You’ve either heard satellite radio or you’ve heard about it. Sick of the same 10 songs playing over and over again on local radio? Miss Howard Stern? Want to hear your local team’s games anywhere in the country? These are all good reasons to bring a satellite radio receiver home. Pronto’s Satellite Radio Receiver Buying Guide will take you through the choices available so you can make satellite radio a part of your daily life.
There are two satellite radio providers: XM and Sirius. XM offers Major League Baseball, while Sirius has exclusive rights to Howard Stern and the NFL. You’ll need to decide on a provider before you buy a satellite radio receiver, so pick the one you like best and expect the two to merge in 2008, giving you a full range of programs.
Home satellite radios come in models that connect to an existing sound system or stand-alone units with a range of sound options. Home satellite radio units require antennas outdoors or near a south-facing window.
Replacing an existing in-dash radio with a satellite radio receiver will let you enjoy satellite and terrestrial radio with a single set of buttons. If this isn’t an option, look for a dash-mounted satellite radio receiver, but be sure to install it so that its buttons are easy to reach while you drive.
If you want to listen to your satellite radio both at home and in the car without additional subscription fees, a plug and play receiver is the perfect option. These units feature a single receiver that plugs into a base unit at home or connects to the car radio using a car kit.
If you’re stuck underground on the subway or in a basement office, choose a satellite radio receiver that can store and play back your favorite programs when reception fades. For portable satellite radios that receive live programs on the go, look for headphones with a built-in antenna for the best reception.
Satellite radio receivers require an antenna in order to receive satellite signals. Some units have a built-in antenna, but most include a separate wire that can be run outdoors or to a south-facing window.
A satellite radio that combines the receiver and the display into a pocket-sized unit that can be removed and used with several compatible base stations in the home, office and car.
A company that delivers satellite radio programming in exchange for a monthly fee. In the United States, Sirius and XM are the current satellite radio providers, though these companies are expected to merge into a single provider in 2008.
The receiver is the unit that deciphers the satellite signal. A satellite radio receiver may be a stand alone unit, or it may have an integrated sound system.
A radio signal that is broadcast from ground-based transmitters or repeaters. Satellite radio uses terrestrial repeaters in urban areas where buildings would interfere with clear reception of satellite signals.
At the moment, your first choice in a satellite radio receiver depends on which of the two satellite radio services you want to receive. Most satellite radio receivers will only work with XM or Sirius, and you’ll pay a monthly fee for satellite radio programming.
In exchange for that fee, you’ll get commercial-free music and exclusive sports and talk shows hosted by everyone from Howard Stern to Donny Osmond. In terms of music, there isn’t much difference between the two satellite radio providers. Both XM and Sirius offer hundreds of music channels to choose from. If you want to hear Howard, you’ll need to get Sirius. Sports fans have a tougher satellite radio choice, as XM has exclusive rights to major league baseball while Sirius has the NFL.
In February 2007, XM and Sirius announced that they would merge their satellite radio services to create a single provider offering all the sports and talk programs. The satellite radio merger has been stalled by the FCC and the U.S. Justice Department on the grounds that it would create an unfair monopoly on satellite radio programming. Most observers are confident that the merger will be approved in 2008, so choose the provider that has the programs you want the most, and expect to have access to everything soon.
Home satellite radio receivers take a variety of forms, from stand-alone receivers that connect to a current home audio setup to a complete system that includes a receiver, speakers and additional functions. Home satellite radio receivers typically offer the best sound quality in exchange for a lack of portability.
If you already have a home audio system in place, look for a satellite radio receiver designed to plug in to your existing setup. These satellite radio receivers cost less and let you take advantage of the sound quality of your existing system.
If you are looking to install a stand-alone satellite radio system, you have several options. Some manufacturers provide single-piece units, resembling a boom box or bookcase sound system, with the satellite radio receiver and sound components built into one piece. More advanced home satellite radio systems come with a receiver unit and separate speakers for more flexible placement and customizable sound quality.
All home satellite radio receivers require you to run an antenna outdoors or to mount one near a window. Satellite radio antennas are usually installed in a south-facing area for the best reception. In urban areas, satellite radio providers use repeaters on the ground to amplify their signal, which may give you more flexibility in antenna placement.
If you commute to work, you know that being stuck in the car, a captive audience to endless radio commercials, is not an appealing way to pass the time. Commercial-free satellite radio is growing in popularity for commuters, so auto makers now offer satellite radio ready sound systems in new vehicles. If your car doesn’t have a satellite radio ready stereo, you still have several options to add a satellite radio receiver.
Look for an in-dash radio system with a satellite receiver. While in-dash satellite radios require professional installation, they give you the ability to listen to satellite radio and terrestrial broadcasts in a single unit. Many of these satellite radio receivers feature security options to discourage theft, from removable faceplates to security codes that disable the satellite radio if it’s removed from the dashboard.
In-dash satellite radio receivers feature a large display that makes it easy to read the artist, channel and track information. Look for memory presets that save your favorite satellite radio stations. If you like your current in-dash radio, look for a dash-mountable car satellite receiver. You’ll need to use a separate set of controls to run these satellite radios, so be sure to mount the receiver in a place that’s easy to reach.
If you just can’t get enough satellite radio, you’ll need a plug and play receiver. These models combine the satellite radio receiver and the display into a pocket-sized unit that you can plug in to base stations in your home and your car.
Most plug and play satellite radio receivers will plug into your home sound system and need some installation for your car, but they let you enjoy satellite radio wherever you go without paying for additional subscriptions. For the ultimate in portability, look for battery operated satellite radio boom boxes with built-in speakers.
You’ll sacrifice some of the security and memory features of dedicated car and home satellite radio systems, but the ability to take satellite radio from the car to the office to the home makes up for the reduced functionality. Choose the display on these satellite radio receivers carefully to make sure it won’t get washed out in bright sunlight while you drive.
The newest, most continually evolving satellite radio receivers are portable receivers. These receivers are small and easy to take with you, resembling MP3 players. Some of these portable satellite radio units can store and play MP3s as well as hours of satellite radio programming for later listening. This is the best choice for people who ride the subway, work in basement offices or travel through tunnels where satellite radio reception fades.
Some portable satellite radio receivers only receive live programming when connected to a base unit, while others include a portable receiver so you can listen to live satellite radio on the go. Look for a portable satellite radio receiver with the antenna integrated into the headphones. Although this limits your headphone choice, it also provides better satellite radio reception while you’re on the move.