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Author Topic: SDR Knobs and Buttons in the future  (Read 87819 times)
KK6GNP
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Posts: 158




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« on: August 15, 2013, 02:03:20 PM »

Hello, everyone.

Disclaimer:  I can sometimes come off as a know-it-all, but that is because I spend most of my free time learning. Apologies in advance if I rub anyone the wrong way with this post.  All I intend to do here is share some thoughts I've had where SDR is concerned.  You are welcome to disagree with me, but I'm not looking for an argument.  In fact, I'm always looking for insight from intelligent people, and I'm not afraid to be wrong, if I am proven so with facts.

I'm brand new to the forum, and to radio (still studying for my ticket), but I have a great interest in SDR.  I've been an IT professional for a couple decades now, and run my own consulting biz, so I'm neck deep in all kinds of computer technology.  Finding out about SDR after I already decided to get my license was a great surprise for me.

The reason for this post is because I wanted to share a couple of thoughts I've had since learning a little about SDR.  I know a lot of people around here have decided they hate SDR for one reason or another, and that's fine, but I certainly am not one of them.  As someone who works with many different types of computer technologies, I understand the potential power and flexibility that comes with being able to design custom interfaces, and flexible software (firmware) design for different devices.

The first thing I want to say is that rumors of the demise of PCs and laptops have been greatly exaggerated. Even in tech circles you will hear phrases being thrown around such as "the post PC era", but that doesn't mean exactly what is sounds like.  It is true that fewer non-business & home consumers are purchasing full-sized computers these days, deciding to use ultrabooks, tablets and phones in their place.  However, tablets and other mobile devices are designed primarily for content consumption, not content creation.  When real work needs to be done, a tablet or phone does not do the job. In my mind, amateur radio is content creation in addition to consumption.

In my consulting business, I often have clients ask me if they can get away with just using a tablet at home or when on the road, for business, and the answer is absolutely NO for most of them.  Anyone who has even tried to do something as trivial as write a long email on a tablet knows how bad they are for basic content creation uses, and the first thing people want to do is plug a keyboard in to it.  At that point, right there, your tablet becomes a laptop, more or less.  An under-powered, under-featured, though very portable laptop that is locked into a non-business operating system (iOS, Android, etc).  I could go on and on about the shortcomings of mobile devices for work and content creation, but you get the point, and probably already did before I posted, if you own a tablet already.

One of my computer hobbies includes playing with video and music production.  When I first started reading arguments about the superiority of knobs and buttons on standard radios, vs mouse and keyboard for SDR's, the first thing that came to mind is that this is another place where usb controllers can be used.  I've seen that there are some usb VFO knobs out there already, but those could be expanded to do pretty much anything a standard radio does as far as physical controls, and they can be used with any SDR the builders want to support.  I personally own a medium sized synthesizer keyboard controller that has zero capability of generating any output of its own, other than controlling software on my computer.  Some of these usb controllers for music and audio/video production are quite elaborate, and are not very expensive at all compared to their full-featured hardware counterparts.  Take this USB digital DJ software controller example:

http://www.digitaldjtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/NI-TRAKTOR-KONTROL-S4_controller-3.png

I know I'm not the first person to think about this, but some of the arguments against SDRs here seem to suggest that "the PC is dead" and/or that standard radio controls are better.  The PC is not dead, and won't be dead until computers have completely automated humans out of work.  They may change and evolve, but we humans still have the same body parts we've always had, and for now, we are still doing most of humanity's work.  We need larger screens, especially as we age, and we still need the precision control of a pointing devices for those screens.  One thing you can look forward to is much more voice and gesture control of computers coming soon.  VR interfaces may be coming much sooner than anyone thought as well, with devices like the Oculus Rift coming.

I don't disagree with the argument against keyboard and mouse only control for radios.  Those tools are not ideal for many things.  However, this is a problem that is easily addressed, and I think the VFO controllers are just a small sample of what may come in the future.  This might be another neat area for homebrewers to tinker as well.

I look forward to your comments.  I won't engage in any fights about how good or bad current SDRs are, because I believe they are here to stay, and it's hard for me to imagine most new radios not being SDR-based in the future.  I could be completely wrong, but technology is changing much more rapidly these days, and the changes will continue to ramp up exponentially over the next decade and beyond.  Every new generation of tech is speeding the rate at which we create the next jumps in tech, and I am seeing this across all sectors I follow.

Which traditional transceiver manufacturers today are selling or are currently designing SDR-based or full SDR radio equipment already?
« Last Edit: August 15, 2013, 02:37:18 PM by JEEPESCAPE » Logged

73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
WB2ZXJ
Member

Posts: 8




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« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2013, 02:40:45 PM »

Hi,

Consider the WoodBoxRadio Tmate2 USB controller:

http://www.woodboxradio.com/tmate2.html

It already works with the Flex xcvrs and the Perseus rcvr.

Barry
WB2ZXJ
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K9IUQ
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Posts: 1622




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« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2013, 02:47:35 PM »

I'm always looking for insight from intelligent people, and I'm not afraid to be wrong, if I am proven so with facts.

I'm brand new to the forum, and to radio (still studying for my ticket),

Ok I will give some intelligent insight.  Smiley First get a Ham License and learn about operating a Radio with Knobs. It is a completely different experience operating a SDR radio with a  mouse or keyboard with computer, and for the most part it is not pleasant. You will see that a good ham needs to run more programs than the one running the SDR. He needs the DX Cluster, Digital program, Propagation program, Dx Atlas, Ham Cap, Ionoprobe, read emails, surf while listening to Ham Radio, look up calls on QRZ.com, etc all running at the same time. Window (Program) "Focus" becomes a real problem. One needs multiple monitors or multiple computers..

So get the Ham license, and learn what Ham Operating is all about before jumping into SDR's right off the bat.

FWIW I am NOT against PC's I worked with/on them every day before I retired. I have had computers in my Shack since 1978 when I bought a TRS-80. My first Ham program was a RTTY program. I love computers and what they can do for me in my ham life. I just do not want a knobless SDR that requires a computer. As everyone here in this forum knows - been there & done that.

Stan K9IUQ
« Last Edit: August 15, 2013, 02:54:06 PM by K9IUQ » Logged
KK6GNP
Member

Posts: 158




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« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2013, 03:20:04 PM »

I'm always looking for insight from intelligent people, and I'm not afraid to be wrong, if I am proven so with facts.

I'm brand new to the forum, and to radio (still studying for my ticket),

Ok I will give some intelligent insight.  Smiley First get a Ham License and learn about operating a Radio with Knobs. It is a completely different experience operating a SDR radio with a  mouse or keyboard with computer, and for the most part it is not pleasant. You will see that a good ham needs to run more programs than the one running the SDR. He needs the DX Cluster, Digital program, Propagation program, Dx Atlas, Ham Cap, Ionoprobe, read emails, surf while listening to Ham Radio, look up calls on QRZ.com, etc all running at the same time. Window (Program) "Focus" becomes a real problem. One needs multiple monitors or multiple computers..

So get the Ham license, and learn what Ham Operating is all about before jumping into SDR's right off the bat.

FWIW I am NOT against PC's I worked with/on them every day before I retired. I have had computers in my Shack since 1978 when I bought a TRS-80. My first Ham program was a RTTY program. I love computers and what they can do for me in my ham life. I just do not want a knobless SDR that requires a computer. As everyone here in this forum knows - been there & done that.

Stan K9IUQ

Thanks for the reply.  I  appreciate the advice.

I should pass my test within the next couple weeks.  Already studying General and my Extra books are on the way. Wink

Considering the investment people make in expensive radio equipment, putting two or even three monitors on a computer is relatively cheap. Decent 23" monitors can be bought for $150 each, and a video card to drive them is around $100.  I already run three 23" screens myself, so screen real estate isn't a problem.  I understand what you are saying, but as far as I am concerned, the large display capability is a huge bonus to going SDR. I was just thinking earlier that it would be cool to have one of the open source SDR developers add Chromecast support so I could stream the SDR interface to my 52" Samsung TV across wifi like I do other things.

Side Note:  Anyone who is working with multiple programs should have more than one monitor on their desk, if they can.  It makes life much easier, and has been proven in business to generally improve productivity for exactly the reason you noted ~ multiple windows/programs in focus.  Most programmers and content creators would rather jump off a bridge than work with a single monitor these days.  I refuse to write code without at least two because of the wasted time.

The main point of my post was to say that where the mouse and keyboard lacks in control for amateur radio, usb controllers can not only replace traditional radio front-ends, but allow additional manual functionality if desired, or even multiple controllers.  There are countless places in computer work where the mouse and keyboard have been supplemented or completely replaced by more appropriate controllers, and this is another perfect one for it.

On my first radio:  It's looking like my first one will be a KX3, considering my current needs and budget.  I'm sure I'll try a full size radio sooner or later, but I need something much more portable that I can also use as a base, and has some SDR capability.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2013, 03:23:31 PM by JEEPESCAPE » Logged

73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
KK6GNP
Member

Posts: 158




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« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2013, 03:30:22 PM »

Hi,

Consider the WoodBoxRadio Tmate2 USB controller:

http://www.woodboxradio.com/tmate2.html

It already works with the Flex xcvrs and the Perseus rcvr.

Barry
WB2ZXJ

Brilliant!  Thanks for sharing.  These types of controllers can be expanded as much as anyone ever needs, and because it's basically a modular front end for a great radio, you can always buy a better front end down the road as they become available, or as I said earlier, use more than one controller if required.
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73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
KK6GNP
Member

Posts: 158




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« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2013, 03:42:31 PM »

I think about techy things like this all the time.  Earlier I was imagining a virtual reality interface, using the Oculus Rift, where the waveforms are placed in a 3D space, and you can manipulate them by gesture and voice.  Why?  Why not?  Wink   Just call it homebrew.
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73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
PJ2BVU
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Posts: 111




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« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2013, 05:09:31 PM »

The version of PowerSDR modified by the OpenHPSDR developers which is used on the ANAN transceivers from Apache Labs supports the Hercules DJ Control MP3 LE:
http://www.amazon.com/Hercules-DJ-Control-MP3-Controller/dp/B008YDU1DG

Jean-Claude PJ2BVU
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WB2ZXJ
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Posts: 8




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« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2013, 06:27:59 PM »

Hi Jean-Claude,

That is an excellent controller. But I think that the original poster may have been asking about SDR radio
controllers -- there are many excellent audio/music controllers on the market.

More dedicated SDR hardware would be welcomed.

Thanks for the link.

Barry
WB2ZXJ

p.s.  Simon Brown's SDR-Console supports the Tmate2.  Fun times ahead.

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PJ2BVU
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Posts: 111




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« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2013, 07:19:06 PM »

That is an excellent controller. But I think that the original poster may have been asking about SDR radio
controllers -- there are many excellent audio/music controllers on the market.

More dedicated SDR hardware would be welcomed.
...
p.s.  Simon Brown's SDR-Console supports the Tmate2.  Fun times ahead.
It may not be a controller designed for SDR but PowerSDR-mRX fully supports it and you can set it up to control about anything on the rigs supported by PowerSDR-mRX:
2 jog wheels for VFO-A and VFO-B.
Knobs for RIT, XIT, filter adjustment, AF Gain ....
Buttons to select bands, turn on/off RIT/XIT, split, A->B, B->A, A=B, ...
Sliders for zoom, upper/lower frequency of filters, PAN, ...

A lot more knobs/sliders and buttons than Tmate-2, $86.00 vs 260 Euros.
Sure it is just cheap plastic compared to the Tmate-2 which is built like a brick, has a very nice display with a lot of information on it and is ergonomically slanted.
Simon has also plans to support it in the near future in his SDR-Console.

Jean-Claude PJ2BVU
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WB2ZXJ
Member

Posts: 8




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« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2013, 07:44:13 PM »

Hi Jean-Claude

Thank you for your excellent post.  I have learned a lot.

BTW, do you know the name of the original poster?  I know that he is getting his call sign --
but it seems so cold -- not to have a real name to respond to.

73
Barry
WB2ZXJ

 
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KK6GNP
Member

Posts: 158




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« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2013, 10:55:42 PM »

Hi Jean-Claude

Thank you for your excellent post.  I have learned a lot.

BTW, do you know the name of the original poster?  I know that he is getting his call sign --
but it seems so cold -- not to have a real name to respond to.

73
Barry
WB2ZXJ


Barry,  my name is Cory.  I added it to my sig. Thanks for the comments.
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73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
ZENKI
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Posts: 906




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« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2013, 04:09:11 AM »

The  way I see it its just about profit margin and getting products to the market as quickly as possible for the PC operated SDR market.

The lack of a knobbed SDR radio is more economics and a poor understanding of the potential about whats already on the market in terms of embedded processors and
real time operating systems and operating system like Linux that could easily  be embedded in a front panel that can drive a SDR. Who is kidding who, the SDR companies are really treating  hams with contempt with the crappy SDR software other associated software.

There is something like the Raspberry Pi and CubieBoard that could easily run a front  for interfacing  to a SDR complete with TFT screen, remote networking and every other feature imaginable. All we seem to get is crippled hardware that seems to fit  in era that was 2 decades ago. Most ham  SDR software reminds me of control software that I was using in the 80 and 90's via RS232 control its so primitive in its user interface. An embedded TFT screen can be programmed by a school kid so you have to wonder who ham radio companies seem to be on their own planet with such primitive  hardware and PC control systems.

Even a simple concept like linking a tablet via USB for the front panel would be a better solution than using a PC. I can control a few of my test instruments via Android and bluetooth and its a fantastic way to go.  You can have audio, a nice screen, remote operation and pretend knobs that are far better than mousing and clicking in front a PC. I am not anti PC. I had a PC before the concept of the PC existed and have used every  computer and operating system on the planet. Its just the nature of ham radio and the way we do hamming that requires a physical interface with knobs. The heart of the radio is a VFO knob and to think that there is no acceptable way on all the current SDR radios of tuning up and down the bands without  getting wrist pain and strained eyes.  The tactile feeling from mouse and keyboard tuning  just leaves me cold and  not having a VFO knob and band select buttons is a disaster. Yes I have 4 SDR receivers and they excel if you monitoring SW channels or BCB DXing Etc. But hams are like athletes when it comes to the manipulating and tuning of a radio, its a physical activity that should be made as simple as possible. No SDR software package is as effective as  a front panel  radio with knobs. Even a ergonomic terrible radio like the K3 is way ahead in terms of ergonomics and practicality  than all ham SDR software.

Some ham manufacturers will get it when its too late. The smart ones will be working on a SDR radio with knobs and a front panel. The ADAT radio is  good example. The first ham manufacturer who develops a full  DDC/DUC transceiver with a front panel that has TFT screen and knobs will hold a major advantage in the marketing warfare. I  could be wrong,  but I am confident that I am right. I use the example of test equipment manufacturers where this same battle was fought. The winner was the front panel with knobs and the software as an ancillary for printing and storing or recalling complex things like  pass fails masks or relevant EMC standards. National Instruments lauched their PC driven platform but it has really failed to capture the imagination of engineers despite  its performance. Every engineer dreams of a test bench  full of Agilent or R&S equipment with nice knobs and TFT screens. A good example is a spectrum analyzer. The worst scenario would be operating a spectrum analyzer through PC driven software. It would be so slow and cumbersome. With knobs and menus  you can make these daily routine measurements so much fast.

Another example is the professional audio engineering. Although their many products on the market that can be driven and controlled by a PC, most audio engineers still prefer a rack of boxes with knobs and buttons. They seem to have intimate connections with knobs and buttons that gives them a sense of control that is not evident on PC controlled studio gear.  The thing that has changed from the all knob audio studio boxes is the embedding of LCD/TFT or some other display technology. This is exactly  what should happen with ham radios. Knobs and embedded screens for feedback and information. The Yaesu FT5000 is an example of heading in this direction, and likewise the  TS990S. The Flex6000 radios despite  its promise will be a minor player and will be probably be discontinued in 2 years time because it wont get into the mainstream just like all prior flexradio models. Flexradio should give up and now and pursue making a radio like the ADAT radio. A  Flex6000 radio with a front panel that can be internet remoted with 200 watts of output will put Flexradio ahead of the pack. Its just unfortunate that they have chosen a path that most hams dont want

Then we come to the aircraft industry. Look inside the modern jet cockpit.  Nice screens and knobs. You dont find a PC loaded with software and a mouse! The only concession is the wide use of tablets now in the cockpit. You wont find a PC controlling a HF radio or VHF radio anytime soon on a jet. Its just a ridiculous and inefficient way of doing things, just as it is using a PC with crap software to control a ham radio.  Knobs and front panels on a DDC/DUC platform will be the way forward and the ham manufacturing companies who follow this path will be   the winners.

Anyway its hard reading the tea leafs and telling the future. However based on my experience in engineering and test and measurement whose requirements are for easy to use boxes that are ergonomic much like the ham radio market I am confident in my views.


Hello, everyone.

Disclaimer:  I can sometimes come off as a know-it-all, but that is because I spend most of my free time learning. Apologies in advance if I rub anyone the wrong way with this post.  All I intend to do here is share some thoughts I've had where SDR is concerned.  You are welcome to disagree with me, but I'm not looking for an argument.  In fact, I'm always looking for insight from intelligent people, and I'm not afraid to be wrong, if I am proven so with facts.

I'm brand new to the forum, and to radio (still studying for my ticket), but I have a great interest in SDR.  I've been an IT professional for a couple decades now, and run my own consulting biz, so I'm neck deep in all kinds of computer technology.  Finding out about SDR after I already decided to get my license was a great surprise for me.

The reason for this post is because I wanted to share a couple of thoughts I've had since learning a little about SDR.  I know a lot of people around here have decided they hate SDR for one reason or another, and that's fine, but I certainly am not one of them.  As someone who works with many different types of computer technologies, I understand the potential power and flexibility that comes with being able to design custom interfaces, and flexible software (firmware) design for different devices.

The first thing I want to say is that rumors of the demise of PCs and laptops have been greatly exaggerated. Even in tech circles you will hear phrases being thrown around such as "the post PC era", but that doesn't mean exactly what is sounds like.  It is true that fewer non-business & home consumers are purchasing full-sized computers these days, deciding to use ultrabooks, tablets and phones in their place.  However, tablets and other mobile devices are designed primarily for content consumption, not content creation.  When real work needs to be done, a tablet or phone does not do the job. In my mind, amateur radio is content creation in addition to consumption.

In my consulting business, I often have clients ask me if they can get away with just using a tablet at home or when on the road, for business, and the answer is absolutely NO for most of them.  Anyone who has even tried to do something as trivial as write a long email on a tablet knows how bad they are for basic content creation uses, and the first thing people want to do is plug a keyboard in to it.  At that point, right there, your tablet becomes a laptop, more or less.  An under-powered, under-featured, though very portable laptop that is locked into a non-business operating system (iOS, Android, etc).  I could go on and on about the shortcomings of mobile devices for work and content creation, but you get the point, and probably already did before I posted, if you own a tablet already.

One of my computer hobbies includes playing with video and music production.  When I first started reading arguments about the superiority of knobs and buttons on standard radios, vs mouse and keyboard for SDR's, the first thing that came to mind is that this is another place where usb controllers can be used.  I've seen that there are some usb VFO knobs out there already, but those could be expanded to do pretty much anything a standard radio does as far as physical controls, and they can be used with any SDR the builders want to support.  I personally own a medium sized synthesizer keyboard controller that has zero capability of generating any output of its own, other than controlling software on my computer.  Some of these usb controllers for music and audio/video production are quite elaborate, and are not very expensive at all compared to their full-featured hardware counterparts.  Take this USB digital DJ software controller example:

http://www.digitaldjtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/NI-TRAKTOR-KONTROL-S4_controller-3.png

I know I'm not the first person to think about this, but some of the arguments against SDRs here seem to suggest that "the PC is dead" and/or that standard radio controls are better.  The PC is not dead, and won't be dead until computers have completely automated humans out of work.  They may change and evolve, but we humans still have the same body parts we've always had, and for now, we are still doing most of humanity's work.  We need larger screens, especially as we age, and we still need the precision control of a pointing devices for those screens.  One thing you can look forward to is much more voice and gesture control of computers coming soon.  VR interfaces may be coming much sooner than anyone thought as well, with devices like the Oculus Rift coming.

I don't disagree with the argument against keyboard and mouse only control for radios.  Those tools are not ideal for many things.  However, this is a problem that is easily addressed, and I think the VFO controllers are just a small sample of what may come in the future.  This might be another neat area for homebrewers to tinker as well.

I look forward to your comments.  I won't engage in any fights about how good or bad current SDRs are, because I believe they are here to stay, and it's hard for me to imagine most new radios not being SDR-based in the future.  I could be completely wrong, but technology is changing much more rapidly these days, and the changes will continue to ramp up exponentially over the next decade and beyond.  Every new generation of tech is speeding the rate at which we create the next jumps in tech, and I am seeing this across all sectors I follow.

Which traditional transceiver manufacturers today are selling or are currently designing SDR-based or full SDR radio equipment already?
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AA4PB
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« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2013, 06:12:05 AM »

Exactly. SDR and knobs are not mutually exclusive. There is also nothing that says SDR has to run on a PC. I expect that SDR is the future - but it will be in a dedicated radio.
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KK6GNP
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Posts: 158




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« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2013, 10:03:23 AM »

Thanks for your comments ZENKI and AA4PB.

It's interesting to me, because I have watched music production, as well as music creation for some genres, go from being all hardware back in the older days to almost completely software and computer-driven today, especially for small studios and independent artists who don't have hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to set up studio.  One can setup a small computer and software based music studio at home that rivals multi-million dollar big label studios for a tiny fraction of the cost.  Artists can sit down and write software for these systems (such as soft synths) that doesn't even exist out on the market.

By the way, my post was about using computer controllers (usb, bluetooth, wifi, whatever) with knobs and buttons to control SDR through a PC or a headless radio, because I generally agree that the mouse and keyboard is lacking for this use.  As I said before, the mouse and keyboard have specific uses, and where they do not work there is a whole industry full of specialized controllers out there. I have a USB piano keyboard here in my office, as well as a USB drawing pad, for two simple examples.

In my opinion, I would much rather have a controller with all the controls I need laid out in front of me, in addition to having large screens like those on my PC, to manipulate the radio controls, data and ancillary software.  Hunching over a desk to look at a small display on a radio, especially semi-portable radios, is archaic to me and not really necessary with today's technology.  For those who prefer that method of control, I say go for it, but I'll take a big screen and a good ergonomic controller over that any day.

There are many benefits to physically detaching the control mechanism from the actual radio.  For example, I'm no longer locked into a single controller for the life of the radio.  A better controller with more features could come along a few years down the road, and I could simply buy it and get rid of the older controller.  Traditional radios are a big block shape in most cases, and having the controls stuck to the front of that is dictated by the fact that those buttons and knobs are physically attached to the electronics of the radio.  With SDR, that's not the case, so the controls could be a completely separate devices of any kind the user prefers to use.  In your case, you may just want a traditional radio front end.  In mine, I want three big screens on my desk, and sound coming through my nice computer sound system.  

Software interfaces are very flexible, and they encourage further development and experimentation.  "Homebrew" doesn't have to to just mean busting out the soldering iron.  It can also mean tinkering with software development.  If someone comes up with a great new features, or a new way to control an existing feature, you need to have an environment that can easily accommodate change.  With software, you can basically do whatever you want, at least in a prototype scenario, and test your idea immediately.

It will be interesting to see how SDR evolves.  Obviously there's room for manufacturers to cater to everyone by making traditional-style radios, headless SDRs, and hybrids, if they want.  
« Last Edit: August 16, 2013, 10:09:55 AM by JEEPESCAPE » Logged

73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
KK6GNP
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Posts: 158




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« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2013, 10:07:34 AM »

I'm kind of surprised that SDRs are so expensive.  Eliminating the front end of something like a Flex should make it much, much cheaper to design and manufacture than a traditional radio.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2013, 10:10:21 AM by JEEPESCAPE » Logged

73 ~ Cory (JeepEscape)
KK6GNP
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