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GM spreads car-radio DVR

Consumer Reports News: January 21, 2010 04:46 PM

Ever get lost in a song on the car radio, only to have it interrupted by a call? Or wish you could back up a smidge to repeat the weather report you just missed? Or want to pause the radio for a conversation without missing anything?

That’s the ability that DVRs bring to your living room. Now GM’s new Pause and Play radio brings that functionality to the cabin of your car.

The system includes a hard-drive buffer to store up to 60 minutes of radio broadcasting. To pause the radio--say to swat your sassy offspring in the back seat--simply press the Play/Pause button on the center console. Hit the button again, and the radio resumes playing where you left off, say in the middle of your favorite song.

You can also hit the rewind button to repeat the last 30 seconds. The fast-forward button will jump ahead 30 seconds as long as you’ve already stored some information by pausing or rewinding. It will skip over ads on XM satellite radio if you’re tuned in. A progress bar on the radio display indicates how much radio is stored in the buffer. As soon as you change the radio station, it goes back to a live broadcast on the new station.

Using the system on my way home, I found it handy to repeat weather and traffic reports that I had missed relevant sections of, and to be sure I didn’t miss any of my favorite programs when a (hands-free) phone call came in.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t flawless. For a little while, listening to a broadcast with only a 30-second-or-so delay and driving on a twisty road, the system couldn’t decide whether to play the live broadcast or the recorded one. On an NPR station, an anchor would be talking along, and it would occasionally jump forward or back. Momentarily switching to another station and back to clear the buffer was enough to correct the problem.

The system comes standard with the 3.6-liter engine or bundled with the navigation system in the CTS. For 2010, it is also available on the Chevrolet Equinox, Buick LaCrosse, GMC Terrain, and Cadillac SRX with built-in navigation.

Aftermarket receivers with this time delay feature have been available in the past from satellite radio providers. But this is the first we’ve had a chance to try it in a factory radio.

In the end, having to buy a navigation system drives the price beyond what I’d think the feature was worth. But if you want navigation (or the CTS’s sweet 3.6-liter V6) anyway, the ability to rewind and store radio programs seems like a feature whose time has come. It’s one I’ve been wishing for since I first got TiVo at home.

Eric Evarts

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