Friday, February 19, 2010

Elecraft's P3 joke

Lee W9OY reports on his visit to the Orlando Hamcation in his blog, and he begins with a comment on the Elecraft P3 panadapter for the K3. He isn't nice. He writes: "Elecraft had their little answer to the pan adapter, what a joke. It was a little screen maybe 9 in. and made the radio look like a toy. The quality of the display was horrible."

Since I'm a born stirrer, I've tossed a link to this into the Elecraft reflector to see what happens. Unfortunately, Lee is one of those bloggers who is only interested in his own opinion, so his blog doesn't allow comments. A pity, as I imagine he'd receive quite a few once the Elecraft fan club discover his post!

I can't comment on the quality of the P3 display as, like most people, I've only seen it in photographs, but I have to say that it doesn't look as nice as pictures of the display built into the Icom rigs. Perhaps it's just because the pictures in the Icom ads were taken by professionals, whereas all we've seen of the P3 so far are photos taken by hams at shows and posted on the web.

I do, however, think that Elecraft seriously slipped up by not providing an output for I/Q signals from the P3. This could be fed into a computer sound card and used to run software like CW Skimmer. As regular readers know, I'm not a fan of CW Skimmer myself, but it's apparently something a lot of people who have been using alternative panadapter solutions like LP-Pan or SDR-IQ use. If they wish to continue to use Skimmer there is little point in getting a P3. It looks like a major opportunity lost. According to a posting by Eric, the I/Q signals are only present inside the chip the P3 uses, so it isn't something they can easily bring out for external use.

Most of the remainder of W9OY's posting I referred to above is devoted to a description of how he set up a portable system using a Flex Radio and a laptop. It begins with "the .Net frameworks had to be installed" and goes on with installing drivers, optimizing buffers, recalibrating the receiver and installing Virtual Audio Cable and Virtual Serial Port. Fine if you like that sort of thing. But if, like me, you are one of those people where anything to do with computers takes twice as long as you thought and leaves you with half the hair you started with, there are reasons for preferring the Elecraft approach.


Unknown said...

Hi Julio,
I think there might be a fairly easy option for simultaneous use of the P3 and PC software. Although the P3 does not have I/Q output, I believe Eric did say that there will be a buffered IF output feedthrough on the P3 that can be fed to a device like LP-PAN. This would allow simultaneous use of the P3 with PC software such as skimmer and PowerSDR without too much difficulty, but does require the purchase of a second device, adding to the overall cost.

73 to All,

Unknown said...

True, John. But then if you did that and could run PowerSDR, why would you buy a P3 in the first place?

Unknown said...

Hi Julian (Sorry for misspelling your name earlier.)

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you that the I/Q output should have been included, but I think this is a fairly easy fix for those who need that option to use software like skimmer with the P3(although it is somewhat expensive).

I can think of several advantages to having both. The P3 has the advantage of a wider bandscope over PowerSDR (400khz vs 192Khz). It does not require constant use of computer resources. My LP-PAN and EMU0202 uses about 65% CPU on a 3.2 Ghz P4, not much CPU left for anything else. That makes it difficult to use PowerSDR along with other software. (It may be a P3 or a faster computer for me!) Also, it does not require booting up a computer just to use a bandscope.

However, PowerSDR is nice not only for it's bandscope but its receiver. For some modes, I think it has better audio quality then the the K3. It's synchronous AM implementation in my opinion is MUCH better then the K3's. I/Q output would also allow for DRM reception (and skimmer if you like it).

For me, I am not sure yet if it will be worth its projected price. As you said, a lot of it can be had with LP-PAN/PowerSDR. Adding a I/Q output probably would have made it even more expensive.