Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why SDR doesn't excite me

In his latest blog post Dave Richards, AA7EE writes: "I have an interest in SDR. At this stage in the game, I would imagine that almost anyone with an interest in radio, whether amateur radio or any other kind of serious listening, would find SDR very compelling." I'm afraid I don't. In fact I find the idea of SDR depressing, even repelling. And that isn't just because I prefer the look and feel of a real radio with buttons and knobs to a computer screen.

I say this even though I am a programmer of sorts. I have tried to learn how SDR works with the idea that if I could write my own SDR software it might become an aspect of the hobby I could get interested in. But I can't. The math is totally beyond me and I just can't understand how it works at all. The majority of radio amateurs without any knowledge of programming don't have a chance. Which makes the limit of most people's technical challenge in an SDR future that of getting somebody else's SDR software to work. And after a lifetime working with computers frankly I don't find faffing about with PCs very much fun.

A basic understanding of electronics is one of the prerequisites of getting a ham radio license. Although most of us could not design an Elecraft K3 and many of us choose never to design or even build any part of our station, most of us can understand how radio circuits work and quite a few of us can build simple circuits from a schematic. Some of us can even design circuits from scratch - a lot more of us I'd wager than could write their own SDR software.

The reason I don't like SDR is that it reduces the majority of us to the role of appliance operators. That may be fine for those who are happy being appliance operators and just want the best technical solution for working weak DX or amassing the most contest points. But for the tinkerers and builders SDR doesn't leave a lot to experiment with, because most of the interesting stuff happens in software, inside the computer, where we don't have the tools or the knowledge to tinker with it. If you are using a SoftRock or a top of the line Flex you will be looking at the same software user interface. And I don't find that a very enthralling prospect.
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