|One of many the RTL2832U/R820T Digital TV USB dongles on the market|
Over the last year + certain models of Digital TV (DVB-T) tuners in the form of a USB dongle have been gaining popularity with hobbyists when it was discovered that this tiny USB stick could be used as a Software Defined Radio receiver with a fairly wide range of frequency and use.
The RTL2382U Chip, this is the ADC and USB data pump. It is then mated with different models
of tuner chips.
- E4000 Tuner - 60MHz to 1700MHz; retired
- FC0012 Tuner - 50MHz to 1000MHz; retired
- FC0013 Tuner - 50MHz to 1700MHz; retired
- R820T Tuner - 24MHz to 1850MHz ; active
The current model is the RTL2832U/R820T, it has just replaced the E4000 which is still available online as well. The RTL2832U/R820T is comparable in performance, wider in receiving range, and less expensive overall.
The frequency range of the RTL2832U/R820T is roughly from 24MHz to 1860MHz.
So this includes 10m, 6m, 2m, 222-band, 440-band, 900-band, 1240-band, and much more. Even lower frequencies (all of ham radio HF) can be received with additional up converter boards available online.
Lots of choices are available.
Most of the USB SDR sticks/dongles include a cheap antenna and use a small MCX antenna jack so adapters are required to connect a better antenna of your choice. With a better external antenna (for example a Discone) the RTL2832U / R820T can be very impressive as a receiver. The basic antenna that it ships with can still be useful for travel or use in cities or areas where signals are already strong.
Once you've ordered and received your RTL2832U/R820T you need to get up and running. I'm going to summarize the steps for a Windows PC or Laptop. Of course there is also software for OSX and Linux, as well as a driver and app for Android.
RTL2832U/R820T Installation for Windows
- Visit the SDR# website (http://sdrsharp.com/) and download the installation Script. Click on Downloads button on the top menu, then scroll down the downloads page and look for the link to the quick installation script to test the latest development version. Download the ZIP file and then unpack it.
- Make sure your computer is connected to the Internet and then launch the Install.bat file that was included in the unpacked zip folder. This will execute the command to create a new folder and download everything you need for the latest version of SDR#.
- A new folder "sdrsharp" now exists in the location where the Install.bat folder was executed. I personally suggest you move the new sdrsharp folder from this location to a more permanent location on your system. The application is ready to run in this folder so you may not want it on your desktop or in your download folder long term. I moved mine to the root of the C: drive before going on to the next steps.
- Insert your RTL-SDR dongle into your USB port on your system. Allow windows to find and install a driver if it can. DO NOT install any of the Digital TV software that may have come with the dongle.
- When that's complete open the sdrsharp folder and execute the program zadig.exe. Go to the Options menu and select List All Devices. From the Devices drop down menu select the device named Bulk-In, Interface (Interface 0). Click on the button Install Driver, allow Windows to install an unsigned driver (if prompted). you'll be prompted that the driver install is complete and you can close Zadig.
- Browse inside the sdrsharp folder and launch the actual SDR software SDRSharp.exe, you may also want to create a shortcut to this program and place it in your Start menu or on your Desktop for more convenience.
- To get started in SDR# you need to complete the following basic setup steps.
- From the top drop down menu (between the Play and Configure buttons) select the RTL-SDR / USB device.
- Click on the Configure button and make sure the Generic RTLxxx OEM is selected. Feel free to leave the sample rate and mode alone for now. Turn on the check box for RTL AGC and drag the slider to the middle. Then turn on the Tuner AGC and click the Close button.
- Go the top left and click on the Play button and your receiving!
There is a great YouTube video from Clayton Smith (VE3IRR). His video he picks up where my directions end. He walks you thru a lot of the settings in SDR# showing you how they work and also showing example frequencies all over the range of the RTL-SDR so you can get a feel for things in a relatively short period of time. His video is about 17 minutes long.
Getting started with SDR# and an RTL SDR Tuner