You may want to do both. The pre-programming so you'll be ready to roll quickly (and have a base load as a start). Get the software as well so you can make changes as your needs/wants change or the agencies in your area make changes. It might be a good idea to have the person doing the programming not only program it for you, but also show you how it's done so you'll have a good base of knowledge to start off with.
Programming isn't really all that hard, but there's a learning curve that you must master (like many other things in life). Software makes it much easier, especially when you add a RR premium membership so you can save the time consuming (and error prone) typing in the frequencies, talkgroups, tones, etc.
Make your first start the RR database (the Database tab on the RR menu bar). Move to your state then county and then find the system(s) in your area you might want to monitor. Do this prior to getting your scanner so you can make sure it will pick up what you want to monitor! Then cross reference that data with the RR WIKI on radio models (Category:Radio Models - The RadioReference Wiki) to validate that your chosen scanner will work on your desired systems. A digital scanner will pick up analog systems so don't worry that if you get a digital scanner to pick up one P-25 digital system and think you'll need a different scanner to pick up an older EDACS or Motorola trunking system, the digital scanner will work on both.
There are types of systems that no scanner will pick up. These are MotoTRBO, ProVoice Digital, OpenSKY, and a few others. Scanners will also not decode encrypted transmissions (marked with an "E" in the database).
In addition if you find that the 346XT will work for your area, you don't need to buy any software - there's freeware available. But we're kinda getting ahead of ourselves here...
In addition to what N5IMS has said (and he's on target), I would also go to the forum for your particular state. Be sure to modify your profile as well, to include the county/state you reside in- it makes it much easier to locals in your area to respond to your questions and needs. The database is one place to go, but many systems are changing - and becoming active in your particular state's forum will educate you as to which scanner(s) work best for your area.
We also have an extensive state by state listing in our wiki - accessible via the collaboration gateway. In that same toolbar where you got to the database, look to the right, float your mouse over Wiki then click on Collaboration This will lead you to the Gateway where you can select your state (keep in mind that anything in blue - here or in the wiki - is a link). The collaboration area holds data that can't be stored on the database- sometimes there's additional information about various trunked systems in your area - and much more, such as scanning-based Yahoo groups and other mailing lists. Information is king in this hobby, as it is in many other facets of life.
Educate yourself - it's much cheaper than buying the wrong scanner...best regards...Mike
Hello all, i'm seriously considering buying the 346xt handheld. can someone please recommend if i should pay the money to have it pre programmed or should i wing it myself and buy the software? Thanks Ed