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SDR software notes Feb 2018

Those of you who tune into the club net may have heard me saying I was playing around with a TV tuner stick and free Windows SDR software again. Part of the reason for doing this was to see what operation with a proper SDR transceiver such as a Flex or Anan might be like. I ended up trying the latest versions of six different software packages and thought there might be some interest in my notes here on the club website.

The stick I own is an E4000 RTL2832 DTV dongle, which is of course receive-only. As far as I can tell it tunes from around 23.1 MHz to about 1800 MHz with some gaps. Aside from two DAB-specific programs most of the others allowed me to tune into the local 6m beacon, FM broadcasts, air band signals, 2m and 70cm beacons and repeaters, 70cm beacons & repeaters as well as allowing me to see signals from DAB and DTV multiplexes and mobile phone networks. These latter types were all too wide to see anything other than part of the signal at a time.

Most of the programs rely on use of a DLL called ExtIO_RTL2832.dll to control the stick. There appear to be multiple versions of ExtIO_RTL2832.dll written by different authors, supporting different feature-sets of different tuner sticks! You need to use a program called Zadig to replace the standard Windows TV tuner driver too. Fortunately I started at www.rtl-sdr.com, which helped a lot.

Many of the programs I tried (details below) have amateur-friendly features such as variable bandwidth, noise blankers and squelch. All except the DAB-specific programs show both received spectrum and waterfall charts.
Some programs require you to set a 'LO' frequency. This is not a conventional local oscillator but is the mid-point of the frequency band to be received and displayed on the spectrum chart. The user can then tune to any frequency within that range. Another feature most has was a way to correct for any frequency error caused by the stick. GB3UHF was used as a frequency standard and tuning errors successfully corrected for.

All of the programs are either Open Source or Freeware. Some may also have paid-for versions with more features. Although I believe the information is accurate, the programs were all in their different ways a bit unfriendly so it is entirely possible that there are features, or ways of setting the programs up, that I didn’t discover.


SDRuno 1.06 from www.SDRplay.com

Designed for use with wideband SDRplay dongle but will work with RTL dongle (with a reduced feature set). NB The latest software version is v1.22 but the install package for that only has the v1.06 version for use with non-SDRplay tuners.

Click on these screenshots to see full size


Plusses

Dedicated band buttons for HF amateur bands plus 2m. (But see below.)
Allegedly has other button options but this doesn't seem to be present on the
Wide FM and Stereo FM modes for broadcast stations
Professional look & feel
Squelch
Decides on suitable LO frequency itself

Minuses

No DAB
Only the 2m band button is any use with an RTL dongle.
Separate, non-dockable windows for software Control, RX Control, Main (passband)` Spectrum, Aux (tuned-in) Spectrum and Memory Panel
Poor memory banks arrangements
Press play button to start decoding


SDR# v1.0.0.1637 from www.airspy.com

Now optimised for Airspy SDR radios but still works with RTL dongles.



Plusses

Wide FM and Stereo FM modes for broadcast stations
Decodes RDS from FM broadcasts
Squelch

Minuses

No S-meter
No DAB
Memory banks don't seem to remember the transmission mode (eg Wide FM)
Memory banks hidden down at bottom of pop-out sidebar menu
Press play buton to start decoding

HDSDR v2.76 from www.hdsdr.de

As you can see from the URL, HDSDR comes from Germany. The website is in English though! Unfortunately there is no manual, although a few amateurs have posted helpful articles online. HDSDR is based on the much older Winrad and some documentation on that may be helpful.

During testing I discovered that the upper frequency limits on my dongle were:

Highest LO = 1868.545

Highest RX freq = 1869.745

HDSDR

 
Plusses

DRM & ECSS?? modes (ECSS is assumed to be Exalted Carrier Single Sideband whose benefits are unknown!)
'Analogue' S-meter
'DC' spike in centre of passband can be nulled using menu option

Minuses

No wideband FM mode
No DAB
No squelch
Confusing dual 'LO' (passband centre frequency) & operating frequency tuning
Hammers the CPU. Any other activity maxes out 2.8 GHz E5500 dual-core Pentium
Memories/band change via popup Frequency Manager application


SDR Console v2.3 (aka SDR-radio) from www.sdr-radio.com

I really wanted to like this program, which is written by Simon Brown of HRD fame. Unfortunately it was a pig to install, requiring four dll's to be installed before it worked. Some of these were documented but on installation there was an error message that MSVCR100.dll was missing too. A quick Google turned up the fact that this is a redistributable part of Microsoft Visual C+ + 2010. Fortunately I was able to install the Visual C+ + 2010 redistributables from the Microsoft website.

Unfortunately I also encountered what appeared to be a bug: at one point the frequency was changed but the decoded and displayed spectrum didn't change. The only solution seemed to be a restart.

v3 of the program is currently available in Beta.

SDR Console


Plusses

Comes with server software that can be used to allow remote operation. (I haven't tested this yet.)
Exceptionally good amateur features: integrated PSK and RTTY. Supports CW Skimmer, rig control, satellite operation including rotator control and doppler correction.
Low CPU demand
Works with a wide range of SDR receivers (but currently only the ANAN SDRs for transmit).

Minuses

Those dll's and the 'bug'
Steep learning curve
No DAB
Some interface elements appeared counter-intuitive in operation
Press start to begin decoding

DAB-specific programs

QT-dab v1.0 alpha from www.sdr-j.tk/index.html

Initially this program seemed prone to audio glitches and decoding errors. Turning AGC off and increasing gain to almost maximum solved this.



Plusses

Geeky! Charts showing channel spectrum, carrier phase/amplitude and impulse response. The latter shows signals arriving from long path reflections and multiple transmitters in the SFN.
Decodes DAB+ as well as DAB

Minuses

DAB-specific
Crude in operation with basic look & feel. (Starts with a slow-to-boot 'console' window followed by GUI elements, which initially overlap.
Need to select 'Device' Ext_IO.dll every time
Tuning is by mux channel number eg 12B for the BBC mux, which is pretty unfriendly
No waterfall chart


WELLE.IO v1.0-rc2 from www.welle.io

This was the most user-friendly of the two DAB programs. I did discover one bug however. The program can be used in full-screen or 'player' sizes. Mine is stuck in full screen!



Plusses

Scans bands to find receivable DAB muxes
Builds station list
Decodes DAB and DAB+
Decodes MOT slide shows (allegedly – I haven’t seen any slide show decodes)
Expert mode shows RF spectrum of mux and reception details, errors etc

Minuses

DAB-specific
CPU-hog - lots of audio glitches if other CPU activity
No waterfall chart
Misreports stereo DAB+ stations as mono


This wasn't intended to be a full review of the SDR programs but should give you some idea of their relative benefits. All seem to be under active development so may already be even better than I found. They are all free, so why not give one or two a go today?

73

de Mike G4RAA

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