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Author Topic: Would I Buy an SBS-3?  (Read 45187 times)

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Offline Anmer

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Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« on: February 02, 2012, 03:56:51 PM »
© Mike Cogan 2012

Would I Buy an SBS-3?

I get quite a lot of emails asking this question.  The answer, as always, depends what you want to do.

The SBS-3 is Announced

The SBS-3 replaces Kinetic's SBS-1 range of receivers which were launched in 2005.  The SBS-1 quickly gained an excellent reputation for build quality and reliability, often outperforming other receivers in decoding Mode-S data.  It shipped with the Basestation software and soon established itself as the market leader with reported sales of 12,000 units. 

Then in late summer 2011, Radio User magazine ran an exclusive about Kinetic's SBS-3, a new Mode-S receiver with an inbuilt VHF/UHF software defined radio (SDR).  The article said the SBS-3 would also include an AIS (Automatic Identification System) receiver and a marine band SDR.

Reading on, we were told the SBS-3 would output data without requiring a PC connection and, if connected to the internet, the SBS-3 would work as a stand-alone unit that could be controlled by a separate screen interface via the Ethernet or RS232 ports.  All for less than £500, it sounded very impressive.

Just before Christmas 2011, Kinetic announced that the SBS-3 was available for £499.94 including VAT but excluding shipping.

What Can it Do?

Well I don't have one but like many others, I want to know what it can do before I spend £500.  So where can we find out?

The first place I went was the Kinetic website where it states:

The twin SDR tuners each provide an 8MHz tuning band and 4 channels of demodulation are offered in the current firmware release as well as a number of built-in decoders. Each channel output can be mixed onto both analog and digital output streams.

A further release of Basestation, the included software package, is in testing and the API (Application Programming Interface) document is being finalised. A published list of intended features will also be maintained online as well as feedback from the development teams.

Dedicated 1090 MHz Receiver
Twin SDR tuners
Digital and Audio Streaming
High Speed Ethernet and USB
Built-in Demodulation and Decoding
GPS Input and RS232 Radio Control
I2C Auxiliary Control Port
Software API Available


Next I went to the website of LAM Communications, one of Kinetic's main dealers where I found the features listed:

3 Receivers in one box.

ADS-B / UAT / AIS / Marine band / Air bands (VHF and UHF) Capable Multi-Device - Multi-Band - Multi Channel Software Defined Radio Receiver / Decoder
 
The SBS-3 features include:

An improved design 1090Mhz Mode-S , ADS-B receiver.
Dual independent 27Mhz to 980Mhz SDR Tuners with 8Mhz Bandwidth per tuner.
Listen to multiple stations at the same time.
Listen to VHF on one tuner, UHF on the other and digitally mix the two together.
Full speed 100M Ethernet interface with concurrent multiple sockets.
On board digital audio mixing plus stereo output DAC and audio interface.
Audio output over Ethernet
Raw Data output for Mode-S, AIS, and all other demodulations such as ACARS.
Onboard processing and demodulation - NO PC REQUIRED.
Ideal for remote site monitoring
SBS-3 will ship with 1090 ADS-B decoding and VHF/UHF tuning.
Additional decoder protocols will be available as firmware downloads as and when they are released.
I2C Options interface for external controllers and peripherals.
LCD Touchscreen controller (due December 2011)
 
The SBS3 is a true stand-alone SDR receiver, unlike the majority of so-called SDR receivers on the market, which are, in reality, just digital tuners!

The SBS3 performs all demodulation and decoding operations internally, without the need for any third-party software or any other PC software , enabling genuine stand-alone operation. This unique design means that numerous audio/data streams can be monitored simultaneously and remotely.

The SBS-3 works as either a Client or a Server which enables you to either connect to it, or it can connect to a designated server over the local network or indeed the internet, for true stand-alone use.
 
The SBS-3 is powered via the USB connector, either by a PC, a standard USB Hub or an in-car charger outlet.
 
The SBS-3 is a flexible design with a phenomenally large FPGA, allowing for future additional on-board decoders for formats such as ACARS, POCSAG and many others.

The SBS-3 is a revolutionary hardware product that combines with the included display software and allows aviation, marine professionals and enthusiasts worldwide, the ability to monitor the skies and seas in an unprecedented fashion.

It provides a true Real-Time Virtual Radar display on a PC or MAC screen showing Mode-S/ADS-B equipped aircraft and AIS equipped vessels immediately around them.
The SBS-3 follows on from the very successful SBS-1, SBS-1 Mk2, SBS-1e and SBS-1eR and it adds the new features of SDR AM/FM receiver covering a wide range of frequencies including the VHF and UHF Air bands, the VHF Marine band and the broadcast FM band.
 
The SBS-3 has been designed to protect your investment for the years to come and is backed by Kinetic's traditonal commitment to never charging for firmware updates.

 
Then I tried Martyn Lynch & Son, the original distributor of the SBS-1 to see if they were offering any more information but the only extra bit was this:

The SBS-3 is also compatible with PlanePlotter and ShipPlotter including their latest functionality.

The only other product announcement I could find was a post by Kinetic's David Goodman on 14 November 2011:

As for the meaning of the word optional in the wording on our website SBS-3 page - It is our intention to provide numerous decoders built into the firmware of the SBS-3 but we will reach a space limit and therefore may well end up in a situation whereby users will need to choose a firmware load depending on their own pastimes. Additionally, there may well be releases of decoders where a cost will be levied due to third party licence requirements and uptake of firmware with this chargeable code would be optional. For the record, the UAT decoder, when released, will be a FREE OF CHARGE upgrade. I'll be in the USA this week testing it.

Despite our best efforts, we don't have a crystal ball which is a problem when you are trying to build a reasonably future proof device and in today's litigious society, disclaimers are a de-facto requirement.

As for the metal box, the times they are a changing. With two SDR tuners in the device, a dedicated 1090Mhz receiver and a host of other devices, both screening and heat dissipation are part of the design - and it looks nice too.

We've also added an I2C port for add-on peripherals such as remote touchscreens ( the one in our office is very cool) and memory device etc.


Roughly Translated

Having tried to digest the promotional blurb, what's really new or diffferent?  Well this is how read it:

1. It's a Mode-S receiver similar to the SBS-1 models.

2. It has USB and Ethernet ports, same as the SBS-1e/eR.

3. The SBS-1 models included a dedicated Mode-S antenna but does the SBS-3?

4. The SBS-1eR shipped with a flexible radio antenna, does the SBS-3 have one?

5. It has two Software Defined Radios.  The SBS-1eR had just one radio.

6. Each SDR can receive a frequency span of 8 MHz within a range of 27 MHz to 980 MHz and can tune up to 4 stations within the frequency span.

7. Digital audio output over Ethernet.  This was possible with the SBS-1eR.

8. The Radio User article made reference to the SBS-3 having an AIS receiver.  But does it?  Or are we expected to use the SDR to tune into AIS frequencies?  Not too clear about this but early reports suggest the AIS receiver isn't included.

9. It's claimed that one can tune the two SDR independently and mix the output.

10. It's claimed that Raw Data output is available for Mode-S, AIS and other demodulations such as ACARS.  What's the definition of Raw Data and is there a spec?

11. "Ideal for remote site monitoring".  What does this really mean?  The SBS-3 needs a USB power supply when using the Ethernet port.

12. LCD Touchscreen controller (due December 2011).  Has this been released?

13. I2C Options interface for external controllers and peripherals.  Is there a spec for this interface?

14. When using an Ethernet connection, the SBS-3 must be powered by an exteral USB supply rated at 1.0 Amp (1000 Ma) or greater.  You cannot use the PC connected USB cable.

15. The SBS-3 has 6 connectors:  SMA for 1090 MHz antenna, SMA for SDR antenna, 3.5mm audio out, RJ45 Ethernet, USB, RS-232 for I2C bus.

16. There's supposed to be a published API (Application Programming Interface) but I haven't found one yet.

The Aviation Interest

So standing back, what does the SBS-3 offer the aviation enthusiast?  I've deliberately avoided any of the AIS related issues, of which there appear to be a few!

Well it's a Mode-S 1090 MHz receiver for a start.  Some early reports suggest the SBS-3 is more sensitive than the SBS-1 but I'd like to see a comparative test.

UAT decoder.  That could be of particular interest to North American users but I've not found any further information since Goodman's forum post in November 2011.

The two SDR could be of interest to those wanting to listen to VHF and UHF airband transmissions and decode ACARS transmissions.  I've seen good reports about the quality of these SDRs whereas the SBS-1eR didn't get ecstatic reviews.

Digital audio streaming will be useful when the SBS-3 is some distance away from the PC.  One of the advantages of the SBS-1e/eR was the Ethernet connectivity which most other receivers don't support.

"Client or Server for true stand-alone use".  Sounds interesting but how stand-alone is it in reality? 

The SBS-3 ships with Basestation Version 164.  The previous release for the SBS-1 was Version 161.  I've not seen Version 164 (it's not available from the Kinetic eStore) so have no idea if there is new functionality (other than controlling the SDRs) but nothing I've read suggests there is.  But will future releases of Basestation be compatible with the SBS-1 models?

Raw data output for Mode-S.  I know this will appeal to those wanting to track non-Mode-S traffic, especially as PlanePlotter's Beamfinder Plus wasn't supported by the SBS-1.  But reports suggest that nothing's changed and only Beamfinder is currently supported.

User Feedback

I decided to check out the forum feedback from early SBS-3 customers.  It was quite illuminating.

First reports suggest the SBS-3 was released without adequate testing and sparse documentation.  To the best of my knowledge the existing Beta team was not invited to carry out any pre-launch testing.

The digital audio streaming only appears to work on the SDR left channel.

Tuning the SDRs (there is no scanning feature) can only be accomplished via Basestation.  Closing Basestation purges the set frequencies.  So much for a "true stand-alone" receiver. 

The SDRs do not store any frequencies, nor do they work with the Basestation frequency list.

Raw binary data is available on port 30006.  Port 30003 data is only available via Basestation.  Port 10001 is encrypted data.

It appears that the SBS-3 Ethernet connection will only support one connection at a time, in much the same way as the SBS-1.  Consequently PlanePlotter cannot make use of the SDR output and port 30006 data at the same time.

One useful addition is the ability to set the SBS-1 IP address and ports via Basestation rather than directly via a browser.  This can be done when connected to the SBS-3 via Ethernet or USB but not without starting Basestation.

Would I Buy One?

This is my personal opinion, formed without the benefit of seeing an SBS-3 "in action".  But it's all I have to go on, especially since Kinetic has avoided all questions posted on it's own forum since the SBS-3 was released.  I find this silence worrying.

That aside, would I buy one?

If I didn't have a Mode-S receiver and my primary interest is to track Mode-S aircraft, the answer is "Yes".  It's competitively priced, includes Ethernet connectivity and two SDRs.  The Basestation software is well established and offers lots of customisation.  Kinetic's reputation is good and the SBS-1 model range was a quality receiver. 

Whilst there are other products on the market, only the Beast offers the extra capability to support PlanePlotter's Beamfinder Plus though, for me, this is a marginal benefit.

The promotional blurb mentions lots of new features which don't appear to have made it through the door for this initial release, such as the dedicated AIS receiver which would have offered strong competition for AirNav's new ShipTrax.

Knowing Kinetic, as I thought I did, I'd have been fairly confident that these "missing" features would soon materialise.  But I haven't had any contact with Kinetic for months and the lack of response on its own forum is a worry.

I hope my fears prove to be groundless. 

But would I replace my SBS1 with an SBS-3?  No.  There's nothing extra for me.  I'm not into ACARS and definitely not ship spotting.

And by the way, does the SBS-3 include a 1090 MHz antenna?

I'd be interested to hear what others think?

UPDATE 3 February 2012

Kinetic has released Basestation 165 which seems to fix many of the reported issues.  Well done Chris.


http://radarspotting.com/forum/index.php?topic=112.msg541#msg541
« Last Edit: February 03, 2012, 07:51:49 PM by Anmer »
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Offline Thermionicmick

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2012, 04:48:19 PM »
Very well put together and informative description of the SBS-3 as it stands to date for those who are/were considering to purchase this product with limited amount of information available.

I also am not into tracking shipping or have an interest in ACARS so my present set up along with two Icom SDR's is more than adequate.

If I was starting from scratch I would have looked into buying SBS-3.  However I would require a " plug and play device  " of which this,as it stands at the moment, is not!  Reading the amount of hassle some have had trying to set up the SDR's is most off putting as is the lack of interest by the Kinectic Team on their forum.

In conclusion with the available information I will not be buying a SBS-3.

Just my opinion.

Mick

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2012, 01:04:11 AM »
This SBS3 thing unfortunately seems to have an 'airnavesque' aura about it  :( . The non-responsiveness is very disconcerting for me & I can only hope that Kinetic haven't been taken over by airn...  :P .

Offline BigRed

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2012, 03:17:55 AM »
Agree with most of what Mike says, I have both models, my SBS1er1 once 'networked' which mind you took along time to achieve on a Mac system running parallels has been fantastic. Utilsing Lantronix for me was a nightmare, given I actually have two SBS1er1 and one of them just didnt want to play ball trying to get IP address' changed etc...

While my SBS3 was incrediably simple to network and change if needed. From that perspecitve I have at least one plus!!!

Was it a good buy? Im still sadly to be convinced.

CAM
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Offline viking9

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2012, 06:59:36 AM »
Was it a good buy? Im still sadly to be convinced.

So, how does the range/number of aircraft compare between the -3 and the -1er? Is the ability to listen on VHF and UHF airbands not a plus?

Tom
Tom

Offline mhm

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2012, 07:38:59 AM »
Quote
Is the ability to listen on VHF and UHF airbands not a plus?

As a base station yes. But if out and about at a military site i would say no. A good old handheld set with the required freq's in memory would serve you better
Mike
You can die of the cure before you die of the illness

Offline viking9

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2012, 07:52:09 AM »
As a base station yes. But if out and about at a military site i would say no. A good old handheld set with the required freq's in memory would serve you better

You would need two handheld sets to listen (not just scan) on two frequencies simultaneously.

Tom

Offline mhm

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2012, 08:21:13 AM »
Depends on what you are doing Tom. I normally take 4 scanners with me, 2 base and 2 handheld. Always keep Tower, Approach, Radar, as main freqs. Not interested in air to air chatter unless its Red Arrows, and i always get decent photos.
Mike
You can die of the cure before you die of the illness

Offline BigRed

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2012, 12:30:07 PM »
Hi Mike and Tom,

Agree with Tom, depends on what you wont to do. I use Winradio for listening at home, so the whole listening via SBS3 hasnt quite excited me ...yet. ACARS same.

Where I live my house is right on finals for the local airport so I listen primarily to Approach while at work (as I work on the same said airport / base) I listen and use Ground to listen.

Some say the sensitivity of SBS3 is better, I think I would agree, but Im waiting to redo my antenna setup where I can see if this is true or not.

The Plane Plotter useasbility / interaction though is good. SBS3 doesnt need BS and as I cant at this point of time fully utilise my SBS3 I can use it via ethernet on its own IP address send data to PP while my SBS1 is been used as my primary on MMS2. Yep its an experiement at the moment :-)

CAM

Offline Anmer

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2012, 01:20:48 PM »
Thanks Cam.

Since you already had an SBS-1eR, what prompted you to buy the SBS-3?  That's a genuine question as I'm trying to understand what interests people.
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Offline BigRed

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2012, 01:38:04 PM »
Good question Mike,

I guess I was sucked in originaly that the SBS3 would be suited to the Mac!! I remember reading from a reputable stockist stating the SBS3 would be compatiable. You know the dramas I've had setup wise (not withstanding antennas!) I figured this would be a long standing investment as I travel allot I wonted to use my other SBS1er1 for this purpose. And have a properly setup basestation at home connected to MMS2. By the time the order was placed and monies rmeoved from my account it became aparent this was not going to be the case. While for me, my paralles setup is working very well, it is at the end of the day a pain in the backside.

I was probably like many too, who to be honest, were caught up in the hype, up to recent times there was no reasons to doubt Kinetic as product wise things had been great. However, I cant say that for certanity from expereince any longer.

CAM

Offline viking9

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2012, 01:53:38 PM »
Hi Cam and Mike,

I ordered an SBS-3 last night and this morning I had a phone call from Chris to update me. How's that for service?

I've always missed the BaseStation display and edit panel and the lack of compatibility between the standard Basestation.sqb file and PP resulting in the lack of sessions and the inability to use Active Display to update the .sqb file.

In my study I have a couple of scanners and an ICOM IC-PCR1000 with three PSUs to power them. The SBS-3 will allow me to hear four airband stations, 2 UHF/2VHF, at the same time on one antenna and one power supply (if the USB ports on my Lenovo Touchscreen PC prove unable to provide enough power for the -3 with the SDRs running).

Tom
 



Tom

Offline Anmer

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2012, 01:54:16 PM »
Thanks Cam.  I'd overlooked that early claim that it was supposed to run on a "native" Mac.

I'm off to find that claim.
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Offline Anmer

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2012, 01:55:59 PM »
I ordered an SBS-3 last night and this morning I had a phone call from Chris to update me.

So Chris is still working for Kinetic.  Perhaps he could find some time to answer the dozens of SBS-3 questions posted on the Kinetic forum?
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Offline viking9

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Re: Would I Buy an SBS-3?
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2012, 02:09:45 PM »
Well, I can't speak for Chris but I expect he'll get around to it. He's probably too busy getting SBS-3s out of the door. He does have a job to do, servicing the hundreds of paying customers first.

Tom

Tom