DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) is digital radio. Interference-free, premium quality sound. This entry introduces you to the Psion Wavefinder 'Interactive Digital Radio', which was the cheapest way to access DAB digital radio, and the only one allowing access to DAB Data services such as BBC Vision Radio, Digital One's 'The Digizone', MXR Interactive and BBC Travel.
The Wavefinder Unit
The Wavefinder unit is one of those things that is hard to describe in words. It's translucent blue, with a bright, four-colour LED indicating status - any colour is made possible by altering the brightness of each LED. From the front, imagine a translucent white oval about twice as tall as it is wide. Then add two aerials of about 25cm - metal, non-telescopic. Now add another blue translucent shape around it, which mirrors the oval but stretches out to meet the aerials in a smooth, streamlined shape.
The Wavefinder unit itself isn't a radio - it's a digital aerial. You connect it to the computer by USB. Software controls the receiver and the sound is sent to your computer speakers. If you want a Wavefinder you'll need a computer, and it's not much use if you've only got tiny little speakers. You'll need a good set - maybe even a sub-woofer and little satellites.
There's also a power cable to attach, as the receiver needs more power than can be supplied by the USB port. It is connected at the USB plug end of the cable, not to the receiver, so only one cable runs to the receiver.
The software that is used by Psion to convert the stream of 1s and 0s into lovely music is pretty unimpressive - the back end works fine, but the bit that you see is resource-heavy, impractical and takes up loads of screenspace. Oh, and it's quite buggy, too. There are a number of different freeware alternatives, as the core code can be legally piggy-backed in this way. By far the least fussy is probably DAB Bar, by Alastair MacDonald. Freely downloadable, this replaces the ugly and unstable front end with a simple but reasonably elegant device that can also stream data across to standard media players such as RealPlayer and the free, ad-free Winamp in native MP2 format.
This streaming has several advantages. It allows you to use a more familiar interface with the Wavefinder, and allows you to put pretty visualisations, such as those provided by Winamp's AVS, to full use.
Installation and Compatibility
The Wavefinder is USB and only runs on Windows systems at present. Installation largely involves putting the unit together and installing the software, and should take around ten minutes to complete, including a system restart should it be necessary. The user is taken through the process step by step to prevent damage to the unit or the PC.
The power supply, however, isn't the most reliable. Many experienced users use a powered USB port from a USB hub to connect and do away with the separate power supply, because the unit behaves better that way. There are also some chipset issues on some machines based on Athlon processors - not that they tell you that before you buy. That said, by using DAB Bar and being careful with the set-up, the product works well.
The build quality of the unit reflects well the original price tag of £299. However, with buggy software and some comparability issues, even the 40+ services offered by DAB in areas with good reception and local multiplexes (see the Digital Radio Entry for an explanation), it might not seem worth it. Now, the unit retails at under £100, and discounts - at the time of writing equivalent to almost 20% of the normal retail price - can be found by ordering via radio stations such as Virgin Radio and Core.
Also, considering that, at the time of writing, a HiFi separate costs three times the amount and, with the exception of a few promotional units from time to time, the Wavefinder costs just 20% of the price of a stand-alone set, the product is a reasonable way to get into Digital Radio - if you have reception and the prerequisite kit.