Last night I saw a few mentions on a radio IRC channel of low-cost software-defined radio (SDR). Low-cost, as in €16 low, and not the €1,000+ it might usually cost. Immediately my interest was piqued.In a normal radio, the incoming signal is processed using various pieces of hardware. With SDR, software can take the place of hardware, effectively turning your computer into a radio receiver.
There are quite a few SDR systems available, but this cheap idea was using one of those USB dongle for receiving TV, DAB, and FM. The dongle is available on DealExtreme.com. With a couple of hacks and an installation of GNU Radio, you can have yourself a usable SDR for next to nothing. Sure, it won’t be as functional as a full-price receiver, but as a fellow radio enthusiast said to me while talking about this, “it’s enough to get your feet wet”.
My main interest in radio is in the HF band (3-30MHz) on the AM mode (and a bit on CW and sideband). This SDR setup won’t cover that range without a converter, but it will give me access from about 60MHz up to, iirc, 1.7GHz. I’m not sure if it will do AM/CW, either; from what I can gather it’s more for digital modes like FSK, PSK, TETRA, etc. Still, for that price it will be a great way to start exploring these bands and modes. After all, a €10 shortwave radio got me into HF.
So the dongle is ordered, and hopefully I will have it soon. If you’re interested in learning more about this low-cost SDR, take a look at the posts on http://dangerousprototypes.com/tag/rtl-sdr/.