard download fare (around 192kpbs). All have quality degradation. The services offering it prefer the smaller file sizes because it reduces the platform costs – but not because the consumer really wants it.

That’s why we’re offering 320kpbs. I want my music as close to CD quality as possible.  And as a p2p platform we can offer it while incurring minimal cost. Well, at least until ISPs figure out how to charge for use of the edge of the network.

Why not offer full CD .wav files?  The bandwidth is not there yet for consumers. When we all have FIOS or I2, then maybe.

Posted on March 20, 2007 in Competition, Technology

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