Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dayton Hamvention 2009 Debrief

Well, the Hamvention has been over for about a week. I thought that I would write a post about my impressions from this year's show. For the first time in several years, I attended all three days. Usually, I just attend Friday and Saturday. For a couple of reasons, I decided to also go Sunday. One of the reasons was that I wanted to sit in on one of the forums, the D-Star forum. The other reason was that I was asked to take a two-hour shift at the West Central Ohio Amateur Radio Association's (WCOARA) flea market space in order to help sell items. Between those two items, I knew that I had lost about a half day, so I tacked on Sunday.

I was staying at the house of a friend of a friend in the south-Dayton suburb of Kettering. My one friend and I drove from Columbus on Thursday evening to stay at her house. Staying there was quite convenient and meant that we did not have to wake up at some ridiculous hour in order to get to the show by the time it opened. We were able to wake up at a reasonable time and grab some breakfast on the way up to Trotwood to park at the old Salem Mall.

The bus rides were uneventful and were always available when we were ready. For the past several years, I have bought both the Hamvention tickets and the all-weekend bus pass. Buying the tickets, and especially the all-weekend pass, saves a little time and a little money.

This year, I arrived at Hara Arena with two purchases already in mind. I had no idea if either item would be available, but as it turned out both were. Some people might call it impulsive but I bought my first item within ten minutes of Friday's opening. I bought the new Icom ID-880H dual-band mobile radio. This radio only does one band at a time, but it also incorporates D-Star. I bought this radio at R & L Electronics right inside the main arena. I don't think it was an impulsive purchase, because I had researched this radio for about three months before making that purchase. The prices I had seen on that radio from the ham radio retailers before the show was right about $500. I paid $481, which included the 6.75% that R & L Electronics collected on behalf of the State of Ohio. My next purchase was a little while later (maybe an hour later). I've been wanting a new set of CW paddles. Now that purchase may be considered impulsive. I'm not currently a CW operator, but the Begali Signature paddle that I bought is a work of art and is a high-precision piece of equipment. I do want to learn the code because I would like to try some weak signal VHF and UHF contacts, and ultimately I would like to work the microwaves. It is also nice to have a set of paddles for those who may operate my station whether that is at home or Field Day.

With my purchases out the way, I started checking out all of the exhibits. I spend most of my time indoors looking at the commercial exhibits and I am not that interested in the flea market sales. The main things that I was interested in looking at were the new Icom IC-7600 HF/6m rig, and also looking at anything D-Star. I did those things and more. All along the way, I had my Canon EOS-5D digital SLR and was taking quite a few pictures.

I'll have more to post about the IC-7600. I spent about 15 to 20 minutes talking to one of the Icom representatives about this radio. As far as D-Star is concerned, there were a few exhibits that pertained mainly to D-Star. Icom has a booth in "Audio Alley" that seems to be mainly concentrated on their D-Star capable radios. The group had a booth along with a fully functioning UHF D-Star repeater that was also connected to the gateway. Dan Smith had his D-RATS exhibit in the main arena. D-RATS uses the digital data capabilities of D-Star radios to send files, short messages, emails and so on to another similar equipped station.

I thought that the Hamvention attendance was down a little bit. Other than the initial rush to get in the arena when the doors first opened on Friday, I thought that it was fairly easy to get around, and I was walking around with a backpack, camera bag, and a digital SLR. I also noticed that there seemed to be fewer exhibitors; not by a whole lot, as Hamvention still occupies the entire Hara Arena. I also noticed that the flea market was a little more sparse than I remember it. I haven't attended Hamvention on Sunday for quite a while, and I have noticed that in years past some people would abandon their flea market spaces on Saturday if sales weren't good. The flea market was emptying out quite well Sunday morning.

I did spend the remaining time grabbing lunch, hanging out at the WCOARA flea market space (to rest), and looking at all of the other exhibits. One of the exhibitors that I checked out was Byonics. I hadn't thought much about checking them out, but when I arrived early at Forum Room 1 for the D-Star seminar, the APRS seminar was still going on. A representative from Byonics was one of the speakers for the APRS forum. He was talking about their various tracker options. One of those trackers caught my attention: the Micro-Track All-in-One (AIO). The is a 10-watt APRS transmitter based on the TinyTrak3 platform. I do run a APRS beacon at home (N8OIF-9) using a Kenwood TM-D710A, but the Micro Track AIO would be handy for portable operations. Recently, I helped our ARES group (the Central Ohio ARES) in providing communication support for the Tour of the Scioto River Valley bicycle tour (from Columbus, Ohio to Portsmouth on Saturday, and back to Columbus on Sunday). I know that net control for that event does use APRS, and a 10-watt tracker such as the Micro-Track AIO would be beneficial. Other exhibitors that I checked out included the big three of Kenwood, Icom, and Yaesu. From what I can tell, Kenwood did not have a single new item to show. However, they had a poster that said they will be debutting a new HF rig and a new HT in 2010. I also checked out MicroHAM-USA, Buddipole, W4RT Electronics, Heil Sound, Tokyo Hy-Power, All-Ohio Scanner Club, TAPR, Amateur Radio/Video News, Radio Shack, AMSAT, West Mountain Radio, Palstar, Array Solutions, M2 Antennas, NCG Company, MFJ Enterprises, Down East Microwave, and Flexradio Systems. I'll discuss those real briefly here:
  • Icom: I mainly stopped by to check out the new radios; specifically the ID-880H mobile, the IC-80AD, and of course the IC-7600 HF/6m rig.
  • Kenwood: didn't see anything new except the announcement that I mentioned earlier.
  • Yaesu: I asked them what new items they were showing because it was not immediately apparent to me. They have three new mobiles: the FT-2900R (a 75W 2m), the FT-7900R (dual-band), and the "ultra rugged" FT-1900R 55W 2m rig. They also have a new HT: the FT-270 that they were displaying in a fish aquarium.
  • Buddipole: I mainly stopped by to check on the status of some items they debutted last year, such as the mini Buddipole rotator and controller. They said they were still working on it. They were actively promoting kits that can turn your Buddipole into a short 2m or 6m beam.
  • Palstar: I already own three Palstar items, but I wanted to look at their new Commander series of amplifiers.
  • Flexradio Systems: these software-defined radios have advanced quite a bit lately. One radio that they sell is the complete radio and computer all in one case. They were showing the PowerSDR software, and they had a copy of CW Skimmer running. They also appear to be working on a VHF/UHF SDR.
  • MFJ Enterprises: I was helping Jonnie, KD8BUP, pick out a antenna tuner for her Yaesu FT-101B HF rig.
  • Heil Sound: I didn't spend much time there. I am interested in how to allow two people to each use a headset/boomset on one radio. This scenario sometimes occurs at Field Day. You want a headset for yourself and you need one for your logger.
  • Down East Microwave: I briefly swung by their exhibit, but the crowd was fairly deep, so I kept walking.
  • NCG Company: Jonnie also needs a new dual-band antenna for her car. The mag mount on the roof with coax going through the door has had better days. I think that the coax is bad. I was looking for a trunk-lip mount and a dual-band antenna to go with it. I was able to get a couple of ideas.
  • Tokyo Hy-Power: I would like to start working weak signal VHF particularly on 2-meters. THP sells the HL-350Vdx 300W 2m amplifier that I would like to acquire within the next couple of years. I spent some time looking at that amp, and a 500W version.
  • Radio Shack: A friend of mine works there and I knew he would be working the booth on Saturday. I stopped by and ended up buying a non-ham radio item off of him: an HD-Radio made by Accurian. I brought it home and it works out pretty well.
  • W4RT Electronics: I mainly stopped by their exhibit because I knew they carried the line of LDG Electronics autotuners. I'm looking at the LDG KT-100 tuner for my Kenwood TS-2000X.
  • All-Ohio Scanner Club: It was time to renew my membership so that I could keep receiving the Scannergram. In the end though, I had spent most of my cash and I opted to renew once I got back home.
  • Array Solutions: This company carries quite an assortment of different ham radio gear. I am mainly interested in the W3NQN bandpass filters, and a new UHF coupler for my Powermaster wattmeter.
  • AMSAT: I wanted to renew my AMSAT membership, but I decided I would take care of that back home. They were demonstrating what SuitSat2 may be like. They were saying that it will probably have a CW beacon, a voice beacon, a telemetry beacon, and a transponder. It may also have batteries and a few solar panels. A "launch" date is not know. I heard beforehand that they might be demoing a complete computer-controlled satellite station (which presumably means computer control of Doppler shift and control of az-el rotors). I did not see that demo.
  • TAPR: I don't hear much out of TAPR these days. I know that they are still working on their High Performance SDR. I also thought about renewing my membership but I can do that later.
  • Amateur Radio/Video News: This group has shot different videos and produced DVDs of the various forums, seminars, and Hamvention itself. I wanted to see what they were working on this year. Their presence was noted at that D-Star Forum and at the D-Star Friday Night Event. I just visited their website. Gary Pearce (KN4AQ) shot several seminars this year at Hamvention. He is now doing the editing, but I imagine I'll buy his D-Star DVD and his SDR DVD.
  • M2 Antennas: If I want to do VHF/UHF SSB then I will need a decent beam. This company seems to produce quality products.
  • MicroHAM: I had heard of this company before, but had never paid much attention to them. Even this year, I initially just walked past their exhibit (I did slow down a little). On my second go-around on late Saturday or Sunday, I stopped by. They manufacture some very interesting equipment: items such as the Station Master Deluxe, the Micro Keyer II, and the Micro Keyer 2R and 2R+. After the show was over, I started looking at the pictures that I took of their equipment and decided to check their website to see what they were about. Now, I'm seriously thinking about buying the Micro Keyer II. It can be used with my Kenwood TS-2000X, and my Yaesu FT-897D. If I get an Icom IC-7600 down the road it can be used with that as well. All you need is a radio cable for each radio. Basically, the Micro Keyer II acts as a hub for voice, data, CAT control, and so on for the connected radio. It is connected to the computer with a USB cable. If I got this, I would probably sell my two Tigertronics Signalink USB's (those are great items; there's nothing wrong with them). The MK2 is just a more elegant approach.
  • West Mountain Radio: I only stopped by briefly. I learned after the show that they were showing a new item. This item is called the PWRGuard and acts as a undervoltage/overvoltage protection device for the load that is connected to it. This might be a good addition to the shack.
For the first time this year, I attended an after-hours event. I attended the D-Star event at the Drury Inn. Although quite a bit of it was over my head (discussions of D-Star sys admin stuff), I think that I still got enough benefit out of the rest of it, that I would attend again in the future.

Now I have to wait almost another year for Hamvention to return. I'll probably attend all three days again next year, and I may even create my own Four Days in May (the actual FDIM is devoted to QRP operation). I'm thinking about attending Contest University next year. I really don't consider myself a contester, but I've heard that you can learn quite a bit at Contest University about operating techniques and station strategies.

I may have more to write about Hamvention in the not-too-distant future.

UPDATE: For those of you who attended Hamvention and picked up a program booklet: Did someone forget to include the list of exhibitors? I like to plan my visit, and it's hard to do without that. I did notice that a website was tracking inside exhibitors this year. I'll have to visit that website before next year's show.