Radio chip turns analogue into digital

While digital radio remains a minority pastime, Motorola hopes to make money from digitising already established analogue stations

Analogue radio is far from dead, says Motorola. The company is backing up its claim with a new chipset that receives analogue AM and FM signals and enhances them digitally.

The chipset, called Symphony, has a 1500 million instructions per second (MIPS) digital signal processing (DSP) core that can reject interference, receive weaker signals than before and produce better stereo, giving an end result that according to the company is as big a leap in sound quality as that from cassette to CD. The chipset can also process two radio or audio sources at once, a feature aimed primarily at car radio manufacturers who want to provide split back seat/front seat programming.

As well as enhanced radio processing, the chipset provides copious audio processing, including Dolby Digital and other 5:1 or 6 channel surround sound, equalisation, spectrum analysis, bass enhancement -- indeed the whole range of modern tweaks that have long since replaced the tone knob. Symphony can also have new or upgraded processing algorithms uploaded into memory, which Motorola says leaves room for companies to provide their own differentiating features or to cope with new broadcast standards such as the new shortwave digital audio system, DRM. Symphony will be available in production quantities at around $30 (£20) per set in 2003.

Motorola joins a number of other manufacturers who have introduced DSP to analogue radio, including Texas Instruments, Philips, and STMicroelectronics, but this is the highest profile launch aimed primarily at supporting the existing analogue market.

Fully digital radio has taken longer to become established than predicted, with the European Eureka-147 DAB market only recently seeing sub-£100 receivers on the market. In the US, digital terrestrial broadcasting has yet to begin, scheduled for the end of 2002 in a handful of cities on the Eureka-incompatible IBOC standard.

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