iBiquity sale to DTS

DTS, Inc (NQ:DTSI) is to acquire iBiquity for $172M USD.  This was the headline about the middle of last week.  With that announcement, we get to see some of iBiquity’s financials; revenue of $40-50 million this year with a margin of 30-36%.

My question is, who or what is DTS?  DTS was initially known as Digital Theater Systems, Inc.  They specialize in digital surround sound technology, by developing or acquiring companies that created various CODECs and surround sound technology.

35mm film audio macro

An image of 35 mm film showing four audio formats, from left to right: SDDS (blue area to the left of the sprocket holes), Dolby Digital (grey area between the sprocket holes with the Dolby “Double-D”), analog optical sound (the two white lines to the right of the sprocket holes), and the DTS time code (the dashed line to the far right).  The DTS time code syncs picture to a CD-ROM that contains the surround sound sound track.

DTS continues to develop surround sound technology and makes money by licensing that technology to consumer and professional audio clients.  According to their 2015 Q2 financials, they are on track to make $140-145 million this year with a 25-30% margin.

My next question is, what does this mean for HD Radio?  It is much harder to answer this question, but here are some general observations:

  • DTS is a publicly traded company.  Financials and other information are a matter of public record.  It seems likely that the operation will be more transparent.
  • DTS operates with higher revenue and lower margins.
  • DTS has a high interest in mobile markets; devices and dashboards.
  • DTS has a history of continued development and marketing of technology it owns.

There are a couple of different scenarios possible; the first is business as usual. I think this is the least likely situation.  IBiquity as a company and HD Radio as a technology basically flat lined ten years ago.  A successful company like DTS would not likely purchase something that does not have growth potential.

Second possibility, DTS will keep the same licensing structure, but upgrade the HD Radio technology.  From a audiophile’s perspective; HD-1 sounds good, HD-2, 3, and 4 channels not so much.  This is especially true as more channels are added and the same size pie (aggregate digital bandwidth) gets divvied up into smaller and smaller pieces.  One area where HD Radio could shine is to get rid of the HD2-4 channels and create an IP multicast system.  IPv6 has greatly improved multicast performance which might enable a free data stream download, minimal data back haul via mobile data for an interactive, low data usage digital experience.  That would free up a lot of translators.

Third possibility, DTS will reduce the licensing fees for broadcasters and consumers and accept a lower margin on existing technology.  DTS will use HD Radio as a route to get their technology into dashboards, which is where they see their future profits.  Remember, the self driving car is only a few years away and mobile entertainment will be all the next rage.

As far as AM HD Radio goes, I don’t see anything happening with that.  Medium wave broadcast channels do not offer enough bandwidth to facilitate reliable digital transmission.

In any case, for better or for worse, change is coming to terrestrial radio.

Accidents, mistakes, mishaps and other tales

Lets get started:

Results of a deer vs automobile accident
Results of a deer vs automobile accident

It does not look like much, however, that is about $5,500.00 worth of damage. What you don’t see is the mashed oil cooler and radiator. This happened on my way from one place to another during the early morning hours. I was traveling at about 55 MPH when a deer bolted from the woods and entered the roadway from the right. I did not have time to break.

In a ditch
In a ditch

A momentary lapse of attention causes loss of $80.00. I think I was adjusting the defroster as I was driving down the road when suddenly, I felt the car tilt over to an alarming degree. You can see the tow truck getting ready to pull it out. Fortunately, there was no damage to the vehicle.

Troubles with the neighbor
Troubles with the neighbor

This is on the access road to one of our transmitter sites. The station has a legal right of way through this property, however, the neighbor seems to object. I spoke with him and showed him a copy of our deed, he has since changed plans.

One side of a balanced audio connection disconnected
One side of a balanced audio connection disconnected

This is the downside of using category cable to make audio connections. The wires are not as rugged as say Belden 8451. This was causing problems because it is at an AM studio/transmitter site.

Burned 30 amp three phase contactor
Burned 30 amp three phase contactor

Three phase, 30 amp, 240 volt contactor installed in a 480 volt system. Lasted a few years, anyway.

White face hornets nest
White face hornets nest

New tenants on one of our towers. This is a white faced (or bald faced) hornets nest. They are really paper wasps, but that difference aside, these beasts are nasty, aggressive and have a painful sting. Normally, I am a live and let live kind of person, but in this case, they gotta go.

Dummy load attached to plywood
Dummy load attached to plywood

This is at one of our AM clients site. Somebody, quite some time ago it seems, made this test load for a 1 KW AM transmitter. It is very nice, carbon ceramic resistors, 50 ohms and surprisingly little reactance. Then they attached it to this piece of plywood. As one can surmise, the load gets quite hot under full power, full modulation conditions. We remounted this in a cage type enclosure and bolted it to the cinder block wall.

Scala PR-950U cross polarized
Scala PR-950U cross polarized

The client at this station is complaining of intermittent STL drop outs and low signal strength at the receive end. Found this Scala PR-950U antenna mounted for vertical polarization, but the antenna element is horizontally mounted. We’ll call it “vorizontal.”

Ribbon cable from a Cummins 135 KW generator
Ribbon cable from a Cummins 135 KW generator

This was discovered during routine maintenance and thankfully not during a power outage. Mice got into the control box of a newish Cummins 135 KW generator and chewed through what looks like a data buss cable. The generator would not run and the cable and control board needed to be replaced.

Bulging capacitors
Bulging capacitors

There is more bulging capacitors removed from flat panels monitors.

And so on…

MPX over IP

In the progression from Circuit Switched Data to Packet Switched Data, I can think of many different applications for something like this:

FMC01 MPX to IP CODEC
FMC01 MPX to IP CODEC

The FMC01 MPX to IP encoder can be used for multi-point distribution (multi frequency or same frequency network) of FM Composite audio, or as a backup solution over a LAN bridge, LAN extension, or public network.  I can think of several advantages of using this for a backup when composite analog STL’s are in use.  There are many compelling reasons to extend the LAN to the transmitter site these days; Transmitter control and monitoring, security cameras, office phone system extensions, internet access, backup audio, etc.  I would think, any type of critical infrastructure (e.g. STL) over a wireless IP LAN extension should be over a licensed system.  In the United States, the 3.6 GHz WLAN (802.11y) requires coordination and licensing, however, the way the rules are set up, the license process is greatly simplified over FCC Part 74 or 101 applications.

Another similar CODEC is the Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX.

Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX CODEC
Sigmacom Broadcast EtherMPX CODEC

Features include:
• Transparent Analog or Digital MPX (MPX over AES), or two discrete L/R channels (analog or AES).
• Built-in MPX SFN support with PTP sync (up to 6.000km in basic version). No GPS receivers!
• Unicast or Multicast operation to feed unlimited number of FM transmitters with MPX from one encoder.
• Linear uncompressed PCM 24-bit audio.
• Very low audio latency: 2,5mS in MPX mode.
• Perfect match with Sigmacom DDS-30 Exciter with Digital MPX input.
• Can be used with high quality 802.11a/n Ethernet links.
• DC coupled, balanced Analog inputs & outputs with -130dBc noise floor.
• No modulation overshoots due compression or AC capacitor coupling.
• Decoder provides simultaneously Analog & Digital output for transmitter redundancy.
• Aux RS232 serial transparent link, Studio to Transmitter.
• Auto switchover to Analog input when Digital signal is lost.
• Centralized remote control & management software

One last thought; separating the CODEC from the radio seems to be a good idea. It allows for greater flexibility and redundancy. Using an MPX type STL allows sensitive air chain processing equipment to be installed at the studio instead of the transmitter site.

What bitrate is needed to sound like analog FM?

As it turns out, 300 kbp/s or greater.  At least in critical listening environments according to the paper titled Perceived Audio Quality of Realistic FM and DAB+ Radio Broadcasting Systems (.pdf) published by the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society. This work was done by group in Sweden and made various observations with different program material and listening subjects. Each person was given a sample of analog FM audio to listen to, then they listened to various audio selections which were using bit reduction algorithms (AKA CODEC or Compression) and graded each one.  The methodology is very thorough and there is little left for subjective interpretation.

In less critical listening environments, bit rates of 160-192 kbp/s will work.

I made a chart and added HD Radio’s proprietary CODEC HDC, which is similar to, but not compatible with AAC:

System Codec Bit Rate (kbp/s)
HD Radio FM; HD1 channel* HDC (similar to AAC) 96 – 144
HD Radio FM; HD2 channel* HDC 24-48
HD Radio FM; HD3 channel* HDC 24-48
HD Radio AM* HDC 20-60
DRM30 (MF-HF) AAC/HE-AAC 34-72
DRM+ (VHF) AAC/HE-AAC 700
DAB+ AAC/HE-AAC 32 – 128
DAB MPEG II, Dolby digital 192 – 256
Blu-ray PCM** ≥6 Mbp/s
DVD PCM, DTS, Dolby digital >800
CD-A PCM 1,411
Web Streaming MPEG I,II,III, WMA, AAC, etc 32-320, 128 typical
iTunes AAC 128 – 256
Spotify Ogg Vorbis 96 – 320
Wimp AAC/HE-AAC 64 – 256

*Hydbrid mode
**PCM: uncompressed data

This is the composite Mean Basic Audio Quality and 95% confidence intervals for system across all excerpts:

digital-analog-audio-compar

Over the years, we have simply become accustomed to and now accept low quality audio from mp3 files being played over cheap computer speakers or through cheap ear buds.  Does this make it right?  In our drive to take something good and make it better, perhaps it should be, you know: Better.

Special thanks to Trevor from Surrey Electronics Limited.