Review: Uniden Bearcat SDS-200 Scanner
Tim Kirby offers a review of the new Uniden SDS-200 base/mobile digital trunking scanner and catches up with his postbag, covering the RTL_433 software, the ISS and military communications.
The arrival of the Uniden SDS-200 desktop scanner has been much anticipated. Following our review of the Uniden Bearcat SDS-100 handheld model earlier this year (RadioUser, February 2019: 14- 18), I was very keen indeed to have an indepth look at it. Thanks to the helpful team at Waters and Stanton, I did not have long to wait On unpacking the unit, my first impression was of a solid, nicely-sized and attractive piece of equipment. The Uniden Bearcat SDS 200 has a very good look and feel to it. Before we go any further, though, here are some highlights of what the manufacturers say about his radio: “The Uniden Bearcat SDS-200 is the base/ mobile version of the hugely successful SDS- 100. It has the same feature-set as the SDS-100, plus some enhancements. This is Uniden’s latest, and most advanced, base/ mobile digital trunking scanner. Frequency coverage is as follows: 25-512, 758-824, 849-869, 895-960, and 1240 1300MHz. The SDS-200 incorporates the latest True I/Q receiver technology, which provides the best digital decode performance in the industry, even in challenging receive environments. Highlights include True I/Q™ Receiver, TrunkTracker X, Direct Ethernet Connectivity for Streaming and Control, Complete USA/Canada Radio Database, Location Control for Simple Operation and 3.5” Customisable Colour Display. “The SDS-200 with Trunktracker X technology supports: APCO P25 Phase I and II, Motorola, EDACS, and LTR Trunking, MotoTRBO Capacity + and Connect +**, DMR Tier-III**, Hytera XPT**, Single-Channel DMR**, NXDN 4800 and 9600** and EDACS ProVoice** (*Additional or 3rd-Party software may be required. ** Paid upgrades required for DMR, NXDN, and ProVoice monitoring). Free Sentinel Software keeps the SDS-200 database and memory up to date.” Included with the SDS-200 are an AC adapter, a DC lead, a USB cable, a micro-SD Card (already installed), a BNC-type telescopic antenna, mounting hardware, and an instruction manual. Although Waters and Stanton sells the SDS-200 with three digital modes (DMR, NXDN and ProVoice) enabled as standard, the review model was not set up in this way, so I was not able to try out reception of DMR, which realistically was the only one out of the additional digital modes that I would have been likely to receive here. However, I would expect digital functionality to closely resemble what I found when I reviewed the SDS-100. When I reviewed the SDS-100, I noted that, although the publicity for both the SDS- 100 and SDS-200 makes a splash about the Home Patrol database, which allows you to configure your scanner with frequencies where you are likely to hear traffic, this only works in the USA and Canada, so you will have to program the scanner for yourself. Additionally, although the Sentinel software, which comes free with the SDS-200, allows you to do some manipulation of the memory banks, it does not allow you to program lists of channels to be imported to the scanner. To do this, you will require some additional software, costing between €50 and €80 Euros, depending on which version you choose. Fortunately, there is the ability to try the software before you buy it. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think that on a scanner costing nearly £800, this could, perhaps, be seen as a blot on the overall picture.
Fig. 1: The back panel of the SDS-200.
All that being said, rather than be able to load lists of frequencies into the scanner, I began by using the Custom Search facility to find frequencies of interest. With the SDS-200 connected (by means of a SO-239-to-BNC adapter) to my rooftop tri-band 50/144/1432MHz antenna, which doubles as a scanner aerial, I started to monitor the civil airband. As expected, the reception was excellent, with very many frequencies quickly being found and saved into a favourites list, which can be manipulated using the Sentinel software. If you do not have an external antenna, the SDS-200 comes supplied with a telescopic antenna. This will get you started, but I think most people who are considering buying a high-end scanner such as this, will want to get the best out of it, by using an external antenna with a reasonably wide-band coverage. It’s surprising, though, on the airband in particular, just how much you can hear with the telescopic antenna on the back of the scanner, especially if the radio is near a window. Something I had found with the SDS-100 was that it was not particularly sensitive around the 430-460MHz segment, which can be a fruitful area to scan. However, the SDS-200, connected to a decent antenna at least, had no such problems. In the 433MHz amateur band, I found that I was hearing repeaters at a similar signal strength to what I would expect on dedicated amateur band equipment, which was very encouraging. Even better, when I was scanning the 450- 460MHz segment, I found the SDS-200 did a very nice job of decoding some Motorola Capacity Plus systems, even when the signal level was marginal. I was pleased by this, as I had not been able to receive these systems (even using an external antenna) on the SDS-100. It is possible, of course, that overall propagation conditions were simply better on the day I tried the SDS-200. Like the SDS- 100, the SDS-200 shows the various details about the Capacity Plus channel, including Talk Group ID, Colo(u)r Code, Time Slot, User ID, and so on.
Store – Connect – Remote
All settings for the SDS-200 are stored on a micro-SD card, which is included. You can either use a USB cable (supplied) to connect your PC, running the Sentinel software to the scanner, or you can take the micro- SD card out of the scanner and insert it into a reader on your PC and edit the configuration
that way. The micro-SD card can also be used to store recordings of audio that you receive. Unlike the Whistler TRX-2, which we reviewed last month (RadioUser, August 2019: 41-43), you can enable recording with a ‘global’ setting (which records all channels you hear), rather than being able to opt to record particular channels. If you have recording enabled, and you come across a transmission you have not heard before, it will be recorded, which may well be a positive thing. On the negative side, you could have a lot of recordings to wade through. The nice thing, though, once you are in Replay Mode, the front panel of the SDS-200 shows exactly what was displayed when you recorded the session. Once you have listened to a session you can opt whether to retain, delete, or rename it. The SDS-200 features a LAN socket. This allows you to plug it into your internet router, using a network cable with RJ-45 connectors. This means that you can access the scanner remotely across the internet. Naturally, this involves some more software, which costs extra. The ProScan is such a program, and it allows remote-scanning across the Internet. To purchase, it costs around US$50. Fortunately, you can try before you buy for 30 days and download a demonstration copy to determine whether this software meets your needs. Although it nags you every now and again, this is not intrusive. I decided to install an evaluation version of ProScan. It was a quick install and easy to get going. The software will automatically detect what serial port the scanner is attached to on your PC and from there on in, you can control the scanner from your PC. In addition to the control functionality, I was able to use the Favourites Editor in ProScan to maintain the frequencies in the SDS- 200. I added a couple of channels to make sure that worked. Like in the case of the Whistler TRX-2 remote control program I mentioned last month, I enjoyed the way that all frequencies received were logged, as well as data, such as Talk Group ID for digital systems, along with how many times the scanner stopped on a particular channel. This gives a great indication of how active a channel is, of course.
Alerting and Customising
A reader, Declan Ryan, asked me whether I’d managed to set the alert LED to light up when a particular channel was active, as he’d had problems with this feature. I found that I was able to do this quite easily using the ProScan software – a useful feature if you want a visual alert that a particular channel is active. I liked the SDS-200. It performed well across the range of frequencies that I used it on, and I was particularly pleased to note good sensitivity in the all-important 420- 460MHz segment, where much traffi c can be found. I did not notice any problems with strong signal handling. Although I am in a rural environment, I am lucky not to have too many very strong signals, outside my control, at least. All in all, the unit is a well-built, solid and attractive piece of equipment to have in the shack. I was unable to test the SDS-200 on DMR as the review model did not have the mode enabled. The SDS-200 is a fairly expensive item. Uniden takes the view that, if you want digital modes enabled, you can pay extra to cover the licensing costs the manufacturer has to pay to include these modes. Waters and Stanton have priced the unit to include DMR, NXDN and ProVoice as standard, which is sensible because most listeners will want the ability to listen to DMR transmissions. Another add-on is the software costs. I feel that, in order to get the best out of the SDS-200 unit, you will probably want to use at least one additional program; perhaps ProScan or software that concentrates on the management of the memory banks of the scanner. This is all added expense, so it’s good to be aware of this before you decide to purchase the SDS-200. Very many thanks to Mike Devereaux of Waters and Stanton for the kind loan of the SDS-200. The SDS-200 costs £799.95, with DMR, NXDN and ProVoice digital modes enabled.
Fig.2: The clear display of the SDS-200.
Fig. 3: Screenshot from the ProScan software,
controlling the SDS-200.
It was nice to hear from ‘Dipole-Denis’ again. Denis has been busy trying out the RTL_433 software that I mentioned a few months back, for monitoring licence-free data transmissions in the 433MHz (and other) bands. He notes that, although he lives adjacent to a car park, he has yet to receive any tyre pressure indications or car door remote locking signals. However, he said that this is a good piece of software with lots of room for experimentation. Another reader who kindly wrote with some news was PB who had been monitoring for transmissions from the International Space Station (ISS), in particular, the planned contact between the ISS and the Rowan Preparatory School in Claygate, Surrey. PB used a ‘very home-brewed 2m satellite antenna’, consisting of 2 x 19-inch 18SWG wire dipoles and a 20-inch refl ector, mounted 16 inches behind, all secured with ‘chocblock’ connectors and screwed into a PVC cable trunk. To boost signals a bit, PB used a Moonraker preamp. He says that there was excellent copy throughout the pass. The fi rst couple of minutes, with the ISS close to the horizon, brought weaker signals – as you would expect – but, following that, the rest of the time, there was very good copy. One of our readers in Gibraltar was listening to air traffi c control on June 7th, when a British military aircraft fl ew around The Rock six times and subsequently aborted a landing, owing to fog. The fl ight was diverted to RAF Brize Norton. Communications were noted on the local air traffi c frequencies in Gibraltar and on one of the Spanish ATC frequencies from Seville. That’s it for this month! Many thanks to everyone who has been in touch; I look forward to hearing from more of you – please let me know what you are listening to, along with any tips you may have, and which other readers might fi nd of interest. See you next time!
This article was feature in the September 2019 issue of RadioUser