On the heels of recent announcements from both Hyundai and Mazda, each stating they would expand HD Radio in select car models in 2012 and 2013, Cadillac said today they will become the first US car manufacturer to include HD Radio as standard equipment in some Spring 2012 models. HD Radio will be part of Cadillac’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) “infotainment” system, which debuts in the XLS luxury sedan early next year (for more on the technical specifics of CUE, click here). The press release touts HD Radio as a unique addition to the CUE system:
More than 1,300 digital HD2, HD3, and HD4 channels across the country are broadcasting programming, which can be heard with an HD Radio receiver.
HD Radio Technology also transmits show Program Service Data – such as song titles and artist information – that display on the CUE audio screen. It can be paused up to 20 minutes, allowing users to resume the program – similar to a DVD – if they interrupt a program while driving.
In the Cadillac CUE system, HD Radio users will have the added feature of iTunes® Tagging, which allows listeners to tag their favorite songs for later preview and purchase on iTunes.
“HD Radio Technology is an excellent addition to CUE, the groundbreaking user experience for connectivity and control which will debut in the new XTS luxury sedan in spring 2012,” said Cadillac Product Director Hampden Tener.
But that’s not the whole story. Much as it has been in the past, HD Radio will continue to receive stiff competition from the usual suspects: Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, iPod connectivity, and, most interestingly, access to a Pandora application directly from CUE.
Personally, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with HD Radio. Since it’s inception, HD Radio had a tough time correctly branding and positioning the service, which, remember, doesn’t stand for High Definition (it doesn’t stand for anything, and is technically the proper name of the product created by iBiquity). I love the idea of HD Radio: it widens the terrestrial radio band and gives the listener more choices with minimal effort. All that’s necessary is an HD Radio receiver. But within the last few years, instead of creating new, unique content on the HD1, 2 or 3 stations, radio owners are dumping formats from the traditional FM band and placing them on HD Radio. For instance, while it saves face for CBS to tell fans of West Palm Beach’s rock station WPBZ that their station still exists, even though it was displaced from FM earlier today by an Adult Top 40 format, it’s just on an HD Radio station (and also streaming online). In other words, there are few unique HD Radio stations that make HD Radio a compelling option, especially when presented on the same platform as Sirius/XM and Pandora, as we’re seeing in the aforementioned CUE system (sidenote: I find the most intriguing HD Radio offerings to be those that combine two of the best features of terrestrial and satellite radio: localized and niche programming. For example, WXDX’s HD2 stream is devoted entirely to the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. At Detroit’s WRIF’s, their HD2 stream goes under the moniker of RIFF2, and is comprised entirely of music – new and old – from the Motor City.)
HD Radio’s major problem is that consumers still have a hard time pinning down exactly what HD Radio is. While including the offering in more cars, where the majority of the time spent listening to terrestrial radio takes place is a start to increase awareness, I have a hard time believing your average new car buyer will take the time to embrace or even casually explore HD Radio. Pandora announced earlier this year they’ve reached 100 million users, with 36 million of those users accessing the site monthly, and with more internet radio applications likely to be included in automobiles within the next few years, HD Radio has a tough hill to climb.