Friday, December 30, 2005

"XM...No static at all" (A half-assed review of XM Satellite Radio/Delphi Roady2 receiver)

Santa brought papa a new Delphi Roady2 (XM satellite) radio for Christmas. Thanks, Santa! The Philly area radio stations have pretty much devolved into nothing but a series of classic rock stations. I like classic rock just fine 'n' all, but my noggin, it demands more variety. Let's just say that I was primed for the satellite alternative.

Now that there's a real grab for market share between XM and Sirius, the equipment prices are coming down rapidly. I'm guessing that there are a lot of dads out there who found a satellite radio receiver under the tree this year.

So far I like it very much. The little things add up to truly enhance the listening experience beyond conventional radio. Most of the 150 channels are commercial free. The radio unit displays the artist and song/program title. (In fact, if I encounter a tune I want to remember for later, hitting the memory button records the track info for me to retrieve later.) The sound quality is pretty good. Chances are high that if you want to listen to a radio, you'll always be able to find something you'll enjoy listening to. In fact, XM throws in a free XM online account if you subscribe a unit, so you can tune into much of the programming wherever you're near to a computer with an internet connection. It's a nice bonus for the traveler with access to wireless.

XM nearly fumbled the ball on setup and activation. First, you cannot do online activation from ANY Mac browser. That's right...none of them. Shameful of them to make that impression, as I wager that current and potential satellite radio customers are probably also Mac users in numbers that exceed the general population. Even on Windows, certain (Firefox) browsers (Firefox) are not supported (Firefox). Even after I had activated the account from our home PC, the radio didn't properly synch up the channels. I had to make a five minute phone call to an exhausted and slightly-curt customer service person to get my activation reset. After that, though, things have been working well.

Until the inevitable merger three years from now, the way to choose between XM and Sirius is the exclusive programming. For me, the deciding feature was the sports programming. XM has the deal to carry every Major League Baseball game. (Nascar, and a lot of NCAA conferences too, if you're into those things.) Sirius has the deal with the NFL and NBA. Howard Stern's exclusive deal with Sirius is selling a lot of radios for Sirius. In the end, it's the same old story: —pick your software, then choose the hardware to run it. I'm a baseball nut, so that's why I chose XM.

The Roady2 is a nice little unit, and if you shop around, you can probably find one online for under $10, which will contain all you'll need to get up and running with XM in your car. (There's a home kit that costs $35-40, which helps if you want to hook it up to hour home stereo system.)

The only thing that's something of a pain with satellite radio is setting up the antennas. They're sufficiently cumbersome that you won't be breezing around with your XM gear and just tuning in wherever you go. If you want to move a single unit between your two cars, your home and your office, you'll probably end up investing in a bunch of antennas and power converters to have a set pre-installed at each of your main listening locations. This obviously drives up the cost. But if you're just looking for better radio to entertain you on your daily commute and long car trips, a $10 Roady2 plus your monthly subscription fee is all you'll need to get started.


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