Over on YouTube user Rob Fissel has uploaded a nice video that demonstrates the iBiquity HD Radio decoder working with an RTL-SDR. HD Radio is a terrestrial digital broadcast signal that is only used in North America. It is easily recognized by the two rectangular blocks on either side of a broadcast FM station signal on a spectrum analyzer/waterfall display.
For a long time it was thought impossible to decode due to the closed and proprietary nature of the signal format. But thanks to Theori who was able to reverse engineer and create an HD Radio decoder it has now become possible to decode this into actual audio that you can listen to. In some areas it is even possible to extract the weather and traffic data encoded into some broadcasts from iHeartRadio.
Rob's YouTube video demonstrates him downloading and setting up the HD Radio decoder, then receiving, decoding and listening to some HD Radio stations in his area.
If you are in the USA, you might recognize HD 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. Earlier in the year in June a breakthrough in HD Radio decoding for SDRs like the RTL-SDR was achieved by Theori when he was able to piece together a full HD Radio software audio decoder that works in real time.
It turns out that some of these HD Radio signals run by iHeartRadio also contain other data streams such as live weather and traffic data that is consumed by HD Radio based car GPS receivers or audio head units in US vehicles. HDRadio.com also write that they can embed other data such as sports scores and emergency messages into the data stream as well.
KYDronePilot's Python script utilizes Theori's decoder to save all received weather and traffic data maps for a folder. Below is an example of traffic and weather data that he received.
HD Radio is a high definition terrestrial digital broadcast signal that is only used in North America. It is easily recognized by the two rectangular blocks on either side of a broadcast FM station signal on a spectrum analyzer/waterfall display. Since HD Radio uses a proprietary protocol, finding a way to decode it has been difficult and so this signal has been inaccessible to SDR users for a long time. Back in February of this year we posted about Phil Burrs attempt, where he was able to create a partial implementation (up to layer 2) of the HD Radio standard, but didn’t get far enough to decode any audio in layer 3.
One of the main findings was the discovery of the audio compression codec. Theori found that the codec was essentially HE-AAC with some minor modifications. The modifications were minor enough that he was able to adapt the open source FAAD2 library for HD Radio audio decoding.
Theori’s code is open source and available on GitHub. The code includes the patch to modify FAAD2 for HD Radio and it is automatically applied during the build. A sample file for testing the decoder is also provided and we tested the decoder with the sample and it worked well. The decoding can also be performed in real time and examples of that are also on the git readme.