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Ham software review

After have reviewed more than fifty HF propagation prediction programs and associated tools, and close to seventy astronomy and imaging-oriented programs, we are going to review applications dedicated to radio amateur activities. They include spectrum analyzers, satellite tracking programs, Morse code trainers, DX atlases, CAT, multi-mode decoders, and other logging programs.

All applications were tested with registered versions and in real working conditions. You will find additional reviews on eHam.net.

Hamscope - Easygram - Spectrum Laboratory - Spectran - SkySweeper Pro

 FFTDSP - FFT Properties - MaxMSP - AVS Audio Utilities - Audacity - Analyzer2000 - ChromaPix

Java Morse Translator - NuMorse Pro - MetaWrap - DX Atlas - DX4WIN - Echolink - HamSphere

WinOrbit - Nova for Windows - Orbitron - EME by F1EHN - TS570-RCP2

HamSphere 4 default interface

HamSphere 3 interface

Live cluster

eQSL's

QSL confirming the QSO between 5B4AIT and LX4SKY

(c) 2008-2014, HamSphere

Kelly Lindman, 5B4AIT, 30

HAMSPHERE

Pour les francophones, consultez la revue de HamSphere sur mon blog.

HamSphere has been developed in 2008 by Kelly Lindman, 5B4AIT. The Trademark is owned and operated by the private company RingJoeBing Holdings Ltd in Paphos, Cyprus.

HamSphere is a virtual shortwave transceiver, i.e. an Internet communication system simulating shortwave propagations over a virtual ionosphere.

Behind HamSphere there is a mathematical algorithm for wave propagations based on a model and pre recorded signal envelope. Multipath propagation is achieved by inducing multiple simulated electromagnetic paths digitally thus producing signal fading and audio distortion.

The interface is skeuomorph, i.e. it is designed to look like to an another object, in particular to the front panel of a HF transceiver.

The system uses Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology : digital local oscillators, filters, balanced mixers, carrier wave suppressors, modulators etc. HamSphere takes advantage of several servers located in Europe (UK, Sweden, Iceland) and USA to generate the virtual world of HamSphere.

HamSphere covers 6m to 160m ham band including 11m. It uses double side band modulation (DBS) and each band is 100 kHz wide. It works also in CW.

Thanks to all this technology, when you switch on HamSphere you have the same feeling as using a real transceiver : you hear noises, scratches and other white noise (QRN) as well as man-made interferences (QRM) and possible fading on bands.

Also, the Double Sideband Modulation with carrier suppression generates the famous "donald duck" sound when you swirl the knob.

On 10 and 6 meter bands, the simulation mode maintaining connections under natural realistic conditions can be switched off. In this case you work in a reliable VoIP and noise-free mode.

Currently HamSphere is used by more than 8100 amateurs (and counting)  in 245 DXCC entities. Tens new users are added each day. From one year to another, its popularity is growing fast. In 6 years, more than 800,000 QSL cards have been exchanged.

Why using HamSphere when amateurs can work on the air ? Because some amateurs cannot erect an antenna on their roof, they have no place to install an antenna, they do not want to work on portable or mobile on evenings, at night or during the winter and prefer to work at home.

Ham radios, non-licensed amateurs and SWL will find in HamSphere an opportunity to contact other fans of ham radio without the contraint of having to succeed to an examination. In addition the interface is realistic, nice, easy to use, and the activity really pleasant, including contests too.

HamSphere version 4.0 was released in 2014. It comes with a new graphic user interface that you can customize from a repository of modules to purchase (skins, monoband and multiband beams, wire antennas, S-meter, oscilloscop, speaker, cover plate, clock, etc). Unfortunately each module will cost you between 15-25 and can quickly become expensive if you want to purchase e.g. 5 monobands antennas...

HamSphere 4.0 is based on a brand new implementation of the Maidenhead locator grid and the propagation simulation is based on the geographic coordinate of the user. 

The propagation between two grid squares is calculated from daily solar flux data and its effect on the ionosphere. The sunspot number (SSN) is taken into account. The system also recognizes "Back-scatter", "Sporadic-E", "Tropo" and "Grey Line" propagation.

In the new model, propagation conditions between two virtual operators is determined by the sun's radiation and by the time of the day, very much like the real HF propagation. These new algorithms allow HamSphere to simulation minute-to-minute changes in the propagation.

HamSphere 4.0 also includes a better audio quality than version 3, a better S/N ratio, a narrower communication bandwidth, real USB and LSB modulations, both transmitter and receiver AGC, and plug-in modules to suit your communication needs.

HamSphere works on all Windows 32 and 64-bit platforms, Linux and Mac OS or any other Java driven system, including on iPhone and Android smartphones.

At home you need a computer connected to Internet (cabling or Wi-Fi), a speaker or a headset and a microphone (a webcam, wired or USB, can play that role).

The trial version of HamSphere v3 or v4 is valid 5 days, what is much too short. A full week, so including a weekend, or even 30 days should have been more interesting. If you want the full version, you need to subscribe to HamSphere.

The QSL database and the log book are not compatible between version 3 and 4 because of the new propagation algorithm used in v4. So if you upgrade to HamsSphere 4 you will lost all your data : ther logbook, QSL's sent and received and your awards, what is really a pity.

In life, if I change of transceiver or antenna or move to another spot showing a better propagation, my logbook and QSLs will not suddently become invalid...

The membership is 30 per year. When your first subscription will be confirmed, non-licensed amateurs will receive a specifc call sign (e.g. 12HS3456) which prefix depends on your country (code ISO2). Licensed ham radios can use their own call sign.

All members have access to a log book developed by VE3JAR, you can manage eQSLs that you can create, receive and send via the tool, and to the forum. You can also create a blog on HamSphere.Net.

If you need more information or some help from HamSphere administrators, the contact emails are this one or this one.

Here is an audio recording from HamSphere 3.0 (MP3 of 612 KB). You will find on YouTube videos showing HamSphere in operation compared to a real QSO using a transceiver. The HamSphere simulation is amazing by its realism.

2002-2015, Echolink

Freeware

Echolink

Developed in early 2002 by Jonathan Taylor, K1RFD, Echolink is a program that, instead of using ionospheric layers to establish a communications, uses the Voice over IP (VoIP) protocol, I.e. Internet.

You can use Echolink in combination with RF linking and specially with V/UHF FM transceivers to work amateur stations located all over the world, at distances exceeding by far the performance of FM transceivers. 

The product has spread rapidly among the ham community and is today used by over 200,000 radio amateurs in 151 countries. At any point of the day, in 2015 there are about 5200 amateurs connected.

EchoLink uses two different systems : repeater linking where repeaters are linked each another through VoIP. Each OM works with a fixed, portable or mobile VHF or UHF FM transceiver, and simplex linking where the amateur use either a V/UHF handheld or mobile transceiver directly connected to the Internet or directly his or her PC connected to the Internet via a low speed modem (as low as 36K) or a DSL connexion. The simplex linking can be established to other simplex nodes, to repeaters or even to amateurs directly connected to the Internet and using no ham equipment at all.

EchoLink is only accessible to licensed amateurs (even if you are limited to V/UHF or novice) and each amateur receive a personal node or identifier. Among its useful features, conversations can be recorded in .WAV files.

Echolink runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms with or without firewall, and required a standard multimedia platform (sound card, microphone, and external speaker). Read my review.

Version 8.05

Version 5.03

(c) 1999-2013

DX4WIN, $90

DX4WIN

The amateur radio regulation asks to licensed hams to keep a logbook of their QSOs during one year counted from the last QSO recorded. DX4WIN provides this solution and much more.

DX4WIN has been developed by Paul J. Van Der Eijk, KK4HD, in 1999. It is an electronic logging program dedicated to radio amateurs (and to listeners in a lesser extent).

The first action to do is to register your DX4WIN license in the main menu. Then to place the various floating windows on the screen, and at last to set your preferences in the main menu. These settings are saved and even backuped.

The QSO window provides all information about the station worked, including flags for awards, QSL confirmation, free fields, and tables.

In addition, several windows can be opened : a world map can be displayed in cartesian, equi-distant or spherical projection, your logbook, the list of US states worked, US county or WPX as well as dedicated reports (award related, IOTA or DX entities confirmed, and more).

DX4WIN includes the very demanding packed radio interface that provides online assistance to amateurs on the air. 

Indeed, if your computer in linked to Internet (in TCP/IP), it can connect to a cluster, encapsulating the TCP and IP frames in the AX.25 protocol. For this, a list of custers is included on the DX4WIN.TCP file.

Once connected and have entered a valid call sign, the system will display live DX spots information, assigning colors to call signs depending on default settings or the priority you set. You can also send messages via the packet input/output window.

The world map color can be customized (except that there is a bug in v8 and not all colors are available). The map displays the gray line, the name, distance and bearing to any DXCC entity pointed by the mouse (the new version also displays DXCC and IOTA codes).

As soon as you enter a new call sign in the QSO window, the world map highlights the currently working country in yellow (but there is also a bug in v8) and displays the path to this entity, including to islands (IOTA) if you completed the concerned field, the short path being traced in red and the great circle in black.

DX4WIN can run in standard (full display) or contest (reduced set of fields) mode and fill automatically some fields in querying automatically several databases (DX entities, IOTA, QSL Managers, etc) that you can edit.

DX4WIN can also read external data (e.g. a callbook on CD-ROM), display a band scope with signal strength, and provides interfaces to driver the VFO or your radio, to rotate your antenna, to work on PSK31 and many other digimodes, as well as a CW keyboard.

Via the QSO window, DX4WIN can perform a search on any field, sort your log, save reports (Worked WPX, worked DXCC, etc) in text files or print them (e.g. to request an award) and print QSL labels.

The main menu allow you to save and backup (also set automatically) your log, to import or export your log in TXT, ADIF or various DX4WIN formats, and even merge several logbooks, to edit your report window (what column to display), and set events in the calendar.

At last, DX4WIN version 5 and higher support multiple logs, a way to isolate a set of QSOs if you want for example create a subset for all QSO worked under another call sign, from another location or during a DX-pedition.

From version 6, an updater is available (see the History section to download it) to update automatically DX4WIN.AWD (award database), DX4WIN.CAL (DX calendar), DX4WIN.CTY (country file, including ADIF.PMP and IOTA islands), DX4WIN.MAS1 (DX4WIN.MAS, master callsigns), DX4WIN.MAS2 (eQSL/LoTW users list), and DX4WIN.TCP (DX cluster node internet addresses)

Versions 8.02 and higher support eQSL and LoTW.

DX4WIN is now at version 8.05 and runs on all Windows 32-bit and 64-bit platforms. A demo is available.

(c) 2001-2004

Afreet Software, Inc, $29.95

DX Atlas

DX Atlas is still often known for what it was in its first version released in 2001, a superb geographical atlas. The screen can be divided in two panes, the right one showing the world map, the left pane a custom list (world prefixes, cities or islands).

The world map can be enlarged up to see individual islands in detail. The world map can be covered with several overlays at a depress of a button : the prefix of all DX entities, states, or islands, CQ zones, ITU zones, grid locator, long/lat coordinates, the sun position and gray line, and an optional topographic relief for both lands and oceans. The contrast of the relief is adjustable. You can also use the tool called the Great Circle Path (pressing an icon showing a pair of compasses) to estime the distance (long and short pathes) to any location pointed with the mouse, its heading, grid square, coordinates (long/lat.) and time of sunrise/sunset.

All overlays can be displayed in rectangular, equi-distant or spherical projection. However, prefixes associated to the highest resolution (e.g. showing russian oblasts, japanese districts, etc) can only be displayed in rectangular projection.

In addition, right-clicking anywhere on the map colored pins associated to a comment (optional) can be added, and their position is automatically saved when closing the program.

But today, DX Atlas is much more than this. From version 2.24 released in 2004, Alex Shovkoplyas, VE3NEA, interfaced this fine atlas with the HF propagation program Ham CAP to use the power of the VOACAP engine and estime propagation conditions at a global scale. Allied to a small tool named Ionoprobe it is able to predict the intensity of the auroral oval, the MUF or the magnetic dip. Refer to my detailled review for more detail. 

DXAtlas runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms. It must be registered, the publisher providing a 30-day-free-trial period.

1998, 2006, J.Mc Parlane

Freeware

MetaWrap

Formely known as Iridium Clock, it is an universal time converter displaying the time anywhere in the world in 12 hour format (AM/PM). When a major city is selected, its name and the local time are displayed in the upper pane. The time displayed is based on your computer clock settings. Once loaded the program can work in idle mode in the task bar. Developed by James Mc Parlane for Iridium South Pacific Pty Limited (IPS), it is no more supported as IPS surrended its Iridium satellite carrier license in low orbit (LEO) in 2000. It intended to create a network of terrestrial facilities in the South Pacific. The help (pressing on the question mark or F1) linked to the global iridium server is thus no more active.

The new Build 3 released in 2006 optionally requests an active Internet connexion. Indeed, in double-clicking on a location, the system jumps to Google local to display a satellite picture of the area (e.g. this extraordinary zoom in New York). For this unique feature and despite its simplicity, I have given it two new stars, four in total.

MetaWrap runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms. Here is the previous version to download.

(c) 1996-2004

Nu-Ware, $35

NuMorse Pro

This is very a complete and powerful utility to learn Morse code based on the famous Ludwig Koch's method (1930s). The speed can be set up to 50 WPM. NuMorse requires a registration. The sound per session is time limited by a counter. After some weeks, this feature is disabled if you don't buy the license.

NuMorse provides several windows displaying the concerned character to display, its mnemonic image, the list of characters sent, and in option additional windows showing the speed of the lesson, your score and other settings.

All the interest of NuMorse Pro is in its "First step" feature that helps you learning the Morse code progressively, at a rate that you fix yourself, beginning with easy letters like E, A, N, to end with the punctuation and other more complex prosigns. The second advantage, it can read external text files containing for example the text transmitted during a real QSO.

An advice : as soon as the first lesson, begin to set the speed at 5 WPM, not slower (selecting a code speed of characters of 13 WPM for example and stretching space between characters of 54%). You will see that it is not difficult to understand characters, all the less that they are regularly repeated in the respect of Koch's method. In addition, I suggest you to replace all mnemonic images with their CW representation as displayed at left (in the original version for example "A" sounding like "dit-dah" it displays the phrase "A jar" with the image of a jar). I have found that mixing the outlined letter with its code representation inside speeds up and improves learning. Here is a poster showing all mnemonic letters. If you want to test this method, here is a zip file containing 31 individual files created in bitmap format to copy in the "\NuMorseSource File" subdirectory (move or rename first the original files).

I make the bet that using NuMorse Pro, working only 15 minutes each day, in one month you know the Morse code, a first step to get your full privilege license or to seriously work DX stations in the CW segment of HF bands.

NuMorse professional runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms equipped with a sound card. A demo is available.

1994-2004, Stephen C. Phillips

Freeware

Java Morse Translator

Stephen C. Phillips developed this web interface to the attention of all people interested in learning the Morse code via the Internet. You simply type characters in the top box, separating words by "/" or "|". When you hit the "Translate" or "Play" button the program will process your input and translate it into code in the lower box. If it cannot translate a letter it will place a '*' in the output. The speed can be set between 5 and 40 WPM.

You need an active Internet connexion and the Java plug-in to use it. Stephen provides also a CGI version. In his FAQ page Stephen explains how to run his application locally on your PC by downloading three files from his website.

2000, Kenwood, Freeware

TS570-RCP2

This is a CAT program called "RCP2" released by Kenwood to control the TS-570 series of transceivers remotely via a serial connexion. It permits to set filters and less accessible options from the keyboard.

RCP2 is supported by various logging and communications programs like CommCat, DX4Win, Logger, SwissLog, or WIN/Log EQF to name a few.

Remember that you must use a "direct" cable, not crossed, to address the VFO and memory channels with this program.

RCP2 software runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms.

1993-2004, F1EHN

Freeware

EME by F1EHN

F1EHN's EME is a set of applications that permit to plan an EME contact in gathering all information about performances of your system and astronomical ephemerides. It works in the same way as GM4JJJ's MoonSked (not reviewed because the demo comes with a 5 minutes timeout only...) but provides some additional data about RX and TX signals. In addition it can drive your antenna and receiver and comes with a small traffic manager (logger). It is used by more than 180 EME enthousiatics in 27 countries.

You must first run "emesetup" to set your QTH, transmit power, working conditions and save the information in a data file that will be shared with the other modules. Then you must select each of the four stand-alone applications (EME calculator, noise calculator, planner and tracking) to calculate the system noise at home station or DX station (in K or dBm), signal strength, S/N ratio. Thanks to the planner, EME displays also a table listing all tracking parameters (azimuth, elevation, doppler, etc) at 20 minutes intervals for 24 hours. The tracking utility displays either a world map showing the target location or a sky map in false color showing noise figures of most important radiosources (Milky Way, Cygnus-A, etc). These data take into account the time of the day, working frequency, and antenna properties (beamwidth, output power, gain, etc). At last F1EHN provides an interface board to drive your antenna.

If the tracking window is the most important and gathers all important information (DX coordinates and distance, moon azimuth and elevation, time, frequency, doppler, spatial polarization offset, etc), I regret only that all modules have not been integrated into a same interface using a main menu subdivided in as many submenus that there are applications. All interfaces as well as the manual (1.3 MB in PDF) are written in English to ensure to the product an international 

The new version 5.x adds a "moon data" window plotting the moon elevation during the next 30 days, it includes as new automatic antenna diagram measurement, an improvement on EME calculator and supports Gray code output. 

EME is now at version 5.1 and runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms.

 

2001-2004

Sebastian Stoff, Freeware

Orbitron

This is a very complete satellite tracking program working in real-time or simulated from any satellite 2 lines elements (TLE). Its predictions are based on the NORAD SGP4/SDP4 model and display in theory an accuracy close to 100 ms or 1 meter at the equator. At home and at the condition that your PC internal clock is well synchronized with a time server, this accuracy is within 5 km with 90% confidence interval, close to Heavens-Above's predictions. About accuracy of models read this thread and all next linked.

Orbitron supports several resolution from VGA to full-screen in high resolution. It provides two main screens, a world map with a small radar window below right with, and a radar map that enlarges the small radar map displayed below right. It displays in real time the path of the satellite through the sky and its current position when it is above your local horizon. But there is no reference to stars. A forecoming add-on called "Sky View" should correct this. Like other products showing points of the compass, to use properly the radar, it must be oriented to the North so that the West points to the left and the East to the right. You cannot place the map overhead looking to the southern meridian for example, as we do in astronomy, because East and West will be inverted.

A third window displayed above right list all satellites (loaded as TLE text files) and current parameters of any selected satellite. You can select as many satellites as you want and request simultaneously their predictions on screen or on printer.

In addition, several configuration panels and additional information about satellites can be displayed in the lower part of the screen showing either settings, parameters to visualize (sun, moon, track, footprint, identification, etc), predictions for the current satellite and month, and even many usefull data related the current satellite, crew and working frequencies. Other settings are also accessible using the shortcut Alt-F5.

All maps are dynamic and you can easily go back and forward in time to check at for example at what time the specified satellite will be visible.

Among custom features, you can select a night vision (that applies to all your desktop), display the gray line, track the sun, the moon or the satellite, set the magnitude threshold, be alerted when there is passage over your location, predict iridium flares, and more.

Orbitron is also able to drive an antenna rotator or a transceiver (a receiver) using either a built-in DDE engine (MyDDE, SpidAlfa, WiSPDDE client) or an user interface based on the Delphi source code provided by the author. WiSP DDE is the most complete interface and supports without problem a lot of hardware. When satellite mode is selected, this submenu provides in addition the doppler shift according the up and downlink frequencies.

Data files updates are ensured via the Internet. You have also a choice of world-wide time servers. At last the author provides several world maps in BMP format, the coloured hires one being the most detailled. At last among its other originalities, Orbitron supports over 17 foreign languages, custom image and as many TLE files as you want.

Orbitron is a freeware. Sebastian ask you only to send him a post card of your location. Bargain ! The program runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms and Linux with Wine. A version 4 is under development, including a 3D viewport, a faster pass prediction engine, new world map engine, and lot of new features for radio amateurs and observers.

(c) 1996-2004

Northern Lights Software Ass., $60

Nova for Windows

This is an excellent and cheap satellite tracking program, very accurate, complete, well designed and very appreciated, including at NASA or USAF, to name some majors users. It will be very useful to all operators who need to track satellites or drive their antenna on communications or weather satellites. Nova is able to track - in real-time or simulated - on any satellite knowing its 2 lines elements (TLE), even space probes launched at destination of the outer space if you know their geocentric RA/Dec. In that case you have to enter their coordinates as "extra" satellite.

For global predictions Nova uses a Plan-13 algorithm which is a simplified version of SGP4. This last employs general perturbation theory to provide highly accurate prediction of orbital positions. As the NORAD SGP4/SDP4 algorithm is more time-consuming it should be use only if high accuracy is needed. In the best-cases, using up-to-date Keplerian elements and the SGP4/SDP4 algorithm the accuracy is about 0.1 or 11 km, not very good by astronomical standards but well enough to aim any antenna or scope.

Nova provides various high resolution and colorful views with zoom possibilities : a rectangular map and a space view derived from NOAA 4-km AVHRR land-sea data (~10 km/pixel), an elevation contour, a radar map (in front of stars) and a static sky noise map at 50, 130 and 400 MHz. Utilities include an scripting screen to automatically manage multiple passes of several satellites, an experimental mode for examining the effects of changes in TLE on satellite orbits, a derived function to examine values such as apogee, perigee, altitude, period, etc, the mutual visibility of two satellites and more.

You can also customize your horizon, telling the program that such azimut is closed up to 30 high for example.

Except some planetarium software reviewed on this site, this is one of the few satellite tracking software to display the path of satellites in front of the starry sky (view at zenith), a convenient way to wait for their pass near a bright star and why not to picture their trail, this time well framed... To use properly the map, it must be oriented to the North so that points of the compass are at the right place : the West pointing to the left and the East to the right.

For such occasions, at the request of some amateurs astronomers, a RA/Dec readout of mouse location was added to the radar map. In the same ordre of idea, today Nova supports the Meade LX-200 and ETX telescopes, for those who want to visually observe satellites.

However Nova is not able yet to answer the question "what is this satellite crossing near Vega ?" for example, except displaying all satellite trajectories on screen. According to NLSA this kind of features will be included in a forecoming product named Orbital Mechanic. 

Nova runs on Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000 and XP in high resolution.

1998, Amsat, Freeware

WinOrbit

This is an excellent freeware devoted to satellite tracking. It provides four major functions:  a graphical display of satellite positions in real time, simulate or manual modes, a tabular display of satellite information, ephemerides for planning or analysis future satellite orbits and the possibility to output the data (az, el, doppler, etc) to control the tracking of antennas, radios or telescopes.

From your regional parameters (QTH) and date of year WinOrbit simulates or display in real-time up to 20 satellite positions (including data from external sources you can add and save) with a zoom factor from 1 to 4, including an Earth view from the satellite. All calculation are done in double precision (14 significant figures) giving a epoch-time precision of about 100 microseconds, or a position precision of about 1 meter. There is however a limitation by the way WinOrbit manages the Windows date conversion routine. According the author this implies a possible (apparent) position error of up to 8 km at the nominal time depending of the reference epoch time and the actual time of calculation. 

Using the SGP4 algorithm and the highest resolution, the product is time-consuming when we select the continous update, even on Pentium III processors. The bitmap resolution is better than about 0.3 degrees (about 33 km at the equator) but small islands, estuaries and lakes have been omitted in many cases.

First published in Orbit magazine by Tom Clark (W3IWI) in 1981, the program runs today on Windows 3.1 but runs fine on OS/2, Windows 95 and NT with a resolution up to SVGA in 256 colors. Bugs revealed by advanced users are listed in a text file. Satellite TLE's are available from many Internet sources (see my Artificial satellites page for details, in French). Note that Sat-net website is no more updated.

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