XM PC Satellite Radio Review

Product Requirements:
Device:
PC with the following minimum requirements:
Pentium®-class processor; Operating System: Microsoft® Windows® 98, Windows 98
Second Edition, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 2000, or Windows XP; Memory:
32 MB of RAM & 15 MB of hard-disk space; CD-ROM drive for software installation;
Sound card or powered speakers; Available USB port.

Wow!  Good things do come in small boxes.  Before I start this review, I must
confess that I am an XM satellite radio freak.  I have one in my car, the home
version via a boom box for portability, and now
XM PCR.  By now, most of you have
heard about satellite radio from either XM or

Sirius
.  Both offerings are fairly similar.  They each offer 100 stations
that are broken down between music and talk/news stations.  The Sirius stations
are all commercial free.  With XM, about 60% of their stations are commercial
free.  The monthly fee for Sirius is $12.95, while XM will set you back just
$9.99 for the first radio and $6.99 for the next four via their family plan.

Now, on to the review.  You will soon learn how easy it is to have satellite
radio blasting through your PC speakers with CD quality and without any impact
on your Internet connection.  Did I mention "no impact on your Internet
connection"?  We’re talking satellite here people.  You can now strut your stuff
as you walk the dog down the sidewalk.  Beat your chest and proclaim "I am in
direct contact with a satellite that is speeding along at 6,881mph and 20,300
miles above my head!!!" 
Come on guys, I know I am not the only one who does
stuff like that…am I??

I was amazed that everything I needed came in such a small box.  The box
contains the receiver, a small satellite antenna (with about a 30′ cord), USB
cable, cable that plugs into your sound card or powered speakers, and a CD with
the XM PCR software. 

Installation

Installation is a breeze.  Like most USB devices,
you load the software first and then make the hardware connections.  The
receiver is connected via a supplied USB cable.  There is a cable that goes
between the receiver and the PC’s sound card or a set of powered speakers. 
Lastly you plug the antenna into the receiver.  No power cord needed, as power
is supplied via the USB connection.  You need to have a view facing South.  My
antenna is on a window sill.  It points through the window, goes through a few
trees and is not pointing exactly South…and I still get a strong signal. 
Reception should not be a problem unless you are facing due Northward.

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Operation

This is where the fun begins.  There are seven screens that you get to use. 
The main screen is the Channel Guide.  This is where you get to see all 100
channels or a subset of just Music, News/Talk, Last 10 stations, and four lists
that you can customize.  The columns are adjustable and show station number,
title, artist, category, channel name, and a column that shows what percent of
your time is spent listening to a particular channel. Just click on the station
and you are switched to the new song or show.  There is about a two second lag
time.  The channel guide is shown in real time so you will see the songs change
when the guide is displayed.

One of the nicer features is the "Save Info" capability.  When you see a song
you like and want to save the info about it, just click on the "Save Info"
button on the bottom of the screen.  XM PCR will store the date/time, artist,
title, and channel info.  It is not saving the song for playback…just the info
about it.  Very convenient for those that want to do MP3 harvesting.

The other screens are pretty self-explanatory.  There is the "Signal Level"
screen which is very helpful in positioning your antenna.

The "Settings" screen shows the different options you can adjust.

There is one more screen that is very useful.  I call it the "Mini-Me"
screen. This is a small version on the Channel Guide that will stay on top of
your screen.  It shows the Channel Number, Artist, and Song.  It also gives you
the ability to change stations, save the song info, mute, and expand to the full
Channel Guide.

Sound Quality

The quality of what you hear is going to be based on what you are using for
speakers.  I use a Monsoon speaker set-up and the sound is fantastic!  The
signal is 100% digital and of CD quality.  There is no hissing, snap, crackle or
pop.  Just pure music.  I cannot tell the difference between a CD being played
or a song being delivered by XM PCR.  Remember, you are not using your Internet
bandwidth so your connection speed has no bearing on sound quality.

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Side Benefit

I quickly discovered a nice bonus when using XM PCR.  I use a program called
Media Center from J.River.
This is an "all-in-one" application that rips, burns, plays, records all of my
music and video files.  I use it for syncing my Ipod and found it to out perform
Window’s Media Player.  Media Center enables you to record anything that is
coming through the input port on your sound card.  Took me a New York minute to
realize that the Chris Rea live concert recorded by the BBC a few years back
could be recorded and converted to an MP3 file…oh my.  I can even program
Media Center to start recording a specific time.  Now I can capture all of the
Lone Ranger and The Shadow shows that air on the
XM’s Radio
Classics station.

Please forgive my enthusiasm for this product.  If you love music, want a
large selection, a slick interface, CD quality sound without any impact on your
Internet connection, and enjoy things with a big "WOW" factor, you will not be
disappointed with XM PCR.  You can find more info, view the user’s guide, and
get ordering info at
http://www.xmradio.com/xmpcr.

XM PCR is currently available online through

PC Connection
.

    Price: $69.95 and either $9.99 or $6.99 monthly fee

    Pros:
    Affordable, easy set-up, intuitive interface, CD quality sound, does not require
    Internet connection, never ending selection of music and talk/news shows.

    Cons:
    Not really a "con" but, as with any satellite
    application, you want to have the best line of sight that you can. XM Radio
    recommends a "South" facing window but, you may be able to receive the signal
    through a wall or roof.  XM also uses terrestrial repeaters so you might be able
    to receive a signal without  aiming the antenna South.  There is also a monthly
    cost and the darn thing is addictive!!

     

     

    Product Information

    Price:69.95
    Manufacturer:XM Radio
    Pros:
    • Affordable, easy set-up, intuitive interface, CD quality sound, does not require
    • Internet connection, never ending selection of music and talk/news shows.
    Cons:
    • Not really a "con" but, as with any satellite
    • application, you want to have the best line of sight that you can. XM Radio
    • recommends a "South" facing window but, you may be able to receive the signal
    • through a wall or roof.  XM also uses terrestrial repeaters so you might be able
    • to receive a signal without  aiming the antenna South.  There is also a monthly
    • cost and the darn thing is addictive!!
    •  
    34 comments… add one
    • Judie June 27, 2003, 10:44 pm

      Post your comments here on the XM PC Satellite Radio.

      http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/xm-pc-satellite-radio-review.html

      Just click the POST REPLY button on this page.

    • TheDreamer June 28, 2003, 12:25 am

      I’ll admit that I’ve been curious about XM radio for some time….but the question I haven’t heard answered…is whether they work at all indoors.

      Specifically, would it work from my cubicle at work.

      It is the one place where I can’t get radio…. I also barely get cellular….

      I really don’t want to buy it and then find out the answer is no….since I can’t think of any other reason to justify having it otherwise.

      The Dreamer

    • redbike2001 June 28, 2003, 12:45 am

      The answer is yes and no…sorry. I can pick up a signal from within my house but, the room I am in has no ceiling. The roof is on top pf me and the signal seems to get through. I also cannot get cellular reception so I don’t think you can draw a parellel between the two. The good folks at XM are going to hedge their bets and tell you no. These are pretty power birds they have up there in outer space. I have been able to get a signal as I drive most of the way through a tunnel (short one). You get a lot of bounce effect with the signal. An office building is going to be tough, unless you are near a window. I would suspect that you have something more significant than a thin wood roof over your head. The call to XM is free. Give it a try.

      Eric Smith

    • buffasnow1 June 28, 2003, 3:44 pm

      I purchased Satellite radio in February and I decided to go with Sirius for $12.99 per month. While it is more costly by $3 per month, Sirius allows me to stream its music stations on any high speed Internet connection using my password. Talk stations (news, entertainment, etc. may not be played via the Internet.) It sounds as if this new XM PC device is limited by location but has better sound quality. Has anyone compared the XM device with the Sirius streaming feature?

    • fitzsimmons June 28, 2003, 4:00 pm

      I’m a huge XM fan too but I’m not a fan of this review. It has some major omissions and mistakes. Here they are:

      1) You do not need a southern facing window for XM if you live in or near a major metropolitan area in the continental US. XM has over 800 terrestrial repeaters located around the country that provide a signal even if you don’t have a direct view of the satellite. These allow XM to work in cities where tall buildings block the signal (e.g., NYC) and in tunnels, near mountains, etc. Since the vast majority of the country’s population live near repeaters, you can likely put the antenna anywhere you want in your house.

      2) Even if you don’t live near a repeater, XM’s 2.3 GHz satellite signal passes through wood and a variety of insulation materials, meaning it may come straight through your roof. If so, you can just point the antenna south irresepective of where a window is. (If you’re in a steel or metal frame building, this won’t work.)

      3) The whole issue of commercials is very misleading, The Sirius stations are not all commercial free. Sirius, just like XM, rebroadcasts content from a variety of external providers, (e.g., CNN on XM), and you will hear those commercials. Sirius is commercial free on its music channels. XM is commericial free on 60% of its music channels. That being said, XM strictly limits commercials on the channels that provide them and it is nothing like the 20+ minutes/hour of commercials you get on regular AM/FM radio. You may get 1-2 minutes of commercials per hour and XM guarantees it will never go above 5 mins/hour on the 40% of channels that provide them. For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the 1min/hour of commercials I hear on the channels I listen to. (XM commercials tend to be somewhat irreverant.)

      4) Both XM and Sirius have digital signals but they are NOT CD quality. XM’s music channels have roughly 16kHz bandwidth and are heavily compressed using proprietary codecs. (Similar for Sirius.) The general consensus seems to be that some people care about this strongly but most people either don’t care or can’t hear the difference. You certainly won’t notice the difference in your car at 60mph on the highway. Also, for what it’s worth, I think XM has better audio fidelity than does Sirius, but your milage can and will vary. Finally, the codecs can also be updated by the companies on the fly as technology improves.

      I’d suggest if you’re interested in XM, you might check out http://www.xmfan.com, which is one of the several popular fansites created by XM users.

      Fitz

    • redbike2001 June 28, 2003, 5:20 pm

      Thanks for filling in the detail Fritz. A little more than most want to know but, thanks just the same. This was not a review about the merits of XM vs Sirius…figured if people were interested, they would do their own research.

      As far as CD quality, not talking codecs…just how it sounds to me on my PC with my speakers. No osciliscopes hooked up at my house. Just a set of ears that I guess may not be as discerning as yours :confused:

      BTW, do you have XM PCR?

    • fitzsimmons June 28, 2003, 5:57 pm

      I think we might have different opinions on what people want in a review, particularly on a site known for accurate and detailed reviewing. By the way, I like Sirius too; those comments were simply for comparison.

      Anyway, I think you need to amend your review, particularly the pros & cons sections, because what is currently written there is simply wrong. E.g., “CD Quality” actually implies something quite specific; it doesn’t simply mean that the guy doing the review cannot tell the difference. That would be like writing “Porsche Quality” on my Nissan because it’s fast enough for my purposes. Also, I think your need-for-a-window comments are misleading and inaccurate and may needlessly discourage people from getting XM, which is too bad, because I’m sure we agree that satellite radio is a wonderul thing.

    • redbike2001 June 28, 2003, 6:22 pm

      Cannot remove the “windows” comment because I am basing it on what information is provided by XM Radio…not on one of their fan’s opinions. I agree that for some people, XM PCR may work anywhere in there house. For others, they will need to adhere to what parameters are being supplied by XM Radio.

      BTW, when I move my antenna away from the window and place it on the table…facing South…I can notice a significant degrading of signal strength and a clipping in the station being received.

      As for the CD quality issue, that is also a quote from the XM Radio website.

      Curious as to the experience you have had with your XM PCR. Of course you do have one don’t you?

    • fitzsimmons June 28, 2003, 7:26 pm

      As much fun as it is may be to argue, I think I’m going to try to tone this down a bit.

      I’ll respond to two points you raise. First, XM nowhere makes the claim their signal is “CD Quality,” and they couldn’t make that claim without getting sued. For the record, XM’s channels have essentially the same bandwidth as do standard commercial FM radio stations. XM generally sounds better than FM for many reasons, including the lack of multipath and other types of distortion and the absense of subcarriers. Without a doubt, it is possible to receive an FM signal that is higher audio quality than XM, and in fact, many of us living in big cities can and do. (What you’re really paying for with XM is the programming and ubiquity of the signal.)

      Now, on to your question: Do you think that if I didn’t own a PCR, that would somehow make your review more accurate? I just do happen to have one, along with a SkyFi, Boombox, and all the trimmings. And in the interests of full disclosure, I also happen to own stock in both XM and Sirius…

    • fitzsimmons June 28, 2003, 7:40 pm

      Dreamer,

      You can buy an XM radio and try it out without activating it. Even radios that haven’t been activated can receive a bunch of stations for free. So, you can buy the radio and see if you get reception without the bother of activation (which is pretty trivial anyway). If it doesn’t work for you, just return the radio.

      Fitz

      Originally posted by TheDreamer
      [B]I’ll admit that I’ve been curious about XM radio for some time….but the question I haven’t heard answered…is whether they work at all indoors.

      Specifically, would it work from my cubicle at work.

      It is the one place where I can’t get radio…. I also barely get cellular….

      I really don’t want to buy it and then find out the answer is no….since I can’t think of any other reason to justify having it otherwise.

      The Dreamer [/B]

    • Judie June 28, 2003, 7:56 pm

      For what it’s worth…

      I have a Sirius reciever in my truck. As a subscriber, I am also able to get streaming audio content on my PC. You can try it free at http://www.sirius.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Sirius/CachedPage&c=Page&cid=1018209032790.

      Click “Listen Now” at the top of the page.

      I am not sure if XM also offers something like this, but I bet they do.

      Judie :0)

    • redbike2001 June 28, 2003, 9:00 pm

      Fitz…for what it’s worth to you, this is copied right from the FAQ page on the XM Radio site:

      “How good is the sound quality of XM PCR?

      The sound quality of the XM PCR is equal to any XM Radio model such as the Delphi SKYFi, and is comparable to CD quality.”

      That’s cool that Sirius offers the streaming option to its customers. The only problem with streaming is that it takes up some portion of your bandwidth. Do you notice any degradation in your Internet speeds?

      Eric

    • Judie June 28, 2003, 9:08 pm

      Eric,

      There is a little bit of degredation in speed, plus the sound quality isn’t that great and then there are the other usual problem you can encounter with streaming audi (reset streams, etc). But, if you are in the situation like Dreamer described, it might be a solution.

      I just realized that buffasnow1 had mentioned the streaming audio previously. DOH. 😮

      Judie :0)

    • fitzsimmons June 28, 2003, 9:54 pm

      Eric, I can see what causes confusion about this, so shame on their marketing department. Strictly speaking, I suppose, anything “is comparable to CD quality,” it just might not compare very favorably. Nonetheless, their marketing hype doesn’t change the fact that XM does not by any stretch of the imagination provide what is known as Redbook CD Quality, due both to XM’s lossy compression and its much lower sampling rate. What they most have in common is they’re both digital.

      The difference is actually much easier to hear than you might expect. Try listening to almost any music that has trumpets, e.g., on one of the jazz, 40s or classical channels. For whatever reason, XM’s compression can distort trumpets horribly and it’s painfully easy to hear when the signal is uncompressed. I’ve had friends who don’t know the first thing about hifi audio or signal processing ask me what the hell is wrong with the music when that happens…

      Anyway, I think that it is especially because XM’s marketing department is misleading about this, it’s important for reviewers to accurately call them on it. Just for reference, Sirius has the same type of problems, as do most systems that use lossy compression schemes, such as MP3 players.

      Originally posted by redbike2001
      [B]Fitz…for what it’s worth to you, this is copied right from the FAQ page on the XM Radio site:

      “How good is the sound quality of XM PCR?

      The sound quality of the XM PCR is equal to any XM Radio model such as the Delphi SKYFi, and is comparable to CD quality.”

      [/B]

    • redbike2001 June 28, 2003, 9:57 pm

      Perhaps then it would be better to say that both XM and Sirius sound quality is comparable to MP3 at 128khz?

    • fitzsimmons June 29, 2003, 2:56 am

      This question has received a lot of debate on other forums. Since XM doesn’t use MP3 but rather something called CT-aacPlus, it’s hard to make a clear comparison. That being said, I think most people would agree XM sounds much better than a 128kb/s MP3 recording. I’d probably compare it to 160 – 192kb/s MP3, which are what I use on my IPod, but this is completely subjective and different music to different people will sound better or worse.

      For the matter at hand, I would just say that XM has high fidelity audio and leave it at that.

      One of the cool features of XM and Sirius is that they can both supposedly download new codecs to devices as they are developed, so the music quality should only improve over time.

      🙂

    • Cosmo June 29, 2003, 5:28 pm

      I’m new to this board, so I’ll keep my comments simple. Satellite Raidio is great. It gives me an opportunity to listen to new music, and learn more about the artists. XM 150 (comedy) makes the stop-and-go traffic of an obnoxious commute not only bearable, but a breeze. I hate being in a car without it.

      I have the Delphi portable unit for home, and have it hooked into my PC already. I’ve been curious about the benefits of the XMPC version, and this review has answered some of my questions. It also introduced me to Media Center; I’ve been looking into a timer for XM recording, andf this one is the best I’ve found. The benefits of the PC version v what I have:

      1. Less cabling arounf the computer. No need for an additional power source.

      2. Programming the recorder seems easier; I don’t have to remember to turn on the separate XM box.

      3. Being able to just hit a button to remember the info on a song is worth it’s weight in gold. Again, I listen to a lot of new music, and really enjoy downloading it (I always try the Apple Store first on my iBook; if it’s not available, off to Kazaa). I cannot tell you how many times I’ve scrambled for a scrap of paper, interrupting whatever I’m doing.

      I think the debate over sound quality is a moot point. It’s great, and I cannot tell the difference between a CD and the XM on my system. It’s WAY better than FM. That is a fact.

      Re: reception. I live in an area where I do not get a constant signal while driving. (due to mountains). Mother nature WAS here first. I do get great sound at home, with partial (2-3) reception from the satellite, even thru trees.

      If you appreciate music, entertainment and nostalgia, satellite radio is for you. This system for the PC seems well thought out; I may need to indulge.

      Thanx for all the info.

    • The Reader June 29, 2003, 11:29 pm

      Damn right XMSR and SIRI stocks have been sky rocketing, but pulling back now. SIRI is the money maker. Tip: buy on Wednesday, sell after 4th of July weekend. Reason: many will be selling stock before 4th of july weekend to lower exposure of the 3 day holiday in which bad news can come out while they’re on vacation. It is a historical statistics that buying a few days before any majore holiday weekends will get you good gains. I’ll be back a week after 4th of jUly to tell you the results : ) hehe.

      SIRI and IGCE looks like good targets for Wednesday Entry for me.

      THIS IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO THIS ARTICLE BECAUSE I SPECIFICALY TALKED ABOUT XM RADIO AND SIRUS NETWORK!

    • flamaest June 30, 2003, 1:23 am

      I will never pay for radio. period.

      I will however, pay for radio + GPS enabled intelligent traffic/weather maps to help me avoid traffic congestion and know what the weather is going to be like anywhere I go.

      Until XM adds this form of additional services, satellite radio is simply a waste of satellite bandwidth and technology.

      F.

    • Judie June 30, 2003, 5:46 am

      flamaest,

      Do you have cable or satellite TV? I bet 25 years ago people would have scoffed at the idea of paying for TV broadcasts. Now, TV is almost worthless without the value enhanced cable channels – that you pay for.

      I look at satellite radio the same way – but with a benefit. I pay for cable TV, but I still have to endure commercials on most channels. With satellite radio, I have the exact type of station I want to tune into without any commercials and without suffering through the painful “morning DJ” chit chat.

      I was skeptical about “paying” for radio, too – before I got Sirius. Now, I will have it in every vehicle I ever own. It is worth the $13 a month for me.

      BTW, there is a Weather Channel station for whatever part of the country you live in. No traffic congestion /GPS yet – maybe someday.

      Judie :0)

    • Cosmo June 30, 2003, 1:36 pm

      If anyone out there misses their morning DJ insanity, there is channel 152…..nothing but that morning madness 24 hrs a day.

      (One to skip for me too……)

      As for paying for radio: $10/month is like buying lunch at work 2 times. I’d gladly trade the food where I work (hospital) for the pure listening enjoyment anytime!

    • JoshFink June 30, 2003, 1:49 pm

      Is it possible to bring this signal into one computer in the house and then stream it throughout the house to multiple computers?

      Thanks

      Josh

    • buffasnow1 June 30, 2003, 2:55 pm

      I spoke with a Sirius rep yesterday. He said that the new Audiovox line of satellite receivers will soon be marketing a product that allows the subscriber to carry music with them on their waists. I can’t wait!

    • JohnKes June 30, 2003, 5:57 pm

      I became convinced of satellite radio the first time I drove from San Jose to LA. 5 hours with a meager selection of country, western, spanish, plus a few christian stations. [We forgot to bring our CDs.] We were dyin’ by the time we came within range of LA stations!!

    • buffasnow1 June 30, 2003, 6:20 pm

      Hi Josh,

      I don’t know about XM radio, but the basic Sirius subscription includes a password that permits the user to stream music, via a computer with a high speed internet connection, at no additional charge. No fancy software is available or required.

    • fitzsimmons July 2, 2003, 4:10 am

      I’m looking forward to the XM walkman, which was announced at the Q1 shareholders’ meeting earlier this year. (I’m getting awfully tired of lugging the SkyFi Boombox everywhere…)

      Originally posted by buffasnow1
      I spoke with a Sirius rep yesterday. He said that the new Audiovox line of satellite receivers will soon be marketing a product that allows the subscriber to carry music with them on their waists. I can’t wait!

    • fitzsimmons July 2, 2003, 4:15 am

      By the way, in case anyone’s interested, XM announced its current subscriber numbers today:

      This quarter XM hit 692,253, an increase of 209,178 over the previous quarter.

      That is an average increase of 2324.2 subscribers per day (or 69,723 / month).

    • Julie July 2, 2003, 3:10 pm

      I wish my iPod had satellite radio built in! :wow:

    • mterk July 3, 2003, 9:57 pm

      Does anyone know if XM receives a signal in England?
      -Mike

    • JohnKes July 3, 2003, 10:52 pm

      Sorry, I don’t think XM or Sirius work outside of the continental US. For sure not Sirius. I work at the company that built the Sirius satellites – its antennas were only designed to cover the US.

      I think Alcatel is working on a European version.

    • fitzsimmons July 4, 2003, 5:35 am

      Neither XM nor Sirius work in England.

      XM covers the continental US, plus much of Alaska, Canada, Mexico and surrounding waters.

      Most of Europe, however, already has satellite radio service. Check out http://www.worldspace.com. Their receivers are a generation ahead of XM’s (and two ahead of Sirius) so you might want to see them just for the coolness factor. (I particularly like the Hitachi model.) Worldspace doesn’t have XM’s variety but if you’re an English speaker stuck in the boondocks, I’m told it’s a Godsend.

      Also, if I remember correctly, the European Space Agency announced earlier this year that it would be devoting some aging satellites to developing a new commercial European satellite radio service. (Search on slashdot.com for details.)

      Originally posted by mterk
      [B]Does anyone know if XM receives a signal in England?
      -Mike [/B]

    • mwooldri June 13, 2004, 12:17 am

      Originally posted by mterk
      [B]Does anyone know if XM receives a signal in England?
      -Mike [/B]

      As stated earlier: No.

      Besides, Europe has a good terrestrial digital radio network as well as Worldspace, and other people looking to launch an XM Radio style service too.

    • GSML August 22, 2004, 3:54 pm

      The software that comes with the XM PCR is somewhat sub-par, but there are lots of third-party packages available that do some amazing things.

      XtremePCR is a free alternative to the stock software that does a lot more, and does it better:

      http://www.xtremepcr.com

      Last week TimeTrax came out, it rips MP3’s directly from the satellite radio, with full artist and song names on them. Leave it running overnight and you end up with a directory full of MP3’s.

      http://www.nerosoft.com/timetrax

    • Julie August 22, 2004, 4:32 pm

      GSML:

      I’ve been seriously thinking about buying a satellite radio package that I can use in both my car or home. The software that you’ve provided links to look very interesting! Have you tried the TimeTrax software yourself? If so, what bitrate does it record songs at?

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