SDR fir dummies

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ramblinracer

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I have seen many topics here and on other sites about Software defined Radio using a USB dongle. I have played around with it some and can get it working occasionally on my PC but I can never get it to actually scan ,multiple agencies. My goal is to use the SDR on a dedicated PC to broadcast my scanner feed and have the ability to remote access my PC when I need to lock out a channel occasionally when it is just static noise.

I really need a good step by step tutorial to walk me through it. Many I find online are outdated as some of the links they say to download software are obsolete.

Thanks!
RR
 

Sarge47

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SDR for dummies

Google those 3 words. And RTL_SDR. Read every word you can find for your needs.I have recently downloaded every entry level program I could find. However only one would work with my 2 sdr dongles. SDRConsole. I still try every day but like HDSDR error message says " no input sound card ". It seems because of this HDSDR will not start. Control panel shows up but refuses to start. Same with SDR# and a few more. Very frustrating! Good Luck.
Sarge47
 

Dog

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I have seen many topics here and on other sites about Software defined Radio using a USB dongle. I have played around with it some and can get it working occasionally on my PC but I can never get it to actually scan ,multiple agencies. My goal is to use the SDR on a dedicated PC to broadcast my scanner feed and have the ability to remote access my PC when I need to lock out a channel occasionally when it is just static noise.

I really need a good step by step tutorial to walk me through it. Many I find online are outdated as some of the links they say to download software are obsolete.

Thanks!
RR
Are you trying to listen to a trunked system or conventional system?
 

br0adband

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First rule of SDR: It's not a scanner, and no matter what you do with whatever software you choose it's never going to be exactly like (or even really close to) a real physical scanner. At least that's what I tell people that are new to using SDR hardware and software of various kinds.

Is it difficult to do some of the things the OP is asking to do? Well, as someone that's fairly experienced using SDR hardware and software I'd say no, not for someone like myself it isn't but for someone brand new to this way of doing things it can seem to be practically impossible at first so that's why the #1 recommendation I'd make is read, read, read some more, then read even more, and when you think you're done reading you're gonna have to realize no you're not done and you're going to have to read even more than you've read up to that point. :)

The information is out there, really, and yes there's a lot of info that is "outdated" but it's really not because the basic concepts of SDR always remain the same: a hardware radio tuner controlled and utilized by software typically running on a computer with an operating system to run that software on.

The most common SDR software in use today is arguably SDR# and by default it won't "scan" anything as it's designed as a piece of software to control and make use of an SDR (literally meaning software definer radio/receiver/transmitter/transceiver/etc). There is a plugin for SDR# known as the Frequency Manager Suite which allows it to scan in a more traditional sense but you are still extremely limited in terms of functionality, the most glaring one being that it's for conventional single-channel use only which means it won't work with trunked systems at all because it can't follow the trunking control channels because it doesn't work as a CC decoder for the necessary info. If you have a bunch of frequencies it can hop them one after the other, it can stop on one that's got an active transmission, it can hold on the frequency when the active transmission stops per a delay time you set, and then resume the scanning of the programmed frequencies/memories but that's about it.

It offers other features as well for logging/data analysis and such aspects but again it won't turn a computer with an SDR device into a proper scanner like one you can buy from Uniden or Whistler these days. Right now the limitation is the software that's available, and because SDR is moving in rapidly in terms of popularity the amount of actual software development isn't really very "happening" so far. SDR really exploded in popularity just over the past 3-4 years because of the discovery that those "cheap USB TV tuners" designed for the old European digital TV system could be used with modified drivers to allow them to become wideband receivers.

The concept of SDR itself has been around for several decades so it's not actually new in that sense, just new in the sense that it's become more cost-effective for a huge number of people because of those "cheap USB TV tuners" that cost from ~$10-25 that can be coupled with the software that actually is available (some of it created specifically for those types of low-cost hardware devices) and boom, now everybody is beginning to realize how useful it actually is.

With respect to the particulars the OP asked about I'd say this:

- Multiple agencies: if they're conventional you can use SDR# along with that plugin I mentioned above, and SDR# does support remote control over TCP/IP connections IIRC so you can make use of that as required but if it's trunked systems (or even one involved instead of multiples) you're going to be stuck and have to find something else, perhaps FMP/DSD+ as well if the system(s) are using digital modes like P25/DMR/NXDN/etc

- Broadcasting a feed: if you have an actual physical scanner that will still be the best source for the feed audio itself and getting that out is easy in comparison to trying to get a proper SDR setup that will scan and then output a feed to get to some site like Broadcastify.com or wherever (or just keep it private for your own use). Possible? Yes. Easy? Hardly, but still possible even so.

- Remote control: yes that too is possible but again it's going to be limited in capability if you mean direct control of just the SDR app/program/software itself - in many respects using a tool like Remote Desktop (Windows), VNC (other platforms), and so on would be easier as they'd allow you to see the "desktop" of the computer running the SDR software you're hoping to control.

I'd say if you truly are new to SDR spend some time, a few weeks or so, reading, researching, trying different things, trying different software, and a lot more reading - seriously, hands on is fantastic but without the instructions you have to read with comprehension most people won't be able to get things going and if they do it could be a one-shot and they may not be able to repeat it if necessary and of course repetition is the mother of all skill. :)

Also, as we have a subforum here at RR dedicated to SDR topics you might want to read a lot of the stuff there whether it seems to appeal to you based on the thread topic or not, the info there is invaluable on many many levels:

Software Defined Radio - The RadioReference.com Forums

Good luck...
 

wa8pyr

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Google those 3 words. And RTL_SDR. Read every word you can find for your needs.I have recently downloaded every entry level program I could find. However only one would work with my 2 sdr dongles. SDRConsole. I still try every day but like HDSDR error message says " no input sound card ". It seems because of this HDSDR will not start. Control panel shows up but refuses to start. Same with SDR# and a few more. Very frustrating! Good Luck.
There's a DLL file that needs to be located and copied to the HDSDR folder where the program is located.

Setup instructions: http://hdsdr.de/RTLSDR_with_HDSDR.pdf

However, I've personally found SDR Console to be much nicer to use.
 

lmrtek

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there seems to be nothing about SDR that is plug and play

I had two different kinds and could never make either one work on either of my XP machines or any of my android phones

to me, anything that doesn't auto install and plug n play on any operating system is worthless

I kept the antennas and threw the SDRs in the weekly garbage where the belonged
 

jonwienke

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Your loss.

SDRs have the raw ability to do pretty much anything a scanner does. The problem is that the software is still primitive. To monitor P25, you need 3 different software packages written by 3 different developers who do not coordinate updates for compatibility, and even when you have everything working perfectly, you can't easily monitor multiple systems the way you can with an actual scanner. The hardware is there, but the software pretty much sucks if you want to do more than listen to manually tuned analog frequencies.
 

br0adband

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there seems to be nothing about SDR that is plug and play

I had two different kinds and could never make either one work on either of my XP machines or any of my android phones

to me, anything that doesn't auto install and plug n play on any operating system is worthless

I kept the antennas and threw the SDRs in the weekly garbage where the belonged
Well no offense (but it'll be taken even so, understandable) but XP is a relic nowadays and anyone actually using it is better off with Windows 7 if one must use such an older OS on obviously older hardware.

Having said that the majority of items in computing use are not plug and play which is really a terrible way of stating things (blame Apple since they used that term first many years ago). All hardware requires a driver so that the operating system (on whatever platform) can recognize and then utilize the given hardware. To get the "cheap USB TV tuners" installed and working it's a three-step process that literally takes 2 minutes tops:

- install the Zadig drivers (that takes like 10 seconds) and plug in the stick afterward
- download and extract/install the SDR software you want to use or test out (that takes like 30 seconds to 1 minute once you have it downloaded to the local machine)
- run the software, point it to make use of the "cheap USB TV tuner" and fire it up, bam

Sure it sounds easy in that respect because I've done it hundreds of times myself and so someone else might not have that experience which is understandable but geez, there really does need to be some effort on the part of the user to get things done.

Even actual physical scanners don't just automagically work the way you want them to without SOME level of user effort to configure them - they might be able to pull entire databases of information (go figure, that stuff was provided by users) and make use of that info but you as the user still have to tell the scanner what city/county/state/zip code you're in (someday they'll probably do that automagically with GPS as well) and then a further step of you telling the scanner what you want to actually hear while ignoring all the other potential comms it's capable of monitoring.

So, yeah, it takes some effort on your part to make things work as nothing is every going to do it all from the gitgo.

I mean, you had to tell your web browser you wanted to come to RadioReference and see the content here, it didn't do it all by itself... the browser might have come "plug and play" as part of the OS but even so, it's still up to you to learn how to do things yourself.

Your loss.

SDRs have the raw ability to do pretty much anything a scanner does. The problem is that the software is still primitive. To monitor P25, you need 3 different software packages written by 3 different developers who do not coordinate updates for compatibility, and even when you have everything working perfectly, you can't easily monitor multiple systems the way you can with an actual scanner. The hardware is there, but the software pretty much sucks if you want to do more than listen to manually tuned analog frequencies.
You're right about things not being "click this, you're done" and it just works but this radio monitoring thing is a hobby and it requires effort as already noted. Just for the record: you can monitor P25 with OP25 but that's another thread altogether - one "app" of a sort (more accurately designated a package) and it can monitor P25 Phase I and Phase II conventional or trunked systems, even multiple ones but that's beyond the scope of someone that's brand new to the SDR way of doing things and a more advanced topic for that other subforum.

Even so, this entire hobby is really about learning new things, new hardware, new software, new methods, etc. Learning never stops unless someone decides to just not learn new things which seems pointless to me but it happens even so.
 

KD8DVR

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there seems to be nothing about SDR that is plug and play

I had two different kinds and could never make either one work on either of my XP machines or any of my android phones

to me, anything that doesn't auto install and plug n play on any operating system is worthless

I kept the antennas and threw the SDRs in the weekly garbage where the belonged
Well, you have to work at it, in the beginning, to get any benefit. It has a high "geek factor"; but when It's up and running, you have to just point and click. It beats any physical scanner any day of the week. If I want to carry it about the house, all I need to do is open a remote desktop on my phone and I have my scanner anywhere.

I can surely understand the frustration, though. There are some software packages that are darn near impossible, and the documentation for about anything is spread out all over and very poorly maintained.

It isn't for everyone; but it sure beats a $500 scanner in cost factor.
 

jonwienke

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Just for the record: you can monitor P25 with OP25 but that's another thread altogether - one "app" of a sort (more accurately designated a package) and it can monitor P25 Phase I and Phase II conventional or trunked systems, even multiple ones but that's beyond the scope of someone that's brand new to the SDR way of doing things and a more advanced topic for that other subforum.
That certainly isn't in the same galaxy as "plug and play"--you have to get a particular Linux build working under Windows, and install GNU Radio, then OP25 in the Linux build. So it's still 3 separate software entities developed by 3 different dev teams who are not coordinating with each other to ensure compatibility when version updates are released. I've been working in the IT field for over 20 years, and that's more of a PITA than I'm interested in dealing with.

If someone wrote a single integrated Windows program that allowed control of multiple SDR receivers, and decoded AM, FM, SSB, and all the common digital formats (P25, DMR, NXDN, LTR, etc.) in trunked and standalone flavors, and had database and scanning functionality similar to the Uniden BCDx36 scanners, then we'd be talking.

But right now the potential of SDR is hamstrung and crippled by primitive and kludgey software.
 

br0adband

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That certainly isn't in the same galaxy as "plug and play"--you have to get a particular Linux build working under Windows, and install GNU Radio, then OP25 in the Linux build. So it's still 3 separate software entities developed by 3 different dev teams who are not coordinating with each other to ensure compatibility when version updates are released. I've been working in the IT field for over 20 years, and that's more of a PITA than I'm interested in dealing with.

If someone wrote a single integrated Windows program that allowed control of multiple SDR receivers, and decoded AM, FM, SSB, and all the common digital formats (P25, DMR, NXDN, LTR, etc.) in trunked and standalone flavors, and had database and scanning functionality similar to the Uniden BCDx36 scanners, then we'd be talking.

But right now the potential of SDR is hamstrung and crippled by primitive and kludgey software.
With the step by step instructions we now have over in the SDR subforum (which was originally conceived as a way to get OP25 running inside a virtual machine but is directly useful without a virtual machine but can be used in that manner even so, it's possible to install Ubuntu + OP25 and have it up and running and monitoring in 20 minutes or less, and I've been in the "IT" field since before that silly term even existed (as in punch card days) but as stated previously I don't have any issues learning new things and while I might be older I'm still highly adaptable. :D In the recent past it did take much longer to get OP25 installed and running and was more error-prone for several reasons, but there's a newer more streamlined method now that has those step by step precise instructions that really can't fail if they're followed to the letter as written. Someone just the other day did get tripped up at one point and had a problem but it was because he had skipped a single step (changing to a specific directory before issuing a command) but once that little mistake was discovered it was good to go - in other words, the instructions work as long as they're followed.

I think it's worth 20 minutes (or longer if you're not all that experienced with Linux installations as most people - even "IT" folk - actually aren't) to be able to tune in P25 Phase I and Phase II conventional and trunked communications with better LSM support than any modern scanner on the market today is capable of along with outstanding audio decoding as well but that's just me. Sure, I've been on an "OP25 kick" lately recommending it all over the place but that's because a) it works b) it works better than most scanners because it does LSM properly and c) aside from the cost of a $10 stick and a computer which most folks already own it's pretty tough to beat for those purposes. Is it necessarily a cake walk to make it work? No, I'll be the first to admit that. But is it worth the time and effort to do it? Damned straight it is, multiple times over for a variety of reasons the least of which is actually making use of it.

If someone wrote a single integrated program on ANY platform that does everything everybody wants to do with respect to radio communications monitoring it would be a winner (and make them some ducats too) but right now nobody seems to care about it enough to make it happen because everybody wants something different. I've stated many times over the past few years that if I were a software developer with the talent necessary I would have long since been working on a single package that would effectively take the tuner of an SDR hardware device and do all the things that most of us do with a modern physical scanner + all the extra things that SDR is capable of above and beyond the limitations of modern physical scanners, and add additional capabilities and features as they come along or are deemed worthy of inclusion.

Unfortunately, I'm not a talented software developer like some folks are, so there goes that idea. :)

As it stands, what we have now in terms of the software and the hardware tools available on multiple platforms is functional and does work quite well but if the end user is lazy and just doesn't want to get their hands dirty as the saying goes by learning some new things and doing what's necessary to be able to use that's their problem. The beauty of this hobby - at least for an old bastard like myself - is that again it's a learning thing, requires some hands on, requires effort on the part of the user, and mistakes will be made along the way but that's part of the learning process.

It sure seems like in today's world people just want everything a bit too easy. Anytime I see this kind of discussion all that comes to mind is this scene and what the little kids say:

Back To The Future - Wild Gunman Scene
 
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