Charles Arthur On Technology

A pause in the future of radio

Don't judge a book by its cover, they say; yet contradictorily, give a dog a bad name and it's expected to live up (or down) to it. Clearly, the challenge that faced the designers of the new Pure Digital radio, following their hits of the Evoke-1 and Evoke-2 models (which almost single-handedly sparked off the digital radio revolution in 2002) was what to do next. And once they had done it (with the results pictured above), what name should it have so casual shoppers would be intrigued and enchanted?

Don't judge a book by its cover, they say; yet contradictorily, give a dog a bad name and it's expected to live up (or down) to it. Clearly, the challenge that faced the designers of the new Pure Digital radio, following their hits of the Evoke-1 and Evoke-2 models (which almost single-handedly sparked off the digital radio revolution in 2002) was what to do next. And once they had done it (with the results pictured above), what name should it have so casual shoppers would be intrigued and enchanted?

Clearly, there would be all sorts of options. You could try something hard and high-tech - something like Kryptonite (except that's been taken by sturdy bike locks, which turn out to be fallible to attack by Biro casings) or Titanium (except it isn't; this is made with fairly cheap materials).

Instead, the engineers opted for the disarming, and called their new product - designed by Wayne Hemingway of the Red Or Dead fashion label - The Bug. But behind that cutesy moniker hides a ground-breaking piece of thinking. This is a device that treats digital radio streams just like any other piece of digital information - as something to be stopped, rewound and saved as the user wants. Just as with hard-disk-based personal video recorders (PVRs) - like Sky+, which takes the digital TV streams and puts them on to a hard disk so you can pause and play it back as you like - The Bug does the same with digital radio, which comes to you as an MPeg-2 stream. (MP3s are MPeg-1 encoded; the full name is MPeg-1 Layer 3. MPeg-2 is, thus, a newer version.)

If you've missed something that John Humphrys asked David Blunkett, then press the rewind button (which will take you back a maximum of five minutes or so). If you want to answer the phone but also listen to the chart show, just press pause. Or even record. You can set two different timers to record shows each day, or week. Heaven - Archers fans need never rely on the BBC's Listen Again website, fabulous though it is.

And here's where the people of Pure Digital showed that the people they're really trying to impress are their customers, not the broadcasters. You can record tracks - and put them on to a Secure Digital flash memory card that plugs in the back.

If you like, you can then transfer the song, programme or talk you've recorded on to your computer or digital music player, either through the USB port on the back, or directly from the card. (Though most hand-held MP3 players can't play MPEG-2 tracks directly, plenty of music encoding programs - such as Apple's free iTunes - can "transcode" them into a format you can download on to such a player.)

This might seem like a trivial point to bring up, but it's important. Pure could have sided with the broadcasters, who, no doubt, would prefer (if they've ever considered it) that people don't tape their programmes and re-play them in other formats. Had Sony been the makers, my suspicion is that that company's fierce (and I think misguided) ring-fencing of any intellectual property would mean that their version would store the file somewhere deep in its recesses in a proprietary format. (Look, for example, at how its newest hard-drive music player will only play songs in the proprietary Atrac-3 format. No, I haven't seen anyone using one either.)

Through this customer-minded attitude of Pure Digital, I was able to enjoy an episode of the latest BBC series of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (which ended last night) that I had missed and yet wasn't on the BBC's Listen Again site; a friend also reviewing a Bug had recorded it, and sent over a copy. Result: the BBC gets another happy listener who has been able to keep abreast of the series. Get enough people swapping Bug-recorded files and you'd have a peer-to-peer version of Listen Again.

Except, of course, it's not only BBC stations that are on digital radio. Dozens of commercial stations have a presence, and with radio reception (and the detection technology) improving all the time, it's no surprise that you can now buy digital radios for cars, and - finally - mini hi-fi systems with a digital audio broadcasting system built in.

For commercial stations, I think The Bug's pause/fast-forward system eventually poses just as much of a threat to their advertising model as do PVRs to TV advertisers.

I don't like radio advertising; I tolerate it. Functions like The Bug's will surely be taken up by others, and pausing the radio might soon become reflexive for drivers.

Having considered the metaphysical implications of The Bug, it's hard to wrench oneself back to simpler questions - like, how easy is it to use, and what the build quality is like? That's because, while it is a fantastic concept, some small details are disappointing; but those are comprehensible as part of an attempt to keep the price down by not going overboard on materials. Core to that is the use of a four-way rocker switch which moves from side to side to control the volume, and up or down to change station. To turn the radio on or off, you press the same button.

The problem with this is that it's easy to change station when you mean to turn the machine off, or vice-versa. The forced combination of those three unrelated functions seems odd - perhaps growing out of a desire for symmetry that would be broken if there were a separate power button.

Similarly, the liquid-crystal display showing the time, alarms, station and other settings, as well as the 10 station presets, all housed in the "head" of The Bug, looks coarse, because the pixels of the display are large. Again, that's a cost-saving measure which is hard to argue with; no doubt future generations of The Bug will have bigger displays with more pixels.

But one has to hunt for such flaws. The benefits are easier to find: compared to the previous Evoke models, The Bug can tune in to weaker signals, as well as offering different sound equalisation curves: bass- and treble-heavy for music; boosted mid-range for studio voice.

It's hard, in fact, to know how it could improve, aside from those elements held back by cost. Those should be solved if, and when, it gains a deservedly huge audience.

One thing also worth mentioning: it's a British product. Nice to know that we do still have areas where we can lead the world.

Bug digital radio, from Pure Digital, £150 (01923 260 511; www.pure-digital.com)

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: CORPORATE SALES - MARKETING SOFTWARE - £90,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £90k OTE uncapped, Mob: h2 Recruit Ltd: CORPORATE ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager -Healthcare Software-£70,000 OTE

£40000 - £60000 per annum + £60,000 OTE+Car+Mobile: h2 Recruit Ltd: Business D...

Cancer Research UK: Volunteer Area Manager Mentor/Coach

Voluntary : Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for volunteers who will use thei...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game