DAB and DRM move closer together, new digital radio profiles announced at ABU

Digital Radio technology was on the agenda at the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Conference (ABU) in Malaysia this week, with more countries announcing they will use the more advanced DAB+ system which is soon to be launched in Australia. Malta recently launched its DAB+ transmissions, and Malaysia says it is going to air with DAB+ in the near future.

In a keynote session, European technical expert Lieven Vermaele spoke about finally achieving consistent compatibility standards across Europe for all DAB formats, explaining that European broadcasters have agreed on three profiles for DAB/DAB+/DMB receivers to give confidence to receiver manufacturers who have been reluctant to develop more receivers without agreement on consistent standards. The three profiles are:

Profile 1 – basic ‘mass market’ radios with all the DAB types of audio and simple text screens,

Profile 2 – more sophisticated radios and multi-media devices with all the characteristics of profile 1, plus rich media colour screens,

Profile 3 – devices with sophisticated screens that have advanced multi-media capability and can include all graphics including moving pictures.

He also forshadowed a closer working relationship between DAB and DRM, which both use the same Eureka 147 based audio encoding, an approach which was echoed in various sessions. DRM is just about to come to market with a more advanced version, which it is calling DRM+

Technical convenor of the conference, Sharad Sadhu delivered a forceful message pressing DRM and DAB to work even more closely together, saying: “You must join together to make it easier for us broadcasters to choose a digital system.”

These developments will be important for Australia as it considers whether to mix DAB+ for capital cities with a DRM+ system in regional areas. At present, the conference was told, there are no receivers available which will pick up both DAB+ and DRM.

In another session, Factum Electronics’ Roger Johansson reported that the current trend within DAB transmissions is not to take advantage of the Single Frequency Network (SFN) capabilities of digital radio, but to put up one large transmitter to output sufficient coverage from one site where possible.

Johansson also reported that France plans to use another variation of the DAB standard, DMB (digital multi-media broadcasting), for audio, not mobile tv, in that country. Interfaces with GPS products are also well advanced, giving digital radio the ability to be heard through car mounted GPS systems and to feed traffic data direct to GPS maps.

Advanced features in the DRM system were also discussed and DRM is also experimenting with 5.1 surround sound.

Opening the symposium, ABU Secretary-General David Astley told delegates the broadcasting industry “cannot afford to defer the move to digital transmissions despite the economic turndown… in the longer term, the digital migration would produce savings for broadcasters in terms of reduced operational costs.”

Broadcast Australia’s Chris Jaeger said the challenges for the industry to deliver digital are extensive, “but there is no turning back – we all embrace digital as an industry and we look for all the benefits we can derive for the consumers and for ourselves as the players.” The costs of being digital compare favourably with analog according to Jaeger, who says, over 15 years, costs of running digital transmitters are about 40% lower than equivalent analog transmissions.

On Friday there is a workshop hosted by Joan Warner detailing Australia’s path to digital radio, in response to the fact that many countries are watching Australia to see how successful its digital radio transition will be.

The conference is being attended by over 250 delegates from Australia, the Pacific and countries in the Asian region.