Thursday, January 16, 2014

D-STAR...Well...Okay...Why Not?

I received an extra and unexpected gift from Santa last night. It was a little late, but who's complaining? I have never really tried to figure out the ICOM D-STAR thing before, but now that I have a shiny new ID-31a, I might have to.

I've been hesitant to look into D-STAR for two reasons: its inherently "closed" nature--which feels like a slight against the purpose and draw of Amateur Radio--and its prohibitive costs. Let's break these down a little.

D-STAR audio runs on a closed digital codec (AMBE). This is fine in most consumer electronic products, but as an Amateur Radio operator and VERY Amateur electronics experimenter, it simply isn't attractive. I like to hack. I like to build. I like to tear things apart and see how they work especially when dealing with software, but (as you might imagine) ICOM doesn't make hacking, building, or tearing down D-STAR very easy. So until recently, D-STAR was barley a blip on my radar. However, between the ID-31a and this shiny new Raspberry Pi I'm beginning to play around with, a DSTAR gateway might be in my future...interesting...Still, I'm disappointed at the proprietary nature of the operating "mode."

To be perfectly honest, the biggest impediment to my involvement in D-STAR was cost. I simply couldn't justify the money on something so one-sided. I'd much rather buy an Elecraft K1 or K2 (I hope you're paying attention Santa), some new test gear, or a tri-bander for the top of that empty tower on top of my hill. But, since Santa dropped one in my lap, I might as well give it a chance; right?

Luckily (depending on how one defines "luck"), I live in a relatively populated area of the USA with several D-STAR Repeaters within 5w UHF reach, so I should be able to see what the hype is all about. But--and here's another frustrating D-STARism--it's not as simple as programming a few frequencies and hitting the PTT. There is a registration process. It's confusing and there really doesn't seem to be a good place to point the new user, so as I figure it out, I'll report back. In the meantime, I'm off to play with my new unexpected toy.

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