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New XM upgrades worth your consideration: Polk XRT12 and SkyFi2


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#1 of 31 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 23 2004 - 01:54 AM

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Satellite radio has changed my life.

I can make such a statement without any exaggeration.

Since childhood, music has been the center of my
life. I grew up listening to many different genres
of music as well as studying the disc-jockeys who
presented them on the radio, hoping one day to become
one myself.

A few years back, before the first satellite radio
receiver hit store shelves, I already knew this upcoming
format would be a huge success amongst music aficionados
who had grown tired of corporate controlled radio and
their restricted playlists.

XM radio was everything satellite radio was supposed
to be. The service tore itself away from the FM radio
mold with programming that was fresh and eclectic. It
is something that no other satellite or cable music
service has yet to match.

Of course those of us that have satellite radio will
admit that the potential of this format is only marred
by its limited bandwidth. This is not the fault of
satellite radio, but simply what can effectively be
done with the bandwidth that has been allocated to these
services. Though satellite radio offers a clean
digital signal superior to FM radio, the overall
music quality falls short of being up to Compact
Disc standard.

Let me quickly note that the quality of satellite
radio is so much improved over FM that on a decent
audio system, the average person would probably
mistake it for Compact Disc.

As satellite radio has surged in growth its technology
has also matured. This quarter XM announced the release
of several new products that would surely take their
radio subscribers to new limits of listening pleasure.

This past week I bought the Polk XRT12 reference
Tuner and the SkyFi2 receiver. After using both
devices for the past two days I have walked away with
some very positive impressions.

The most intriguing aspect of the Polk XRT12 is
its ability to handsomely integrate itself into your
home theater rack -- not to mention the fact that it
has optical and coaxial outputs that provide
listeners with a direct digital connection that allows
cleaner audio with noticeably less signal loss.

Having previously owned a modified SkyFi, I
already knew how much better XM sounds with
optical output. The Polk XRT12 managed to
produce the same smooth, natural sound quality I
had expected from a direct digital connection.
Though audio still doesn't reach CD quality, the
Polk unit does manage to eliminate many of the
compression issues that can be heard through RCA
connections.

My only major gripe about the Polk XRT12 is
that the display does not support extended character
readout. This is a major disappointment when you see
the display advances in the Delphi SkyFi2 which
has been released around the same time. How could
Polk put out such an expensive receiver with display
technology that dates back two years?

As for the SkyFi2....

Owners of the original SkyFi, listen up!

You need to upgrade.

There has always been criticism about the original
SkyFi radios. They were hard to read in
sunlight, had limited character display, and were
overall a mediocre decoder device for the XM signal.

Delphi has finally upgraded this dinosaur with
SkyFi2 which features a vast amount of
improvements to enhance your XM experience.

On the surface, the SkyFi2 looks and acts
exactly like the original model. This a good thing
since it is compatable with all the home and car kits
currently available. All one needs to do is replace
the head unit rather than the cradle.

Once you turn the SkyFi2 on, you'll immediately
notice that there are some significant changes going
on here.....

First and foremost, the display now features black
text against a white background. This is a significant
advantage for viewing under bright sunny conditions.

New features include a clock with sleep timer; an
informational ticker that scrolls stock and sports
scores; a JUMP button that lets you switch back and
forth between the last two stations.

I saved the best features for last....

SkyFi2 has a built-in FM Modulator allowing
playback on a variety of open FM channels if a
direct connection to the car's head unit cannot
be made.

SkyFi2 also continuously buffers up to 30
minutes of programming allowing you to instantly
play back any material you may have missed should
you have stepped out of your car or listening room.

Best of all, SkyFi2 supports extended character
displays. You'll now see entire song titles scroll
across your screen.

How does the audio quality sound over the original
SkyFi model? My first impression was that
there was no improvement whatsoever....that is, until
I learned of a simple "tweak" that significantly
boosted the power output.

What is that "tweak"? All one needs to do is go
into the MENU, turn ON the FM modulation and then
increase the audio output. The improvement is startling.

Those who cannot make a direct connection to their
car stereo will be highly satisfied with the quality
of the built-in FM modulater. Tuning to my FM radio
I was able to receive a very strong signal. For the
most part it was difficult to tell the audio quality
difference between the direct connection and the FM
modulation -- that is, until I heard brief moments of
underlying FM hiss and static. I imagine this can be
improved by playing around with the several available
open broadcast channels that are being offered. I was
very surprised that the FM modulation sounded as good
as it did. Trust me -- it sounded very close to direct
connection quality.

I must be honest -- though I haven't had the time
to explore everything that's new on SkyFi2,
I can immediately summize that this is a significant
and necessary upgrade over the original model.


To Purchase...


Anyone thinking of purchasing either of these two
receivers should consider MYRADIOSTORE.COM

Please be aware that this review was not written for
the purpose of bringing customers to a retail site.
MYRADIOSTORE.COM is not an advertiser of ours
and we don't get any kickbacks from bringing customers
to them.

All the XM exquipment I own in my home/car has been
purchased from this website for well over the past year.
I have gotten excellent service from these guys and
my orders generally show up the next day. Their prices
are usually no higher than retail store and it's far
easier for me to order over the Internet than to hop
in my car to get the equipment I need.

I am sure many of you will be purchasing or receiving
these new receivers as gifts this holiday season. I
look greatly forward to reading your experiences over
the nest few weeks.

If you have any questions please ask. I'll make
every effort to give you a quick answer.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 31 OFFLINE   SteveK

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Posted December 23 2004 - 03:31 AM

Great reviews, Ron. Ordinarily, I'd probably want the Polk receiver, but I'd still need the SkyFi as I enjoy listening to XM before going to sleep. Since I already have two XM subscriptions (one of my SkyFi and one for my car), I'm not anxious to add a third. So it's SkyFi for me, with an anticipated upgrade to SkyFi2 as a Christmas gift. If myradiostore ever offers the SkyFi2 with a digital out, I might upgrade at that time.

Like you, I was planning on being a DJ at one point in my life, even majoring in Television/Radio production before changing my major in college. I've always loved many kinds of music, and I remember having a large record collection before upgrading to CD. So XM was a natural for me, and I find I enjoy it as much after 18+ months as the first day I bought it. I still have not listened to the various talk channels much, but I've spent MANY hours with the numerous music channels. I have so many "favorite" channels I don't even bother with presets on my SkyFi (although I have to use them on my car radio since it does not have direct access.) To me, XM is the best purchase I've ever made, and I look forward to using the SkyFi2 after Christmas.

Steve K.

#3 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveBB

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Posted December 23 2004 - 08:10 AM

Thanks for the heads up Ron. I have my SkiFi connected to my Mazda factory radio through the external FM Modulator. I'm glad you heard an improvement in sound when going from the SkiFi1 to the SkiFi2.

I know I'm getting a SkiFi2 for Christmas and will report back in this thread my findings.

Merry Christmas everyone!


#4 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 24 2004 - 03:59 AM

Thanks! Mom just called 10 minutes ago -- gotta get a satellite radio for dad! Hit HTF, find a brand new XM radio recommendation. Now I'm off to get just the right tuner for my dad. (whew)

Your comments were very timely. Posted Image

#5 of 31 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 25 2004 - 02:37 AM

So, Dave.....

What didja buy for Dad?

What was his reaction upon opening?

When you get it all hooked up report back to us.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#6 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 25 2004 - 08:46 AM

I met my mom at BestBuy and told her to buy the SkyFi2 with the car kit and extended service plan. He has a few trips a month, three hour drives in his truck, so a portable unit is a good unit. He may also use in the office.

And fortunately he's been talking about this for a while with my brother-in-law, who told me to go with XM (I considered Sirius because of NPR and the Football programming).

Santa isn't visiting us until this evening, so he hasn't seen it yet.

And I had XM programming for a while, after I bought my new Honda, and I thought it would be great for my dad. I'm sure he'll love it! Posted Image

UPDATE:

I opened it to subscribe and get the unit initialized for my dad, so it would work immediately for him. To my disappointment, it doesn't come with an AC adapter. I have to buy the the home kit for that -- $70! So, set it up in the car, and got it working.

Nice unit, bright display. It got signal with the antenna inside a car parked in the garage. The controls seem sensible.

XM has also changed their news/talk programming since I last saw it. I'm tempted to renew my subscription, with the internet option so I could listen at work.

My initial sense is the SkyFi2 is a good unit and a spontaneous decision to buy is a good one. Just make sure to pick up the home unit if you want to use it inside.

#7 of 31 OFFLINE   MatS

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Posted December 25 2004 - 05:36 PM

Quote:
To my disappointment, it doesn't come with an AC adapter. I have to buy the the home kit for that -- $70! So, set it up in the car, and got it working.
home kits are no longer going for $69, they are $49

you can also find sites to purchase individual parts and not the whole kit. I recently upgraded to a SkyFi2 but had an ac adaptor and extra antenna from the free Roady home kit offer. Just picked up the base for $21 and shipping from the XMFan store and was good to go. Didn't have to have the home base since I could have moved the car base back and forth if I wanted to.

#8 of 31 OFFLINE   MatS

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Posted December 25 2004 - 05:43 PM

also a note to anyone activating before the end of the year
here is a code for free activation, this will save you $9.95 (you have to use the code though)

Free activation when you activate any xm Satellite Radio by 12/31/04.
You can activate online at xmradio.com, or at 1-800-XM-Radio.

(Use code NEWSPRFA4)

#9 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 26 2004 - 02:11 AM

Quote:
here is a code for free activation
When I activated online, the activation fee was waived by default; no code was needed.

Thanks for the info on accessories pricing.

#10 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveBB

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Posted December 27 2004 - 04:58 AM

Well, got my SkiFi2 for Christmas and have it hooked up.

Couldn't be happier with the SkiFi2. Even if I would have to buy it for myself; it's worth it to upgrade from the SkiFi1.

The best part for me is the display. I drive to and from work with the sun rising/setting behind be. That's great for driving (since you're not getting blinded by the sun) but was bad since the sun really washed the black/orange display of the SkiFi1. There were plenty of times where I could have to cup my hand so I could see that was on the display.

But now with the grey/black LCD screen of the SkiFi2 there are no such problems. The display is perfectly visible and looks great. Plus the color jives better with the interior of my car. The orange/black display SkiFi1 did not match the rest of my dashboard. However the grey/black matches my current car perfectly.

As Ron mentioned in his very good review there are many new features with the SkiFi2. My findings were pretty much the same as his. The 30 minute memory is a nice feature. The Direct Tune is also cool.

As to the sound quality improvement with the SkiFi2, while it's nothing astonishing: there is an improvement. On high-bandwidth channels like 22 and 47 there seems to be a slight improvement with the high and low ends. Also on the extreme low bandwidth traffic and weather channels there seems to be some improvement. There are times I listen to the St. Louis traffic channel and go "What did they just say?" because the channel is so compressed. However this morning it seemed like less of a problem.

So whether you have the SkiFi1 and are looking to upgrade or wanting to try satellite radio for the first time: make sure to check out the SkiFi2. You won't be disapointed.


#11 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 27 2004 - 09:53 AM

Two more quick thoughts:

The tape adapter doesn't work well in some cars. Getting it set up I tried it in my mom's Taurus; the tape deck would go into auto seek mode spontaneously, which stops the audio. My dad reported later that it would periodically start seeking every 15 minutes. I also saw similar behavior in a Ford Explorer. This may be an issue with modern "intelligent" tape decks.

My dad's car kit didn't come with the vent mount hardware listed in the installation guide. Did anyone else discover it MIA? (off to BestBuy to ask about this stuff)

Minor issues aside, my dad likes it. After my limited experience I think it's a nice unit with a sensible interface. The display looks quite good. I'm also impressed by recent changes to the XM talk & news lineup.

#12 of 31 OFFLINE   Doug^Ch

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Posted December 28 2004 - 01:46 AM

I want to thank Ron Epstein for his passion for XM Radio. I stumbled on to this forum, and because of Ron's enthusiasm, decided to give XM a try. I ordered a SkyFi2 with a home and vehicle kit, but first a little background.

I live in a rural area of Vermont and have a difficult time picking up a clear signal on any of my radios (I have a number of Radios everything from a Bose Wave to a couple of Tivoli model twos - plus three other radios and a receiver, which I never bothered to even try the FM tuner, because I knew it was hopeless.) The only stations that I could receive clearly were French speaking stations from Montreal. I also have a one hour commute to and from work, and because of all the commercials I had stopped even turning on the car radio.

It was because of this commute that I decided to try XM. I thought even if I got a couple of commercial free stations, it would be worth it. Well I have not installed it in the car yet, but what it did for me in the house is utterly amazing. First of all, it is incredibly easy to set up (even a technologically inept person such as myself found it easy) I opened up the antenna and immediately received a five bar signal. After I activated it, the thing blew me away. The built in FM modulator is amazing. Every radio in the house, both upstairs and downstairs including the home theater receiver gets a crystal clear signal from the SkyFi2. The breadth and depth of the programing is beyond all belief.

I liked it so much that I decided to buy and activate a second receiver so that I don't have to move it in and out of the car. I am now an evangelical XM convert and preach its benefits to every person I meet. This may be the greatest technology breakthrough of all time. I predict that in five years commercial radio as we know it will be dead. The only thing that it has now that XM doesn't might be local news, and you can get that in the newspaper.

#13 of 31 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 28 2004 - 07:31 AM

Doug,

You made my day!

Welcome to XM!

I am surprised that you haven't tried a direct
RCA connection with the home kit in addition to
having it modulate all over the house.

A direct RCA connection will give you superior
sound quality over FM modulation -- and yes, you
can still use it to modulate to all your house
radios at the same time.

Ronald J Epstein
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#14 of 31 OFFLINE   SteveK

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Posted December 28 2004 - 09:20 AM

Welcome to the XM family, Doug.

I have always thought that XM has an untapped market in the many remote areas of the US that have trouble picking up even one decent radio station because they're so far away from a reliable signal. To suddenly go from one or two weak signals to over 100 channels has to be an exciting experience. Even after having XM more than 18 months now, I still enjoy the "wow" factor of having so many different formats to listen to.

I think you'll enjoy XM more than you ever thought possible. The music selection is incredible, not to mention the many news, talk and sports channels. Hopefully you'll get many hours of entertainment from it, and your one hour commute hopefully won't seem so bad as you're listening to many favorite channels.

Enjoy!

Steve K.

#15 of 31 OFFLINE   Bill-DC

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Posted December 29 2004 - 12:17 AM

I just got a Sky Fi 2 receiver, a home and car kit and a boom box and I can't stop listening to it. Ron's tip works great. I got another tip from another site and I hope it's ok to pass along.

Advanced display menu on the Delphi XM receivers.

This menu shows a more exact signal quality indicator. This menu shows the signals being received from the 2 satellites and any terrestrial repeaters in your area. This menu allows you to only look at things. You cannot change any settings in this menu so you cannot accidentally change something that would mess up your receiver. Look and have fun.

WITH YOUR UNIT OFF:

1. Press 2 - 0 - 7 and then the "XM" button.
2. The unit will power on.
3. Wait about 5 seconds and press the "display" button 3 more times to get into the advanced menu screens.
4. This will bring up a series of advanced menu screens. Pressing the "display" button again will cycle the display through the 5 menu screens.

The number of screens will vary on the SkyFi, Roady, MyFi, and Commander.

1st Screen:

A display showing the signals being received from SAT1 and SAT2 and TERR, the terrestrial ground repeaters. A check mark in the box means you are getting a signal from that source. Only 1 source is needed to make the radio operational.

XM's satellites are affectionately called Rock and Roll. SAT1 is Roll, which is in orbit over the east coast. SAT2 is Rock, which is in orbit over the west coast. XM has more than 900 terrestrial repeaters. These terrestrial, or ground repeaters, are used to repeat the same signal that the satellites are sending. These repeaters are used in larger cities and make it possible to get a signal between tall buildings and in the lower levels of expressways etc.

BER % is the Bit Error Rate Percentage. This is a VERY GOOD indicator for aiming your home antenna. You want the LOWEST number. A BER % of 0.0 is a perfect signal. As this number increases there are more errors. A signal of less than 5% is needed for the radio to play. Only 1 signal of the 3 is needed to make the receiver play.

To make antenna aiming adjustments, rotate or tilt the antenna slightly, REMOVE your hand from the antenna, and look at the numbers. It will take a few seconds for the SkyFi to react as the incoming signal is buffered in the radio.

I have found screen 1 with the BER percentages to be EXTREMELY useful in finding the best location and position of my indoor antenna for optimal reception. It sure beats the little three, or four bar display in the regular menu.

You now have a good way to see that your indoor antenna is positioned for the best reception.

It is also fun to look at the advanced menu BER% when you have your radio in the car while driving around. The car antenna is omni-directional and cannot be aimed, but it is neat to see what your XM is receiving.

#16 of 31 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 29 2004 - 04:49 AM

Bill,

Great tip! Thanks for posting this.

Ronald J Epstein
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#17 of 31 OFFLINE   Doug Miller

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Posted December 29 2004 - 06:21 AM

My wife had to make a U-turn on my Christmas present, when a few days before Christmas I started talking about XM again. My first experience with XM was back at an Electronics training in Orlando -- it was a few months before XM was set to hit the market, they showed the video with Snoop Dogg and David Bowie, BB King... the commercial gave me chills and had me pumped. (I considered buying stock at the time at $14.95 or something like that -- was happy I didn't when it was down to $3 something -- then wish that I had again now Posted Image)

I'd been holding off on XM to work out some of the bug issues. I liked the portable units that came out, but had read about some of the drawbacks. When I read about the Skyfi2 and started doing some more checking I knew it was time to make the jump.

I really like the SkyFi2. Really clear display, the sound is great, it's easy to program. I drive about an hour each way to and from work; I experience 6-8 dropouts on the way to work that all last less than 10 seconds. The way home I have closer to 20 dropouts and am tempted to just turn it off for the 7mile stretch. It must be the angle of the tree'd corridor. I went to a meeting about an hour and a half north of me (just east of Seattle) and only had one dropout the whole way. I've been really happy with the overall reception in the area.

Hooking it up in home was a pleasant surprise once I got it set. I initially had it direct connect to my receiver, but unfortunately could not get any reception (antenna was next to window). I shrugged it off and figured, well, maybe the kit would work upstairs with my radio up there. I set up the home kit on my floor, stretched the antenna to the window and it worked! I was using the FM modulator to the boom box I have in the room, I went to the bathroom down the hall and tuned it in, it worked in there too. Light bulb goes on. Hm... I wonder if I can tune it in downstairs on my receiver, and damned if it didn't tune in down there too.

Very, very happy with the unit. I love being able to get the number of sports stations, the sports ticker is cool, and I find myself listening to a lot more comedy than I expected.

I give it a hearty Posted Image
Doug

#18 of 31 OFFLINE   DaveBB

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Posted December 29 2004 - 08:21 AM

Another nice new feature with the SkiFi2: Auto Power On. Even though I've only had a day of using this feature I've decided it's a great addition. Once I start the car and wait a few seconds the SkiFi2 fires up. Will probably be listening to even less AM/FM radio with this.

#19 of 31 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 29 2004 - 09:27 AM

My SkiFi2 turns itself on and off automatically
when I do the same with the car's engine.

My brother's new SkyFi 2, on the other hand,
doesn't want to turn itself off automatically.

Any idea why it may not be doing this?

Ronald J Epstein
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#20 of 31 OFFLINE   Doug Miller

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Posted December 29 2004 - 05:24 PM

Ron --

Mine comes on and off auto with no problem. I actually have the opposite problem when I bring it inside, when using my home cradle I sometimes have a hard time getting it to power on. I think it's the delay or something, I must keep hitting the button too fast.

You might have your brother reset the defaults on the unit, then program again.

Doug





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