Friday, February 01, 2013

Digital voice on HF

I was going to title this post "D-Star's nemesis" but I thought that would be too provocative and premature! But the much talked-about Codec2 open source voice codec has just surfaced in usable form, in the shape of an easy to use bit of software called FreeDV.

FreeDV running on Windows
FreeDV is available for Linux, Windows and Mac. I installed the Windows version, which is just a matter of extracting the files from a zip archive into a folder.

If you're set up to run digital modes on HF then you're half way there already. FreeDV uses the same sound card as your digimode software and the same audio levels. As with PSK31 you just need to make sure you aren't driving the transmitter into ALC.

You'll need a second sound card for the receive and transmit audio. Assuming that you aren't using one sound card for both digimodes and computer sound, this will be the one you use for Windows noises. On my shack PC that's one of those el cheapo eBay USB sound card dongles. You'll also need a microphone or a computer headset.

There's no VOX (perhaps that will come in a later version of FreeDV) so you have to click a button to toggle PTT. Before you can do that you need to set up PTT using a com port. In my case the same serial port used for CAT control and updating the firmware of my K3 was used. The rig went straight into transmit until I ticked the RTS +V check box.

The main challenge is finding other people who are using FreeDV. At the moment the frequency 14.236MHz on 20m seems to be the only calling frequency. It would be nice to have some centres of activity on other bands, but no doubt that will come in due course. There's a Digital Voice Google Group which will probably become the meeting place for FreeDV users.

A FreeDV transmission is 1.1kHz wide, less than half of the bandwidth of an SSB signal. The audio is best described as telephone quality. It's a bit boxy, but there is an equalizer called "Filter" in the software that can be used to brighten up both the transmit and receive audio. A nice feature of the software is a button that lets you instantly switch between analogue and digital so you can easily make comparisons. I wish I could include a clip of the audio recorded off air but I couldn't figure out how to do it.

Right now I'm sitting on 14.236MHz waiting for someone else to come on the frequency. Hopefully as the word gets out more people will get on the air with FreeDV and contacts will be easier to come by.
Post a Comment