Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Home Patrol - The iPod of Police Scanners?

In a post earlier this year, I outlined the changes to public safety radio use in Mesa County and elsewhere, and how those interested in monitoring public safety activity via scanning receivers could still do that.

A recent development in the marketplace for scanning receivers has the potential to revolutionize the scanning hobby as we know it, and open it to all kinds of new potential uses and user communities.

The Home Patrol scanner by Uniden, released for sale the beginning of this month, utilizes technologies previously unavailable in most scanners. Some of these features include:
  • Touchscreen controls
  • Pre-programmed frequency database, coordinated through Radio Reference
  • Automatic scanner programming from the database by ZIP or postal code
  • Built-in last transmission recall and manual recording capability with Micro SD Card storage
Home Patrol brings forward the potential of an elegant and versatile receiver that will likely bring in new hobbyists who may have been previously intimidated by the complexity of today's receivers, as well as bring back those who may have left the hobby because of these complexities. The video above demonstrates how quickly and easily one can have the scanner up and running out of the box.

Another feature that is a little more complex to put in place is the ability of the scanner to interface with any GPS receiver that can communicate with other equipment using what is known as the NMEA 0183 standard. This standard code also requires an RS232 serial connector, but the end result is that the scanner will automatically update from the database with the frequencies in use in the location provided by the GPS receiver.

In other words, hook Home Patrol to a compatible GPS, and the scanner will automatically tune to the frequencies in use wherever you are in the US or Canada.
Pretty cool for traveling.

There are some kinks to work out, like any new piece of equipment. One thing that's missing is the ability to program the unit manually. You can enter a single frequency for monitoring, but not to program into the internal database or the available favorites list. There is software provided for free download that will manage the internal database, but something this sophisticated will undoubtedly have improvements coming down the pike. Hopefully these will be available as software downloads, and not require additional hardware purchases to implement.

The Home Patrol HP-1 may not be quite the cup of tea for purists or true die-hard hobbyists, many of whom derive joy from the ability to experiment and tinker. Some have called the unit the beginning of a 'dumbing down' of the scanner hobby, and thus a threat to the integrity of the hobby itself. Hogwash.

There are greater threats to the hobby than an easy-to-use receiver; the push toward getting public safety to start making more use of newer wireless broadband networks, such as LTE, threatens to make scanning go away because of its potential to leverage all kinds of datasets, including voice, into a single digital communications environment. If you're interested in discussions concerning the future of public safety communications, check the sidebar for the blogs of Andrew Seybold and Daryl Jones. They're both highly informative and pull no punches.

Home Patrol, as you would expect, isn't cheap. Most retailers are pricing it just below $500.
I'm not one to jump on the bandwagon of every new thing, and that includes this new innovation.

However, I know of at least one local scanner hobbyist in Grand Junction who is trying to order one, and has promised me a look once he gets it. I'll post an update when that happens.

Have a great day.

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