Aerial TV: Android RTL-SDR DVB-T Decoder Officially Released

Last month we posted about Aerial TV, a new Android based DVB-T decoder that works with RTL-SDR dongles. Back then the app was still in beta testing and had a few operational bugs. Now the Aerial TV app has been officially released.

The app is based on the new Android DVB-T driver for RTL2832U devices which is written by Martin Marinov who is also the programmer of Aerial TV. The DVB-T driver is open source, and currently supports RTL2832U devices with the R820T, E4000, R828D, FC0012 and FC0013 tuner chips. Of note is that the R828D also has DVB-T2 support.

Aerial TV is free to download and test, but requires a $7.99 licence to use for more than 30 minutes. To use it you will need an OTG (On-the-go) cable adapter and an RTL-SDR dongle with antenna.

Just watch TV – no data plan or wifi connection required. Aerial TV works by picking up digital TV channels off the air with a regular TV antenna.

You will need a low cost USB TV tuner. You can grab one online for less than €10. Make sure to get an RTL2832 tuner. When it arrives, just connect the provided antenna and start watching. You may need a USB OTG cable to plug the tuner in your Android device. USB OTG cables are inexpensive and easy to find.

Note that your Android device must support USB OTG. If unsure, do a quick search online or consult your Android device manual. Also check that there is DVB-T/DVB-T2 service in your local area by doing a quick search online. Signal needs to be strong enough for Aerial TV to pick it up. For best results use an outdoor aerial.

You get free unlimited access to radio forever. You also get to watch all TV channels and experience all features of Aerial TV during the trial period for free. After the trial period ends you can make a one-off purchase and watch as much TV as you want. Remember: you can keep listening to radio even if the trial has ended!

Q: How do I find a supported dongle?
A: All major RTL2832 (rtl-sdr) dongles are supported. These dongles can be easily purchased online. Just type in “RTL2832” or “RTL2832U” in the search box of your favourite online store.

Q: What tuner do I need to watch DVB-T2?
A: If your country has DVB-T2 broadcasts (such as Freeview HD in UK) you will need a DVB-T2 compatible receiver dongle such as R828D in order to watch DVB-T2 with Aerial TV.

Aerial TV Screenshot
Aerial TV Screenshot
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8QZHy26LHU

Setting up a FLARM Receiver with an RTL-SDR and Orange Pi Zero: Tracking Gliders and Helicopters

Most people already know about ADS-B aircraft tracking, but few know about FLARM (FLight AlaRM). FLARM is a low cost and low power consumption ADS-B alternative which is often used by small aircraft such as gliders and helicopters for collision avoidance. It is used all over the world, and is especially popular in Europe, however it is almost non-existent within the USA.

Back in 2014 we posted about FLARM reception with the RTL-SDR, and also about the Open Glider Network (OGN). The OGN is an online FLARM aggregator that is similar to sites like flightaware.com and flightradar24.com which aggregate ADS-B data.

More recently, Łukasz C. Jokiel has posted a tutorial on his blog that clearly shows how to set up an RTL-SDR and Raspberry Pi Zero based FLARM receiver for feeding the Open Glider Network

Łukasz’s tutorial uses an Orange Pi Zero which is a very cheap (~$7 USD) Raspberry Pi embedded computing device. He also uses an RTL-SDR dongle and an antenna tuned to the FLARM frequency of 868 MHz. The tutorial goes over the Linux commands for installing the decoder, calibrating the RTL-SDR and setting up the Open Glider Network feeder.

Remember that FLARM is typically 10-100 times weaker than ADS-B so a good tuned antenna is required, and the OGN recommend building (pdf) a collinear coax antenna tuned to 868 MHz.

A Commercial FLARM receiver.
A Commercial FLARM sender/receiver.

Explaining the Dallas Siren Hack

If you’ve been paying attention to the news then you might have heard of the recent Dallas tornado siren hack. Earlier in the month a hacker took control of 156 tornado warning sirens placed all around the city of Dallas, Texas in the United States. The sirens are activated via an RF control signal, and the hacker transmitted the control signal, causing all the sirens to activate causing a city wide false alarm. The attack could have been performed with a transmit capable software defined radio like the HackRF, or any other transmit capable radio such as a handheld radio.

Bastille is a wireless security firm which specializes in RF, SDR and IoT. Over on their blog, employee Balint Seeber has uploaded a video and blog post that discusses some possibilities on how the hacker may have activated the sirens.

In the blog post and video first Balint discusses the difference between a single frequency network, and a repeated network. In a single frequency network, one powerful transmitter up on a hill would be used to activate all the sirens, whereas with a repeater network several dispersed transmitters might be used to repeat the signal over a wide area.

He then discusses the difference between an analog and digital command transmission system. In an analog command transmission a simple series of tones might be used to activate the sirens. In this case the hacker could simply listen for the tones when the siren is activated during the monthly test, and save them away for a future replay attack. In a digital system instead of tones an encrypted packet of data could be used instead. Depending on how the encryption is implemented this could prevent a replay attack.

SpyServer 2.0 Released: More Efficient Streaming for Airspy and RTL-SDR

Back in March the team behind the Airspy SDR and SDRSharp software released the SpyServer, a piece of software that allows you to stream radio data from a remote Airspy receiver over a network. Then later in April they added full support for the RTL-SDR dongle as well.

This Easter the Airspy team have released SpyServer 2.0, which improves the streaming efficiency significantly (changelog). Now the full 8 MHz bandwidth of the Airspy should be easily streamable over an internet connection. With SpyServer 1.0 it was difficult to make use of the full bandwidth of the Airspy because the network data usage was very high, since it was streaming the full raw IQ data for the sampling rate/bandwidth selected. In SpyServer 2.0 the server does not stream the full raw data, and instead only streams the wideband FFT data (for displaying the waterfall and FFT graph), and the raw data from the currently selected IF bandwidth. Of course the full IQ data can still be streamed if desired by selecting the ‘Use full IQ’ checkbox.

This new efficiency means that WFM uses only about 1.3 MB/s, and narrow band modes like NFM/AM/SSB only use about 120 kB/s of network data which is easily achievable over a local network and internet. This data usage is almost independent of the sampling rate/bandwidth selected so you can stream the full 8 MHz offered by the Airspy without trouble. Normally streaming the full raw data for 8 MHz would use about 40 MB/s, which is difficult to achieve over a local network, and impossible over the internet.

We tested the new SpyServer over our local network and were able to stream the full 8 MHz of the Airspy with no problems. With the RTL-SDR we were also able to stream 2.4 MHz without issue. WFM and NFM modes worked clearly and no skips or significant lag was noticed over a local WiFi N connection. Hopefully in the future SpyServer will be developed further to enable compressed audio streaming as well for even lower network data usage.

SpyServer WFM Reception. About 1.3 MB/s network usage.
SpyServer WFM Reception. About 1.3 MB/s network usage.
SpyServer NFM Reception. About 120 kB/s network usage.
SpyServer NFM Reception. About 120 kB/s network usage.

Some Operational Notes:

  • To run SpyServer on Windows simply double click on spyserver.exe. On Linux extract “spyserver_linux_x86” and the config file, and then run “sudo chmod +x spyserver_linux_x86”. Then run it with “./spyserver_linux_x86”.
  • Connect to it on the remote PC in SDR# using the servers IP address which can be found by typing “ipconfig /all” in Windows command prompt, or “ifconfig” on Linux.
  • To select between using the Airspy and RTL-SDR for the SpyServer you will need to edit the spyserver.config file with a text editor and edit the “device_type” string.
  • SpyServer runs on Windows/Linux as well as small embedded computers such as Raspberry Pi’s and Odroids. Download the Raspberry Pi and Odroid servers separately from SDR# at http://airspy.com/download.
  • SpyServer is NOT compatible with software that expects an rtl_tcp server such as SDRTouch.

We have also seen Lucas Teske of the OpenSatellite project use the SpyServer for streaming a GOES16 downlink over a network connection with an Odroid C2. He writes that soon the OpenSatellite project software will directly support SpyServer.

Comparing Two LNA’s for HRIT/LRIT (GOES) Reception

Over on his blog Lucas Teske has been comparing the LNA4ALL and an SPF5189 LNA from eBay on HRIT/LRIT reception from GOES satellites. SPF5189 LNA’s can be found on eBay for less than $8 USD, with free shipping from China, whereas the LNA4ALL costs 27 Euros shipped from Croatia. GOES is a geosynchronous orbit weather satellite which requires a satellite dish or other high gain antenna to receive. It downlinks at about 1.7 GHz, which means that a high quality LNA with low noise figure and good PCB design is needed for reception.

In his post Lucas mentions how he saw a review on eBay stating that the SPF5189 did not work at L-band. However, he found that odd as all of his SPF5189 LNA’s seemed to work just fine with L-band reception. So he did a benchmark comparing the SPF5189 to the PSA5043+ based LNA4ALL which is known to work well on L-band.

From his comparisons he found that the SPF5189 does indeed work well on L-band, and is comparable to the LNA4ALL. He concludes that the reviewer must have received a bad unit, or didn’t know what he was doing.

Lucas also makes an important note regarding the PCB design of these LNA’s. Even though the SPF5189 and PSA5043 chips have similar specs, with LNA’s the design of the PCB is crucial, as a poor design can significantly degrade performance. With the LNA4ALL you can be sure that the design is good, although the SPF5189 LNA’s currently on eBay look to be designed okay as well. Though with some eBay sellers there is no guarantee that you will receive a good board. We note that we have seen some really poor designs for PSA5043 LNA’s out there as well.

The eBay SPF5189 LNA vs the LNA4ALL from 9A4QV
The eBay SPF5189 LNA vs the LNA4ALL from 9A4QV

SDRplay RSP1 & RSP2 Now Support ADS-B Decoding on the Raspberry Pi 2 & 3

Over on the official SDRplay blog, head of marketing Jon has announced that the RSP1 & RSP2 is now compatible with their dump1090 ADS-B decoders for the Raspberry Pi 2 & 3. They write:

ADS-B for both RSP1 and RSP2 now available for the Raspberry Pi 2 & 3 – you can get the software from downloads – http://www.sdrplay.com/downloads

If you are an RSP2 user, make sure you use Antenna Port B.

The RSP2
The SDRplay RSP2

 

Italian Language RTL-SDR Book Now Available

For our Italian readers – recently we received a submission from Marco Cardelli (IZ5IOW) who wanted to let us know that he and his friend Andrea Possemato (IZ5TLU) have published a book in the Italian language about the RTL-SDR. He writes:

The main goal is to introduce the “newbie” in this interesting world of digital radios, demonstrating that SDR is not an expensive technology. Both are the authors also of one of the firsts books about Raspberry Pi in Italian. All books are available on on-line stores, or from the publisher: http://www.sanditlibri.it/sdr-rtl.html

For any other information, please use the contact forms published on Marco Cardelli’s website: http://www.marcocardelli.info.

The book costs 9,90€. We haven’t purchased the book ourselves as we cannot read Italian, so if you decide to purchase the book please leave a review of it in the comments section to inform others on it’s quality.

The Italian RTL-SDR Book Cover
The Italian RTL-SDR Book Cover

New Cross Country Wireless HF Preselector

A new reasonably priced 5-band HF preselector has been released by the company Cross Country Wireless, and it looks perfect for use with SDRs. The price is $56.95 GBP, which right now is about $72 USD. They write:

This can be used to provide additional front end selectivity for HF and medium wave receivers protecting the receiver from strong out of band transmissions, wideband noise and other transmitters on multi-station field days.

As the sunspot cycle declines and more listening is done on the lower HF bands with long wire antennas and strong NVIS signals then the HF Preselector is an ideal accessory to aid receiver performance.

It is invaluable when using simple conventional superhet or SDR receivers such as RTL-SDR dongles with upconverters or SDRPlay with large HF antennas.

It is an ideal tool to reduce ADC overload on the Icom IC-7300 with the new second receiver socket modification kit.

It can also be used with other transceivers that have sockets for a separate receiver input and receive antenna output.

It also covers the medium wave broadcast band for MW DXers.

The Preselector is a passive high Q design that does not use an additional amplifier or require external power.

  • Frequency tuning range: 0.5 to 52 MHz in five bands
  • Input impedance: 50 ohms
  • Output impedance: 50 ohms
  • Bypass option on switch
  • Galvanic isolation between input and output
  • Insertion loss: 2 dB
  • Selectivity: See HP network analyser plots below
  • Connectors: BNC female (RF in 50 ohms), BNC female (RF out)
  • Tough polycarbonate case
  • CCW Z Match
    Overall dimensions: 125 mm (L) x 85 mm (W) x 55 mm (H)
  • Weight: 192 g
The Cross Country Wireless HF Preselecter
The Cross Country Wireless HF Preselector