The main difference between HD radio and satellite radio lies in the broadcast technology that everyone uses. Satellite radio uses satellites to transmit content. HD radio is a digital extension of terrestrial broadcasting. There are some key differences in programming, availability, and cost.

HD radio vs satellite radio

General conclusions

HD Radio
  • Digital extension of analog broadcasts.

  • Limited geographic range.

  • Digital signal conversion allows you to get a clearer signal than analog radio with displayed content.

  • Compatible head unit or tuner required.

  • No monthly fee or subscription.

satellite radio
  • Satellite broadcast covers entire continents.

  • Only one service (Sirius XM) is available in North America.

  • Requires a compatible receiver plus a monthly subscription.

  • Limited advertising.

While satellite radio is available on all continents, HD radio is only available in certain markets. Satellite radio requires a monthly subscription, while HD Radio is free. Which one is better depends a lot on your driving and listening skills.

Terrestrial/HD radio vs satellite radio

Terrestrial radio is limited to geographic regions. While syndicated content from other markets may appear locally, this content is broadcast and received locally. Satellite radio, on the other hand, covers the entire continent with the same programming.

HD Radio is a trademark for a hybrid digital/analogue transmission technology developed by iBiquity. The system delivers digital content to analog receivers. The attraction of this is clearer audio without fluff or static. It also allows content information to be sent to the head unit or vehicle display, and to have more local stations pass through the signal.

You need a compatible head unit or tuner to listen to HD Radio, but once you have HD Radio, you have it forever. There is no need for a monthly fee or subscription. Satellite radio, on the other hand, requires either a compatible head unit or portable satellite tuner as well as a monthly subscription.

The only satellite radio provider in North America

There is only one satellite radio provider in North America: Sirius XM. Sirius and XM initially operated as two independent companies. They teamed up in 2008 when it became clear that neither of them could survive on their own. This effectively created a satellite radio monopoly in the United States and Canada. The FCC approved the merger because it saw the service as competing with audio streaming services.

Should you get HD or satellite radio?

Satellite radio offers programs that you cannot get through terrestrial radio, and vice versa. Some popular radio hosts such as Howard Stern switched early to satellite radio and are only available through a satellite subscription. Another reason people like satellite is the lack of advertising on some stations.

Terrestrial stations have the ability to serve local rather than national audiences, with local music news, news and live shows. To compete with satellite radio, podcasts, and streaming services, some terrestrial radio stations broadcast content with limited or no advertising.

If there is a lot of HD Radio content available in your market, you may be happy with HD Radio. If you enjoy satellite and (mostly) ad-free programming, you can take advantage of the Sirius XM radio subscription.

Another option is to skip over-the-air and satellite radio and streaming radio through an app like iHeartRadio, or jump into podcast world .

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