Scanning USA - May 2004
Review by Steve Hancock
Last year I picked up an Icom PCR-1000 and was disappointed in the available software for the unit. I wanted some decent software for scanning. There were several packages available for general purpose use covering HF and VHF / UHF monitoring. None of them did a very good job VHF / UHF monitoring. As of May of this year, "PROBE" (very popular for the OptoScan series) by DataFile, Inc., became available for the PCR-1000, and it's known as "Probe1K".
When I look for VHF / UHF computer control software, I want it to do one thing: keep me informed of the action! Probe1K does an excellent job at this. Probe1K has several scanning features I was unable to find in the other software. Some of these features are TacScan, Hyperbanks, Hypergroups, Smartscan, Hypersettings, Automark, and VFO Keys. Probe1K also excels in the frequency managment department. In this review, I will cover some of the main features and how it enhances scanning with your PCR-1000.
"TacScan" is a feature no serious scanner listener should be without. Probe1K will remember your active frequencies while it scans and checks them more often. When Probe1K finds an active channel, it is added to a special TacScan list. Probe1K will check this special TacScan list while it is scanning your other banks. This means your active channels are scanned more often, you hear more, and you don't miss replys that may happen while scanning other banks. Frequencies are added and dropped from this list depending on their activity.
"TacScan" is a great tool for searching. We all know how frustrating it can be when you have your scanner searching a range of frequencies, you hear something special, and you rush to pause or reverse the search to catch any replys. While searching, Probe1K checks the more active search hits more often while it's searching the range. As a result, you hear your search replys without waiting for it to complete the search. You have full control over this special TacScan list. You can control how often it is checked and how long it stays in the list.
Hyperbanks and Hypergroups help you to manage all your scanning banks. You can assign the function keys on your keyboard to turn on and off any combination of banks. For example, I can assign F1 to scan banks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and F2 to scan banks 1, 2, 3, 9, 99, and F9 just to scan bank 1 if I want. I even have a function key assigned to scan my normal banks and a search bank at the same time! And with the aid of TacScan, I am able to hear my recent active channels while it is searching.
Hypergroups will let me keep custom groups of up to 99 banks for scanning. I can create one group for my home scanning needs, another group for my traveling needs, and yet another group for my searching needs. I keep different groups for editing and customizing my database until I get it the way I want.
Hypersettings allows me to have custom settings I can then assign to my scanning functions like logging, delays, and alarms. For example, I can set F1 to scanning banks 1,2,3 with logging and no alarms and F2 to scanning banks 1,2,3 with logging, Smartscan and alarms turned on.
Smartscan is another feature I could not be without. If an assigned frequency is found active, Probe1K can turn on another bank (called a Smartbank which can be any of the 99 banks) automatically. If a main disaster frequency becomes active, Probe1K will turn on my Smartbank with FEMA and other disaster frequencies assigned to that bank. You specify how long the Smartbank of frequencies will continue to be scanned as long as activity is heard in the Smartbank. Smartscan can also scan just one Smartbank while temporary turning off your other banks. In some area agencies, like the State Police, the reply can come back on a different frequency. Smartscan allows you to scan the current bank for a few seconds to catch the reply before resuming the normal routine.
Other scanning tools Probe1K has are Automark, Templock, and VFO keys. If you have automark turned on, your active frequecnies will be highlighted in the database. This is handy to rule out frequencies that aren't active so you can adjust your scanning banks if need to be. Templock lets you temporarily lockout a frequency for a specified period of time so the radio doesn't stop on stuck mics, interference or boring chit-chat. VFO keys are like a manual memory with quick access. I keep the local weather, FM broadcast, ham repeaters and important dispatch frequencies in my VFO memory keys.
With Probe1K, you can customize each channel and have a wealth of infomation displayed for that channel. I would be lost without the information Probe1K displays. When a frequency is active, it will display the frequency, tone, delay status, filter status, mode, log status along with the FCC data like agency name, address, service. It also shows how far and what direction the active frequency is from you if you have latitude and longitude data available.
One of Probe1K's highlights is it will scan faster then any other PCR-1000 software out there. It will also lock onto CTCSS tones 3-4 times faster then the other software. Since serious scanning requires us to scan at a reasonable rate of frequencies per second, this is a major plus.
Keeping track of all these settings and freqeuncies is easy with the Probe1K database engine. I have not seen any database program for any radio that manages frequencies like Probe1K. I can import several file formats like data from Icom's web site, FCC data CD's and ascii file data. It also allows me to export data to files and printout any combinations of banks, freqeuncies ranges, and service types.
One feature I particularly like about Probe1K is that it can export its database by bank or other search criteria to a file that can be imported into mapping programs like Delorme Street Atlas, Delorme Topo series and MS Mappoint. If I have to travel, I can take the FCC data from Probe1K for the area I am going to and see which stations will be in the range of the place I'm staying at. Importing the data into a Topo map is handy for tracking down sources of interference and line-of-sight studies.
One feature the PCR-1000 does not have is a remote jack for recording. With the flexibility of Probe1K, I assign a frequency or set of frequencies to a hyperbank and activate that hyperbank while I'm away. The audio output of the PCR-1000 goes to a VOX recorder. I can also use one of the Windows base audio recorders in place of the recorder. With the Icom PCR-1000 still being manfactured and available, coupled with Probe1K software, this makes for a computer control scanning combination that can't be beat. Since the program runs in DOS, it will run on any computer you may have laying around - no need to junk that old computer. Of course, Probe1K will run in Windows 95/98, and when using Windows 2000/XP, with Direct I/O driver software installed. One of Probe1K's highlights is that it scans faster than any other PCR-1000 software out there; don't let the fact it's a DOS based program fool you.
Now I need to find some decent software for HF use.