Tagged: HD Radio

SignalsEverywhere: Decoding HD Radio with an RTL-SDR

Corrosive (KR0SIV) from the SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel has uploaded a new video that explains and shows HD radio being decoded with an RTL-SDR.

If you are in the USA, you might recognize HD (Hybrid Digital) Radio (aka NRSC-5) signals as the rectangular looking bars on the frequency spectrum that surround common broadcast FM radio signals. These signals only exist in the USA and they carry digital audio data which can be received by special HD Radio receivers. Back in June 2017 we posted about how [Theori] was able to piece together a full HD Radio software audio decoder that works in real time. Later developments saw additional data such as traffic data and weather info extracted from HD Radio too.

Corrosive's video also shows a comparison between analog and HD Radio audio. We note that the "HD" doesn't stand for high definition, so audio quality is not really better than the analog stream. He also notes that the HD Radio data stream can contain multiple audio channels, and often they are not the same as the analog station it surrounds. One example he shows is a Simulcast AM radio station being rebroadcast via HD Radio.

HD Radio RTL-SDR Decoding vs Analog Radio

First Steps Towards Decoding HD Radio

Programmer Phil Burr wrote in and wanted to share his newest code which is a partial implementation (no audio) of the iBiquity IBOC HD Radio standard. HD Radio is a proprietary broadcast radio protocol and is used only in North America. You may have noticed it before as the rectangular sidebands on the spectrum which surround standard analogue broadcast FM signals.

The audio codec specifications are not public and is thus not implemented here, so this code has very little use outside of being a good learning tool. But Phil does write that if anyone if able to figure out how to decode the codec, then this code may be a good starting point.

Phil writes:

I wrote this because I wanted to learn about digital broadcasts. Despite the fact that the audio codec used is iBiquity’s proprietary HDC codec, I decided that writing a receiver that could decode the air interface would be a great learning experience.

iBiquity’s HDC codec is supposedly based upon some of the same technologies as HE-AAC codec so it may be possible for some audio codec gurus, given access to the raw HDC audio packets, to write a decoder for the codec.

The receiver is somewhat limited. It only decodes FM MP1 profile transmissions (which happens to includes every IBOC FM transmitter in my area). It is also somewhat limited in the Layer2 packet demultiplexing. It likely needs a strong signal in order to decode signals reasonably well. However it is just enough to get access to the main program stream.

HD Radio Sidebands Visible on the Spectrum
HD Radio Sidebands Visible on the Spectrum