REVIEW - Scancat Gold for Windows "SE" and the AOR AR-8200

Reprinted with permission of Scanning USA Magazine

by John McColman


I have been familiar with the Scancat application ever since I purchased an AOR AR-3000 receiver eight years ago.  Then, Scancat was a DOS application and while it supported a lot of HF radios (mainly Yaesu), it was just starting to support scanners.  Scancat always had an interesting mix of features and provided a useful platform for computer-assisted monitoring.  It supported duplex frequencies, search and store, and signal strength reporting among other features.


Today, Scancat still is available in a DOS version but the flagship application now is the Scancat Gold for Windows Surveillance Enhanced or "SE" version.  I will refer to this application as SCGW-SE and for the purposes of this review, I am using version 7.5.   While the roots of the application are still linked to the DOS application, SCGW-SE differs from it in several important ways and it also has a much different, albeit familiar, user interface.




Scancat Gold has been previously reviewed in these pages with the Bearcat BC-895XLT (June 1998).  My interest and the focus of this review will be using SCGW-SE with the AOR AR-8200 handheld.



Setting Up


Installing SCGW-SE is real easy and straightforward.  Once installed, start the application and move to the Setups menu option.  Select the AR-8200 and then choose the radio's communication parameters that usually are 9600 baud, 8 bits, 2 stop bits and No parity.  Be sure that the parameters match between what you set in SCGW-SE and what is set in the radio.  It is probably best to leave the AR-8200 in its factory settings for this; otherwise, make a note of what settings you use. 


Once the program is setup, you can move on to the main menu and start using the rich feature set of the application.



Running Scancat Gold for Windows - SE


If you are looking for the AR-8200 front when you are running SCGW-SE, you will be disappointed (see Figure 1).  Keep in mind, SCGW-SE is not just a computer front-end for the AR-8200, it is an extension of the AR-8200.  What this means is that you will have a whole new set of tools to use the AR-8200 as a monitoring receiver and just not another scanner.  This is one area that SCGW-SE gives the user a lot of bang for the buck.  And just as I don't own one scanner, the ability to share files among the Bearcat 245, the AR-8200 and other scanners with just one interface to know, makes SCGW-SE very handy.


At first, you might feel overwhelmed by the main Scanning Window.  Take some time to learn this application.  While writing this review, I kept discovering neat features that make me realize just how functional SCGW-SE is.  Being an old Scancat user from way back, I discovered that SCGW-SE does a whole lot more and makes life for the operator a whole lot easier.  SCGW-SE is one application that I couldn't learn in 15 minutes.  It took me a couple of weeks of working with the application and keeping the manual handy to really find everything this application will do.  And of course, I would then think up new ways to use SCGW-SE, which took me in new directions with the software.


One thing I've found about SCGW-SE is that it pays to spend some time setting frequency files up before hand.  It doesn't take long and if you have the Percon "Spectrum" disk or perhaps Mr. Scanner disk, the job is even easier as SCGW-SE gives you some import features so you don't have to spend a lot of time typing frequencies in.  Do a little work up-front getting ready and you will find SCGW-SE ready to go a lot faster.  Start with setting up a basic frequency file for your locality to familiarize yourself.



Database Application


One place that SCGW-SE stands out is with all of the database features that are included.  You can almost think of SCGW-SE as a database front-end with radio connectivity included.   Starting from the Main Menu window, you can open the frequency file and do sorts, edits, updates and more.  (Again, keep in mind that preparing up-front will make life easier, especially while you are learning the application.)  Spend some time with this feature.  Just keeping up with 1000 memories in the AR-8200 is daunting.  Now with SCGW-SE you can do a lot more.  Imagine the different files you can have ready to load into the AR-8200 or to just scan with the AR-8200 connected to the computer.



Surveillance Enhanced (SE) Features


With this version of Scancat Gold for Windows, I had the opportunity to look at the "Surveillance Enhanced" features and I found two that I really like and apply to the AR-8200: the Spectrum Analysis function and Recording with a Soundcard.


Spectrum Analysis


Looking for a frequency?  Curious about how the radio spectrum is used in your area?  Like visual impact?  You will LOVE this feature.  The Spectrum Analysis function gives you a whole new way of using a scanner and really gives the radio a use that can only be accomplished with a computer.  I have discovered that a lot of applications include "spectrum analysis" but SCGW-SE really comes close to making this feature very useful and almost painless.  The spectrum analysis feature requires a little setup but once you have it going, you will wonder how you got along without it.  And saving the files and reviewing them helps turn up those elusive frequencies that you just know are out there.  This is certainly not foolproof.  You are going to need to be able to hear the frequency in use, of course, but with some patience and some study, you will find things this way that you'd never turn up otherwise.  Here again, spend some time with the manual and the application and it will pay off.


Recording with a Soundcard


Once you have the Spectrum Analysis figured out, now you want to identify those frequencies you've found.  How to do that without spending your life attached to the computer and the radio is by using the recording feature.  Connect the AR-8200 up to your soundcard and let SCGW-SE do the work.  It is amazing what you can discern with 30 seconds of audio.  Keep in mind you will produce some large files recording sound, so be sure you have the disk space available.





I have to admit that I am one of those individuals who have trouble reading documentation.  I love to just unpack whatever and get it going.  Most of the time I can get the radio/software/computer accessory working this way but I always end up going back to the docs to figure out what I'm missing.  With SCGW-SE, I was able to get up and running, but then I discovered that this application had so much in it, I was lost without the manual.  Fortunately, the manual is laid out well and does a good job of presenting the features in a logical sequence.  Furthermore, SCGW-SE has help built-in and even includes a "tips" feature that you can turn on or off and use as necessary.  These "tips" pop up as you move your cursor around the window.  This is great for when you discover a new button or feature.


Following up on this, if you ever do get stuck, Jim Springer is very easy to get in touch with and Jim is always willing to answer questions and offer assistance.  Jim really does a great job supporting his product and this is a comfort when you do run into a dead-end. 




There are several packages available for the AOR AR-8200 available.  For pure AR-8200 functionality, SCGW-SE is probably not the best one, simply because other packages that are devoted to the AR-8200 are tailored around the AR-8200's rich feature set.  However, none offers anything similar to the SE features of SCGW and if you own other receivers supported by SCGW-SE (such as the BC-895XLT, and now the BC-245XLT, or any of the supported short-wave receivers) then SCGW-SE merits a close look.  Download the demo and check it out.  By the way, SCGW-SE has a "Virtual Radio" setting that allows you to try it out without having a radio connected to it.  I know of only one other package that offers this so if you are just interested in trying computer-assisted monitoring out without plunking down the money for a computer-capable receiver, this is really helpful.  There are also sample files for the SE features in the demo and the sound recording is enabled for 10-second snippets.


I like SCGW-SE and have enjoyed using it.  Its limitations not withstanding, I think it offers a good feature set for the AR-8200 and certainly is better than some other applications in terms of overall support and user-friendliness.





I want to thank Alex Blaha for thinking of me to do this review.  I really enjoyed doing it.  Alex has a tough job as our editor assigning reviews to individuals and I appreciate that he thought of me for this one.  I also want to sincerely acknowledge Jim Springer's accessibility and cooperation with me while I was doing the research for this review.  Jim took a very positive approach to the review process with me and provided timely and complete responses to my questions.  Jim is definitely one of the "nice guys" of this hobby and he is also a big supporter of the hobby overall.  Spend a few moments visiting his web page and you will be overwhelmed with all of the support and more that he gives his products.  Even if you aren't interested in SCGW-SE, there's a lot more there and if you are a "newbie" to computer-assisted monitoring, Jim's web page is probably the single best place to start in my opinion.