Scancat Gold SE Platinum Edition Version 8
by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR
Recently, I reviewed Scancat Gold SE (Platinum Edition) v7.58 from Computer Aided Technologies. It's a really fine program for your general monitoring needs, loaded with interesting features and is reasonably priced for all that it offers. At the Dayton Hamvention in May, I met with Jim Springer, the owner of Computer Aided Technologies. We had a very nice discussion about the various products available from CAT, and Jim asked me to review Version 8.0, the latest version of Scancat. First, a bit of review.
Scancat 8 comes on a CD that, in addition to the program files, includes some very interesting frequency files, such as the top 200 file which includes various interesting MW and SW frequencies. Installation is quick and easy.
Scancat has several windows where the various functions take place. The first of these is the opening window, and is where most of the basic program functions take place. From here, you can select, view and edit your database or log files; set up radio parameters such as comm port, speed and so on; access the Quickterm window; import or export data to or from other database formats; download or upload radio memories; or access the Trunking Database, from where you can download or upload trunked frequencies and talkgroups to a trunking-capable scanner.
Setting up the radio parameters such as comm port, speed, parity and so on is really very easy; it's made simple with a menu of more than 60 different radios; all one has to do is select the radio and hit save, but if you need to make modifications to the setup you can do so here. There is also a section for setting up the Quickterm parameters, as well as for setting the UTC time offset and printer.
QuickTerm is a data decoder terminal, which can be used with various data decoders for reception of modes such as RTTY, Amtor/Sitor, Packet and so forth. This is a very useful addition to the program which consolidates another fun aspect of the radio monitoring hobby in one program. Another useful mode that would be nice for Quickterm would be PSK31, which has exploded in popularity in the last year or so .
Scancat also features tips balloons which pop up when you position the cursor over one of the program function selections; this is a very handy feature when you are just starting to use the program, but the balloons are large enough that they become annoying after awhile, especially when the cursor just happens to land on something. These can be disabled from the opening screen.
The real fun with Scancat begins when you get into the Scanning Module, which is accessed from the main screen of Scancat. While it looks like the front of a typical shortwave receiver (even including an s-meter), the function along these lines is very dependent upon the radio you're using. In addition to the tuning knob and display, this screen also includes keys which allow you access various features such as the wave file recorder/editor, the database, CTCSS tone scanning, frequency and birdie lockouts, scan/search modes and so on.
Some more very nice features carried over from version 7.58 are the Hot Spots map, the Spectrum Analyzer and the Wave Recorder. The Hot Spots map is a world map which shows various locations for major shortwave broadcasters such as the BBC, Vatican Radio, Deutsche Welle as well as favorite monitoring targets such as long-distance aviation and maritime. All one has to do is click on the desired location and the radio will jump to that frequency. The Wave Recorder allows the user to record activity on selected frequencies; this can be used to aid in frequency user identification or to catch activity while away from the radio.
The Spectrum Analyzer is a highly useful feature which gives a graphic representation of active frequencies. The spectrum analyzer works by sweeping the receiver across a frequency range very rapidly and creating a display showing active frequencies as spikes which vary in height depending upon the strength of the received signal. One can vary the span width by changing the upper and lower frequency limits. This is a very useful feature for locating transmissions or even (should you be so inclined and should you feel there is a "bug" in your house) locating a hidden transmitter.
There are also 4 "Program" buttons which can be set to immediately access particularly desirable frequencies; when using these with my Drake R-8, I set these for the 5, 10 and 15 MHz WWV frequencies and the 11175 MHz GHFS daytime calling frequency. This made it very easy to check the time or tune in on the military.
While this screen did not work particularly well with the BC-245, I found it to work better with the BC780, although still not perfectly; this module is designed more for shortwave use rather than a general coverage scanner. However, this screen still works beautifully with my Drake R-8. Not only was I able to tune up and down the dial by positioning the cursor over the "tuning knob" and using the right or left mouse button, but I was also able to open up a database and simply click on a desired frequency; the radio would then jump right to the frequency and mode specified in the database entry. This made tuning in previously logged stations very easy!
When set for the BC-245 and the BC-780, there is also a button on the Scanning Module that accesses the Trunk Scanning Module. In addition to an s-meter, this screen has a display that shows the currently active group number, hex code, timestamp and currently active frequency, and can be edited to include a talkgroup name, description and type. There is also a section that shows a talkgroup database with hit counter, and another section that includes various function buttons such as scan, hold and search as well as buttons to control database editing.
The Trunk Scanning Module works quite well. While trunk scanning or searching with a talkgroup database loaded, it will search that database every time a talkgroup is active, place the information in the display window, and increment the hit count for that talkgroup. I found the database search on Version 8 to be much smoother than v7.58, in which it was rather slow, especially when the database is really big (the database for my system is over 350 talkgroups).
I also found the Trunked Frequencies module to work much more nicely with the BC-780; it allowed me to download the entire contents of the radio memory to the database (frequencies, talkgroups and names), make necessary changes and shoot it back into the radio, slick as can be. The only drawback I noted here is that while the program would set the trunk mode for a particular bank, it somehow did not set each frequency as trunked, so I had to do it manually. I have not yet figured out if this is me or the program; if I find that it was me I'll stick an "Errata" note in a future issue of magazine.
Overall I was pretty impressed with Scancat Gold SE. It's logging features and trunking database make it really useful for computer-capable trunking scanners, and it's a great overall program for a variety of other radios, with a feature set that makes it fun to use for almost any monitoring activities.
COMPUTER AIDED TECHNOLOGIES
P.O. BOX 18285 - SHREVEPORT, LA 71138