Monday, January 09, 2006

XM Vs. Sirius: A Review Of Both

After months of hoopla, Howard Stern finally debuted on Sirius satellite radio this morning. Surprisingly, the sky did not fall, the Earth did not stop spinning, and God did not personally descend from the heavens to smite anyone who might be listening.

Throughout the weekend and into this morning, all you could hear was the sound of a beating heart on Sirius' channel 100. That all changed at 6:00:30 A.M. (they ran just a bit late) when the beats were replaced by the thunderous crescendos of "Also Sprach Zarathustra".... As done to farting noises. Yes, it truly captured the solemnity and dignity of an important moment in radio history.

George "Sulu" Takai then came on in the role of announcer, and it fell to him to be the first to break the old taboos when he concluded his spiel with "Freed from terrestrial radio, no more bullshit!"

As for Howard, it took a surprisingly long 24 minutes for him to drop the F bomb himself.

Personally, I don't care that much for Stern. He's pompous, arrogant, and spends most of his show talking about how great he is. On the other hand, he hates George W. Bush, so the man can't be all bad.

Now at this point, some of you may be saying, Hey Lugosi, didn't you say last summer that you were disappointed with satellite radio, and that it wasn't for you?

No, I never said that. And if denying one's original words and attempting to rewrite history for a gullible public is good enough for the White House, it's certainly good enough for me....

Well, okay, if you're going to threaten to indict me, then yes, I did say that. I did try Sirius for a couple of weeks and ended up being disappointed with how easily the signal could be lost. But after I returned the unit, I decided to give XM a shot and ended up being quite pleased. Yes, its signal could still be interrupted by obstructions, but the problem was much less frequent.

Both satellite services rely on ground based retransmitters in urban areas. Consequently, both XM and Sirius fare quite well in big cities. The real test comes once you're out in the country.

Even if you're driving down the highway at 60 mph and go under an overpass, the Sirius unit will lose the signal for a moment. XM, on the other hand, has no problem with brief obstructions. For its signal to drop, you have to be in bumper-to-bumper traffic at 25 mph while passing under a bridge. Those extra couple of seconds without the signal will cause a corresponding interruption in the audio.

Trees and thick foliage are also a problem for Sirius. XM, once again, handles such obstructions much better.

I should note that when I called to cancel my Sirius service last summer, the guy in their customer service department said it sounded like maybe I had a bad unit. However, the radio I have now is a different model and it is still just as bad on the highway. But since there are no leaves on the trees at the moment, that's not currently an issue. We'll see how it does in a few months once everything turns green again, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to expect the new radio to do any better.

So if I was so disappointed with Sirius, why did I get another radio? Two words: Bruce Springsteen. I found out that Sirius had added a channel dedicated entirely to The Boss, and I immediately had to hightail it down to Circuit City. So yes, I currently have two satellite radios in my car. And I hate to think what all that radiation is doing to my sperm count.

In terms of the music choices, both XM and Sirius are comparable. They each have something on the order of 75 or 80 commercial free music channels. Each one tends to be narrowly focused. For example, there are separate channels for older classic rock, newer classic rock, deep album rock, etc.

The one exception to that is that is the Super Shuffle channel on Sirius. It can go from Lynard Skynard to Hank Williams Jr. to Olivia Newton-John to Frank Sinatra. Every now and then some rap piece will come on, and that's usually my cue to switch over the Big 80's.

As far as sports are concerned, XM has major league baseball while Sirius has the NFL. That means you can tune into any game as they're being played. Moreover, you can usually find each team's usual radio guys covering the games. So like during this past Saturday's Redskins-Buccaneers playoff game, I had a choice of listening to the radio guys who usually broadcast Washington's games on the local FM station OR I could tune in to the Tampa Bay guys covering the game. It's interesting how you can get different perspectives on the exact same game by doing that.

0 thoughtful ramblings: