Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Remote Control Of My SDR PCs: Another Change

In February, 2016 I moved away from long-time favourite LogMeIn Pro to Teamviewer. LMI was charging more and more, and Teamviewer had a free account for non-commercial customers. For me, it was a no-brainer. You can read more about it here.

I would live well with the regular and rather persisting calls to buy a license, like everytime I closed a session. But then one day, Teamviewer informed me that they had "discovered" that my account was in commercial use. So they stripped my access to one minute per session. "Pay up, or get lost". Well, they didn't put it quite like that, but I got the message. A license covering my PCs would be around USD 800 a year, around the same as LogMeIn Pro. What it was they discovered was "commercial" is beyond me. I suspect that the algorithm was: "Many PCs, surely a business!"

Message of doom from Teamviewer: "Upgrade to a professional licence to continue"

Time to look around for alternatives. I tested a few, and to cut a long evening short, I ended up with Splashtop. It's not free, but control of 10 PCs (I have 8 all in all) is only USD 60 per year. It has good quality audio, contrary to many competitors which have no audio at all! The user interface is good, almost on par with Teamviewer and LMI, and no worries about IP addresses and firewalls. Splashtop offers a 7-day trial with full functionality, so no wasted money should you find out that Splashtop doesn't meet your needs. Regrettably, I spent USD 7 for RemotePC only to find out it was mute.

Initially, Splashtop seems more complicated than their premium-priced competitors, in that you have to install two software packages: First Streamer, which takes care of the server bit in the remote PC, and then Splashtop Business, which is the interface you work with to connect to the remote PC. After installing Streamer you can more or less forget about it after checking and/or selecting some settings.

Streamer. Review and/or edit the parameters, and forget about it.

Splashtop Business is installed in the PCs you use to access remote PCs. This could be a single PC, or all of them, depending on your need. Like LMI and Teamviewer, this interface lists the PCs you have in your account, and the status - offline, available or connected.

The link between you and your remote PCs.

When a PC is selected (like the one above), connection takes a few seconds (a bit more than Teamviewer), and this is what you see:

Some basic controls (far fewer than Teamviewer) are in the red rectangle on top. Audio quality is very good, comparable to sitting in front of it except a little loss in the below 100 Hz spectrum, which is really an advantage. Audio latency is very low, and without the pops and occasional high (up to 2 seconds) audio latency I had with Teamviewer. Video quality is good, but not quite on par with Teamviewer and LMI. However, if the remote PC has a GeForce Nvidia graphics board, Streamer will utilise this to present excellent video, comparable to sitting in front of it! There is a downside here though, because if you are using SDR Console, you need to disable CUDA to prevent Console from freezing. They use the same resources. Alternatively, you can disable GeForce from Streamer.

Splashtop has received mixed ratings, mostly because of limited functionality. However these limitations do not apply for the dedicated DX-er, so for our use I'd say this is as good as it gets for the price tag. I am still on my 7-day trial, but I will buy. Even if Teamviewer accepts my appeal.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

FM DX With the SDRPlay RSP1A, or: My Debut As an FM DX-er

Admittedly, I'm a MW DX-er, and have done very little FM DX in my 47 years as a DX-er. However, when I got my RSP1A with up to 10 MHz sampling rate in late 2017, I decided that I wanted to test its FM capabilities this summer. I had already noticed that it seemed to be quite sensitive on the FM band.

I set up a three-element FM antenna in the attic in my DX HQ in Kongsfjord, pointing south. Now, FM DX is a lot more common on lower latitudes than my 71 degrees north, so to be fair I didn't have hope of receiving much. I monitored the FM band to and from every day from mid-May, but I had forgot to check when FM-DX ace Ole Forr messaged me on the evening of June 25.

When I connected to Kongsfjord via Teamviewer, it was the start of an E-skip stint which would evolve into a super evening!

I had set the RSP1A to 8 MHz sampling because 10 MHz seemed to be to much for the software or hardware to handle. Still, 8 MHz covers quite a bit of the FM band. I used SDR Console to record the IQ stream into an 8 TB hard drive, and changed centre frequencies so I could cover the entire band at one time or another. It soon emerged that every 100 kHz had at least one signal, many had three or four.

At one point, the combined signal levels were so high, I had to throttle back a bit on the RSP1A's gain to avoid overloading.

After reviewing the recordings, I ended up with a log of 200 FM stations. Most of them ID'd by RDS, a few by announcements since the RDS wouldn't lock.  13 countries were logged: Russia, Belarus, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Faroe Islands. Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Lithuania dominated the log. Stations from 908 til 2411 km away were heard, and the lowest powered were 100 watts. The FMLIST map below shows all stations logged. I did hear two unidentified German stations, and one with an Austrian accent, so more countries were there.

The RSP1A performed very well. Of course, I don't know how it would compare to a dedicated FM tuner, but on the face of it, it seems to be a very capable FM receiver.  And no dedicated FM tuner will ever listen to an 8 (or 10) MHz of spectrum at one go! SDR Console also worked well, and RDS data with the all-important PI code showed up with little delay, even for signals not in the clear.
FM e-skip from Arctic Norway on June 25, 2018.