Ruminations of a New DStar User Pt3

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    • #1212

      This is the final installment – I promise.

      As I said earlier, I see the Reflectors as the biggest draw for DStar. That’s just my opinion – you’re certainly welcome to your own and I promise not to try and convince you that I’m right. With the Reflectors being of much interest to me, I considered how to best go about exploring these nodes. I could certainly use the W4GSO DStar repeater and either my 7100 or 880H to link to each individual one. It would work if I had all my cluster hump fields filled in properly. But what if I wanted to just monitor a few reflectors for an hour or so each and see what was going on? Well, it would be tough nuggies for you if you wanted to listen to some other reflectors or link to a specific repeater. Tying up the repeater for my own gratification really didn’t strike me as something I felt comfortable doing. If I planned on some specific contact I wanted to make, maybe it would make sense. Linking/unlinking for 2 or 3 hours just to listen (I tend to listen about 98% of the time I operate) would probably be OK once in a while, but not something to make a habit of. What to do?

      I’ll get me one of those DV Dongles! Yes, my first intentional DStar acquisition. Now I have a dog in this fight. For those who do not know what the dongle is, I’ll give my nutshell description. It’s a DStar internet radio. No RF is present, but it has all the attributes of a typical DStar radio as far as transmit and receive encoding/decoding goes. With it, no additional DStar equipment or antenna is required. To me, it’s the perfect Reflector device. “Tuning around” is easily done with the Dongle and it doesn’t tie up the local repeater. Those conversations I mentioned earlier with the G/Ms, the DLs and so on were via the Reflectors. A number of these contacts were Dongle to Dongle, but many were done via local repeaters on the other end. There is quite a bit of repeater linking going on. Most often those using the repeaters are making calls on the Reflector and not just lurking about (like I do). The Dongle has allowed me to get familiar with the system and has been a great resource of information when I’m just listening. If you’re on the edge about DStar and don’t really need/want another radio, take a look at the Dongle. It’s not extremely cheap at $200, but it’s less than a new radio. So, now I’m a qualified DStar operator. Well, yeah, sort of…

      I noted in my opening on Reflectors that I was talking about DPlus Reflectors. It seems somewhere along the way, someone thought that traffic routing/handling on the network could be improved. As with a number of wide-area projects in amateur radio, personalities and politics come into play and forks in the road appear. At my age, I just don’t care about the why or who anymore. The result is that there is another set of Reflectors referred to as XReflectors (and variants). There is some software that will allow access to these other Reflectors through a DPlus repeater. What it is, how it works and what problems it can cause, I have no idea and my comment should not be construed as promoting access to these through the W4GSO DStar repeater. For all I know, it may already have this. I haven’t tried it and I’m more than preoccupied with the current DPlus Reflectors. It appears there is some software that will work with the Dongle that provides access to these other Reflectors. Again, I haven’t tried this yet. The point is that they exist and it’s just another item concerning DStar to keep in mind. OK, so now I’m a qualified DStar operator. Yes, for the most part.

      So, this is where I’m at after 4 weeks or so of effort. Being retired has allowed me to spend more time on this than the average bear. What I know now versus when I started is probably just enough to get me in trouble. My opinions are predicated on my current depth of understanding and are subject to change as new information comes available. I’m not fixed in my thinking on any of this at this point. It is fairly easy to see where many hams would have a less than stellar opinion of DStar. I suspect much has to do with the price of a ticket for the DStar ride. A Dongle priced at $60 or $70 would ease the reticence of many hams that may want to participate. This, coupled with confusion over Fusion, DMR and other digital options doesn’t help much. At my age I’m just taking it at face value – it is what it is and I’m not particularly concerned about buying into the wrong digital option. I spent more on a PSK packet modem for the PACSats than I got directly invested in DStar. It’s something new for me and it has some interesting elements associated with it. With the poor sunspot numbers we’ll be seeing for the next several years, being able to converse with distant stations/individuals is nice. I’ve always enjoyed talking with UK and Aussie stations. Some of the best ragchews I’ve had have been with those stations. I guess the old saying is valid – The British and Americans are truly a kindred people separated only by a common language.

      Operational observations – Audio quality is OK. Most people sound close enough to their analog counterpart, you can tell who it is. Some folks don’t do too well. I don’t know if it’s the timbre of their voice or variations in the way certain radios are adjusted. Some folks remind me of a text-to-speech program I had on my Commodore 64. Those operating mobile offer all sorts of interesting variations. From phasey sounding audio to machine-sounding audio, with a good dose of chirps and squeaks. DStar isn’t particularly kind to our Scottish friends – the heavier the brogue, the more unintelligible they become. It seems best to hold a fairly constant amplitude when talking as it seems the dynamic range is somewhat limited. Those I’ve heard that raise and lower their voice tend to be less intelligible. Again, these are just my limited observations to date.

      Whilst this treatise will offer little new information to a seasoned DStar user, it may give some insight as to procedural expectations for a new user. Then again, it could be my need for a form of catharsis after this experience. I’m basically DStar neutral – it has its good and bad points. Perhaps, having some radio-specific information that is clear and concise and complete in a known location would be helpful. The “central” sites seem to have how-tos on certain operations but I have not seen what is really needed – an alternative to the Icom manuals.

      Pricey gear, confusing equipment manuals, weird audio – what’s not to love about DStar.


    • #1233
      Scott Toth

      Thanks Chris! That’s a really interesting read, and at the end of it all, I’m just glad that you were willing to give it a try and are on D-star. I do have a question: would you mind if I reformatted your three parts and listed them as an article on the site’s News page? I think it’ll draw more readers and that a lot of people will be interested in your impressions. I can link over to your forum posts too so that people can join the discussion. What do you think?

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