Which satellite radio is better, XM or Sirius?
July 19, 2004 6:07 AM   Subscribe

When it comes to satellite radio: XM or Sirius? [more inside]

I’m leaning toward Sirius just because of the programming (seems to have exclusive rights to NPR and PRI programming, as well as others I find interesting), but I am still swayed by XM’s larger market share (i.e., I don’t want to find myself in 5 years with the Betamax of the satellite radio world). I'm not in an area where I'd benefit from XM's traffic/weather reports. I also want to consider the sound quality of the services, how frequently people run into ‘dead spots,’ etc. In addition, what are your feelings regarding the transportable plug ‘n play units vs. the wired in-car deals?
posted by ChrisTN to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Best answer: XM subscriber here, and I'd say that programming should probably be your deciding factor. From what I've heard, sound quality between the services is not an issue, nor are dead spots (the only time I ever lose a signal is when my car is completely covered, like pulling into a parking garage - and in metro areas they have ground repeaters that make it even less of an issue).

As for the market share, its certainly something to consider. I have no doubt XM will be around in a few years just because of the investment from major auto makers like GM. That said, I can't imagine Sirius would just disappear either; if they weren't going to survive, hopefully XM or another competitor would buy up the business.

Portable versus in-car: If you're like me, you'll be amazed how much you listen to satellite radio. My first choice was the XM SkyFi for my car, with the boombox as a later purchase for my home. Besides the ability to move the single subscription back and forth, the interface for the SkyFi is great, as long as you have space to install the unit in your vehicle. The newer Roady and Commander are in-car and smaller, with some extra features. They actually can be moved as well, just not as easily as the SkyFi. I can't speak for the Sirius hardware, but I'm sure someone will have some advice on that end as well.

There are fan sites for each side: XMFan and Sirius Backstage. Great sources of information, especially for picking the hardware.

Good luck with it, and once you have satellite radio you will hardly ever turn on AM/FM again.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:11 AM on July 19, 2004

I purchased an XM Radio Roady2 for my wife's car last weekend. This is an external unit with built in FM modulator that allows it to play through the radio. I went with the external unit for a few reasons. Installation was a snap - attach a tiny magnetic antenna to the roof, clip the unit on to an air conditioning vent with supplied gizmo, plug the power cord into the cig ligher, and you're in business. You can also pull the unit out of the car and use it at home with additional adapters supplied for free in a promotion that ends in September. They're also expected to start selling a walkman-type portable player this fall that you snap the tuner into.

Of course the downside of all this portability is it can be easily ripped off from your car, although I'd imagine the thief would have a difficult time having a stolen unit activated.

My decision of XM over Sirius was driven mainly by market share. As I understand it, XM currently has 2.5 million subscribers vs. Sirius' .5 million. Also, I've read that Sirius has a single satellite where XM uses 3. Availability of NPR isn't terribly important as their terrestrial signal is available wherever we drive. XM does have BBC world service, and a sufficient number of other news and talk channels, though the real reason we have it is for the music.

As for dead spots, it's an accepted fact that the signal will drop off under bridges and in tunnels, as well as heavily wooded areas. From my short experience with it, this amounts to a second or so of silence, and in some cases there was no noticable loss of signal.

If you have more specific questions, check out the fan sites listed in shinynewnick's post above.
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2004

Indeed: keep in mind: since latency isn't really an issue for the sort of programming they're sending, they can actually buffer some material, just like Real Audio does, to cover short breaks.
posted by baylink at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2004

they can actually buffer some material, just like Real Audio does, to cover short breaks.

No, they can't, really -- if you lose some signal, it's lost, regardless of how far ahead you're buffered. Real's buffering works because missing data can be (and is) retransmitted, or just arrives more slowly than expected, but there's no way to do that with a satellite broadcast.

The only thing I can think of is if each stream is broadcast twice, the second slightly delayed (say 10 seconds) to fill in any missing buffer entries. I have my doubts about this, though, as it would double the required bandwidth.
posted by kindall at 8:31 AM on July 19, 2004

XM uses two satellites, in geosynchronous orbit. Sirius uses three, which orbit in such a way that at least one of them is always in your sky.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2004

We also decided XM over Sirius because we liked the style better than the Sirius models (they are so huge!!) and the fact that you can bring in the receiver and listen to it at home (at no added monthly cost; the Delphi hardware is great package in my opinion -- giving you lots of options which is exactly what we wanted).

Maybe the Sirius hardware receivers are so big is so they can get all the names to show up on the screen. Our Delphi cuts off the longer band/song names, which can be annoying.

So I'd suggest checking out their programming and seeing which is really more important, then look at the hardware (both in car and at home) to see if there are any that stand out one way or another for you.
posted by evening at 9:44 AM on July 19, 2004

Let your conscience be your guide.

Mine says that Clear Channel owns a hefty part of XM and not to give them any more power.
posted by RavinDave at 11:15 AM on July 19, 2004

Best answer: You could try xmorsirius.com. This link and this one also have some discussion.
posted by Vidiot at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2004

As I understand it, XM currently has 2.5 million subscribers vs. Sirius' .5 million.

Which is part of the reason I chose Sirius. I really don't want to see the whole industry monopolized by the first dog out of the gate. Imagine, XM buys Sirius, ClearChannel buys XM, and now we have orbital sucky radio across the continent.

Also, the Sirius portable reciever, which is a little more chunky, is much more pleasant to use than the XM versions.
posted by Tubes at 1:12 PM on July 19, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. Good thoughts.
posted by ChrisTN at 4:59 PM on July 19, 2004

Disclaimer: I own a small amount of both XM and Sirius stock

IMO Sirius has much better programming than XM. The 2 NPR stations, plus the fact that Clear Channel is _not_ a major stakeholder of Sirius really seal the deal for me.

I had an FM transmitter with Sirius in my last car and found the audio quality to be lacking.

With either solution, I'd suggest not getting one that "connects" using an FM transmitter. I keep hearing rumors that Alpine is going to be switching from supporting XM to Sirius (that and that Alpine will be releasing a connector for its stereos that allow you to hook up your iPod and control right from the stereo), which is making me wait to get it installed in my vehicle.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 10:59 PM on July 19, 2004

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