Dayton 2014 – a recap of K9ZW’s Hamvention

Dayton Hamvention 2014 was interesting, though less profound that past years.

First products and exhibits:

  • An awful lot had nothing new to show.  Nada, boring nothing that I couldn’t read about on the internet.
  • Same no reason to be here applied to pricing – almost every vendor has figured out they can increase sales by offering “Dayton Hamvention Pricing” on-line.  Many include free shipping and it is sometimes the case that the sales tax due is less if dropped shipped.
  • Still plenty of “vaporware” with prototype products being shown year after year with no real product to sell.  One questions how many years hams will show up at Dayton with cash in their pocket to buy antenna auto-tuners that never go into production (Alpha is not the only vaporware tuner, where is that long promised Kessler AT-AUTO-II updated unit? [EDIT:  as Don Kessler pointed out he was showing a new remote tuner at Dayton 2014 – more on this to follow]) or amps/transceivers/antennas that are “almost there” but have no ship date?
  • Dayton remains a place where the one-man-band is on equal footing with the robust corporations and mega-corps.  Unfortunately many interesting product offerings are “one heart attack” away from being unsupported/out-of-business.  Not a terrible thing if one is buying a couple hundred dollar unique product but a real concern if one is considering investing thousands in piece of gear that might be orphaned by the smallest of issues.  Ditto on products by companies where the sole proprietor is elderly and hasn’t worked outa  succession plan.  If you ask there are some surprises where small firms have this wired, bit most don’t.

Let’s talk about Dayton itself:

  •  Less Road Construction at Dayton – sees that some of the “forever projects” have finally finished, though downtown is still a mess.
  • The Hara still sucks.  Same holes in the pavement, leaks in the roof, and grubby nature.  Being cool this year odor was down.
  • More restaurants have been built nearby, which opens up opportunities.
  • Staff seemed happier.  People are people, and the ones I dealt with this year were plainly nice folk.
  • The affiliated hotels suck.  Tales of no hot water at one hotel, heat stuck on full blast at part of ours, messed up reservations and catering (one banquet I attended the hotel staff for the second year running couldn’t manage to open up the cash bar having forgotten criticals like ice, cups, mixers…. or change..) from hell.
  • The interstate getting there was hammered, under construction, overcrowded and not much fun driving.

Then may particular interests/purchases:

  • AlphaSpid RAK purchased from Alpha Radios in Alberta will be replacing my Ham-IV.  This looks to be the easiest high-resolution replacement.  Once the unit arrives I will schedule a lower lowering to do the rotator swap.  The Green Heron controller I have should work for the AlphaSpid with a few internal jumper changes inside the controller.
  • Green Heron will be doing the station integration for my ArraySolutions RatPAK-N remote antenna switch.  This is a left over Dayton 2013 project that I arranged to pick up a few bits for as I finish it up.
  • W2IHY station selector system needs finishing off, again a Dayton 2013 purchased project I didn’t make time to complete.  Got my questions answered at the W2IHY booth, so my excuses have to end…
  • qslradio supplied the rig runners and power pole connectors for Rocky Ridge Farm Station.
  • Spoke with Mr Hilberling, and while it would be a budget buster right now I do hope to have one of his radios with amp in the next year or so.
  • Spoke with Jay at ArraySolutions and I sure am interested in the VNA gear.  Maybe this winter, I will get one to learn about it.
  • Spoke with several of the team at Alpha Amplifiers and they have no idea when I could buy a  combination package of an Alpha-4040 Automatic Antenna Tuner and Alpha-9500 Automatic Amplifier.  I decided not to buy an amplifier even with the nice show special being offered.

Banquets I attended:

  • Friday Night – the Collins Collectors Association 80th Anniversary Banquet.  Met some really great people but this is the one where the registration was very slow, the bar wasn’t ready nor stocked, and the presentation & drawing prizes were extremely introspective to the hardcore Collins collector.  I actually cut out to take a phone call (son Tom KC9JGD relocated that day to near Rapid City SD) and decided to not return.  This group faces some challenges as its membership ages which I don’t have a solution to suggest.
  • Saturday Night – The Flex Radio Systems annual Dayton Hamvention Update Banquet was a pleasant contrast with quick & slick registration, dual stocked cash bars ready to serve and a lot of information about where FRS is going.  Only think I think the FRS folk missed is dishing out to each dinner attendee some special swag – pens/hats/pads/pins.  Fairly lame door prize drawing for a couple hats, two oversized re-discover radio button/signs, a flex control and a Flex-1500. Seemed like nine or ten items was not enough for nearly 190 attendees.  Not enough to build a buzz in the crowd.  Otherwise a nice banquet.

Family Matters:

  • Riding with me to Dayton were my friend George W9EVT from Washington Island and my cousin Bill KC9YBL.  Made for a truck full of Extra Class Hams.
  • Living in the area we met with cousin  Kuby N6JSX (Dale to me) and his wife Becky N9KUV.
  • We meet with more family in Ohio, Chicago and Wisconsin.  Good time had by all!

Again I wonder about Hamvention 2015 – should I attend or is next year the one to try Hamcation or Hamcon instead?

It wasn’t for the ease of seeing family and the control of driving, the answer could be pretty easy to go to one of the other shows.

I’ll have to do some pondering and decide….

 

73

Steve
K9ZW

What we saw new at Dayton 2014!

Following up on my predictions of “What will we see new at Dayton 2014?” here are some notes:

  • A merged Alpha Amplifier/Ten-Tec potentially offering positive news on the long overdue Alpha-4040 Antenna Tuner – no date yet on the 4040 as at least one more major revise is in the works for the prototypes.  Closer but no cigar.
  • Several new evolutionary radios from Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu with continuing emphasis on attractors like D-Star, Remoting, Emcom, integrated GPS/Bluetooth and Contesting. – yup, lots, with the IC-7800 Upgrade of special interest as it is net plug and play.
  • The brand new Flex Radio Systems Flex-6300 transceiver offering much of what the Signature Series is about at a mass market price point, along with the end of April SmartSDR v1.2.1 which added the awaited Waterfall/Panafall with many other features. There may be a remote possibility of a further SmartSDR update at Dayton. – off to the FRS dinner tonight and hope to have news afterwards.
  • We should get a first look at the HPA-8000A 1kW Solid State Amplifier rounding out the high performance PT-8000A Transceiver desktop. – they had a single amp in the booth with USA hams likely to get a supply in later 2014 due to FCC approval lead time.
  • Several Antenna Manufacturers have announced new models, with several interesting LPDA (Log Periodic) offerings tailored to meet the new Flex Radio Systems Signature Series radio requirements.
  • Connectivity Galore with Bluetooth, In-Shack and Remote connectivity options of every type and style. Expecting to see everything from ZigBee Modules you can solder into your project to desktop setups you can use to remotely operate one of the rent-by-hour stations.

I am sure there will be much more, and hopefully a few surprise product launches too! See you there!

73

Steve
K9ZW

What will we see new at Dayton 2014?

What will we see new at Dayton 2014?

  • A merged Alpha Amplifier/Ten-Tec potentially offering positive news on the long overdue Alpha-4040 Antenna Tuner
  • Several new evolutionary radios from Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu with continuing emphasis on attractors like D-Star, Remoting, Emcom, integrated GPS/Bluetooth and Contesting.
  • The brand new Flex Radio Systems Flex-6300 transceiver offering much of what the Signature Series is about at a mass market price point, along with the end of April SmartSDR v1.2.1 which added the awaited Waterfall/Panafall with many other features. There may be a remote possibility of a further SmartSDR update at Dayton.
  • We should get a first look at the HPA-8000A 1kW Solid State Amplifier rounding out the high performance PT-8000A Transceiver desktop.
  • Several Antenna Manufacturers have announced new models, with several interesting LPDA (Log Periodic) offerings tailored to meet the new Flex Radio Systems Signature Series radio requirements.
  • Connectivity Galore with Bluetooth, In-Shack and Remote connectivity options of every type and style. Expecting to see everything from ZigBee Modules you can solder into your project to desktop setups you can use to remotely operate one of the rent-by-hour stations.

I am sure there will be much more, and hopefully a few surprise product launches too! See you there!

73

Steve
K9ZW

SmartSDR v1.1 – Another New Radio in a Download

A Seven Band Look via SmartSDR V1.1

A Seven Band Look via SmartSDR V1.1

FRS delivers and then some!

More than just revised and improved!

It is as if a whole brand new radio was dropped off.

The screen shot, by the way, is the radio being run via wireless from an iMac using Win7/74 under Parallels.  The base machine is running OS-X Mavericks.

I could have opened another Slice, except I had “wasted one” fiddling from my WinXP box and iPad Air (Air running K6TU’s App) and didn’t feel like rebooting to clean up my mistake.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Flex-6700 – Review after Four Months In

My FlexRadio Systems Flex-6700 is radio #11, and arrived as part of their public Beta Program – the SmartSDR Preview Program – third week of June 2013. Software at the time was SmartSDR Preview Edition 0.12.x which was fairly basic.

As I write it is October 2013 and the radio is now on full production release SmartSDR 1.0.0, the Preview program having wrapped up after four-five updates, each which transformed my Flex-6700.

Most importantly SmartSDR 1.0 is the first step on a road map of quarterly updates, each which will bring major additional features to my Flex-6700. By download I’ve got a “New Radio” arriving every three months!!

Flex has implemented an excellent collaboration tool during the Preview Edition program that is staying in use. http://community.flexradio.com/flexradio Combined with their main website’s HelpDesk, ZenDeck (warranty system), KnowledgeBase and Downloads the support is excellent. Their main website is at: http://www.flex-radio.com

The Preview Edition experience:

It was an absolute privilege to participate and when the technical discussions were outside of my knowledge zone, to be an insider spectator during the forging of the earliest widespread release of SmartSDR into a form that could stand as production. At times I was a bit embarrassed when fellow participants forgot that the Preview Edition software was a work-in-progress. Those who had the big picture view were amazing in the amount of testing, troubleshooting and “what if” challenging they gave a radio-in-progress. I personally learned a lot about our hobby by being part of the process.

Each 2 weeks, provided candidate software passed small group quality checks, an update of “SmartSDR Preview Edition” rolled out. In a few cases the candidate software did not pass FlexRadio Systems small group quality checks and therefore was not released to the Preview Edition group. Some very silly grumbling from some of the Preview Group who moaned they didn’t get an update – as if FlexRadio Systems would ever knowingly distribute software that failed quality checks? In all honesty there were members of the Preview Group who should have not asked to have their radio shipped until the features they felt critical were completed.

A few of the Preview Group struggled with “The Radio is in The Software” capability of the next SmartSDR Preview Edition to transform their radio to the next level. It is worth remembering to check either the SmartSDR software level being reviewed or the date any SmartSDR commentary you read on the internet given the massive improvement achieved in the SmartSDR Preview process and planned with the roadmap taking SmartSDR v 1.0 forward.

Added along the way added has been SmartSDR CAT. SmartSDR CAT can replace other virtual serial port driver software packages, or serve as the Flex-6000 SmartSDR aware additional virtual serial port driver software package. This add-on is slick, making the virtual serial port driver issue very simple. While it comes bundled with SmartSDR it does require a manual Windows Program Uninstall and then Installation when SmartSDR CAT is upgraded. This separate Manual Uninstall/Install is a Microsoft Windows requirement and may be with us on Windows platform clients for some time.

Adding into the integration is v3 of DDUTIL by Steve K5FR – http://k5fr.com/DDUtilV3wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

DDUTIL hooks SmartSDR CAT and SmartSDR into an environment your other radio software and hardware will recognize. In my shack DDUTIL integrates an Expert Amp, Palstar Autotuner, a Green Heron rotor control, and several software packages to my Flex-6700.

The Flex-6700 running SmartSDR version 1.0:

Okay, here is where the rubber hits the road – with the first public release of the SmartSDR software my Flex-6700 is already equal to or better than any other amateur transceiver on the market. At least any that I have had the pleasure of spend time operating. There is a remarkably easy-to-listen-to nature of the received audio and it is a true DX hound.

The receiver is a very good match to the Tennadyne T-8 Log Periodic antenna, making the most of the no-tune nature of the Log.

I’ve been able to leave the Expert Amp on half or lower power with the same effectiveness.

All in all it is a ready to rock-n-roll SSB DX rig. Similar reports speak of sound CW performance. Laggard at this time is the Digital Mode capabilities which are sound provided an external interface and computer sound card audio routing like a black-box transceiver is used, as the full digital implementation is further down the road map. Reports are solid on those using a Flex-6000 for digital in the old school setup.

The ability to pop open panadapters on additional bands and drop receivers to monitor other band segments/bands, is awesome. The features presently released work quite well, with only a few glitches being reported at this stage.

Now what is cool is about every 90 days a new updated version of SmartSDR will be out.

http://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/smartsdr_development_roadmap-5gkip

Here is a pdf snapshot of the present (Mid-Oct 2013) roadmap, showing that several features have already been pulled ahead:

PastedGraphic-2.pdf

The Flex-6700 Future Beyond the Road Map:

Obviously the road map is just a scratch at the surface of unleashing the Flex-6000. SmartSDR is just one of several possible GUIs and non-GUI interfaces. FlexRadio Systems has hinted about add-in modules to Contest, work on other client platforms, link/combine several Flex-6000s, do wide-area diversity and things as users we’ve not likely even thought of.

One has to remember that FlexRadio Systems is building on years of experience with professional grade products, and is distilling down the best of that experience to an amateur radio products.

You can see my pre-launch series of articles for some of the possibilities I had thought up.

What the Flex-6000 Series is NOT:

The Flex-6000 Series is very different than a conventional transceiver. In its present form the Flex-6000 is not:

  • A micro-DXpedition/Mobile ready radio as the radio’s present interfaces are all PC based.
  • A prepper’s primary back-up radio.
  • Ready for the visual impaired (though alternate UI’s are possible).
  • A single-box shack – you need the PC to access the radio.
  • A likely radio for an “Internet Free” QTH unless arrangements were made to get physical media with various upgrades.
  • Simple Plug-n-Play – while SmartSDR is easy to install, if an operator would have trouble installing Microsoft Office they will need help with a Flex-6000.

Like any new technology the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR have attracted naysayers – the vast majority who have an agenda rather than first hand observations to share. Again it is important to date reviews/comments against the SmartSDR Preview Edition version or production roadmap version, as the comments may be of historical interest only given the rapid evolution of the radio.

The Flex-6000 Mindset:

The Flex-6000 is seriously challenging to conceptualize as the hardware/software combination is layered, complex, exceptionally simple at the User Interface while immensely powerful under the hood, elegant, evolving, and vacates concepts like VFO-A/VFO-B architecture.

This is not a comfortable mindset for some users, as their personal concepts of what an amateur radio should be is something different than this brave new world of the Flex-6000. A few SmartSDR Preview Edition participants sold their radios to other hams, or simply put them on the shelf waiting until a general release with the feature they hold dear is available.

The latest generation of technology always stretches the operator. The “Game Changer” of the Flex-6000 series is here, to stay. That doesn’t mean that IC-7800′s, or FT-1000MPs, or TR7s, or Gold Dust Twins – or any other layer of prior technology – is somehow anything less. I have no intention of suddenly selling my favorite older radios because of the Flex-6000 revolution. But I do understand that the new cutting edge has been pushed way ahead – the boundaries of the hobby have suddenly expanded. And I am thrilled to be a participant with radio #11 of the new wave of Flex-6000 technology.

What could be any more fun?!

73

Steve
K9ZW

First Impressions of SmartSDR v1.0 General Release

FlexRadio Systems did that StarTrek Transporter thing again, and sent me a brand new radio by software download.

This time it is the first full public release – SmartSDR Version 1.0

I have been testing my Flex-6700 using an aged and clunky old Dell Windows-XP Box – the bottom end of what a use might think of using.  I have a newer SuperMicro Windows-7 Machine ready to use, and will update the station in the next few weeks.

The old hardware/software did give me some minor glitches in this particular upgrade process.  Somehow it caused the radio to duplicate as both ready to go and still needing update in the radio-selector:

SmartSDR Phantom Duplicate Radio

SmartSDR Phantom Duplicate Radio

 

I could highlight either one, but the obvious need for a full power down and hard reboot of computer and radio fixed everything.

Once all sorted the temptation to “go play” was huge and I quickly worked a handful of DX Stations.  I missed on the Nigerian chap as I never could hear his call sign in the QRM.  Chile, Cuba, Ireland, West Indies, and a handful more.

Really a step up from the SmartSDR Preview Edition and knowing there are many features laid out on the SmartSDR Technology Roadmap means I will be getting another “new radio” by download roughly quarterly for some time to come!

Very impressed with the step-up from the first software I used through the roughly half-dozen versions to this much more polished General Release V1.0

Well done FlexRadio Systems!!

73

Steve
K9ZW