Tuesday, February 12, 2013

GRE PSR-500 Review


I have heard it said in the past, "If you want features, buy Uniden. If you want performance buy GRE." That statement is no longer true. Now GRE has features and performance all in one package with the PSR-500.

The PSR-500 is an excellent scanner for the beginner and the advanced user alike. This scanner is revolutionary in its programming and feature set. There are so many great features in this scanner it seems impossible to list them all in this article.

Simply stated, the scanner is ingenious. It is obvious that GRE put a lot of thought into this scanner. What is most evident is that the designers have listened to the hobbyist wants and desires from beginning to end of production on this scanner.

I had my doubts that some of the noted features would work as stated. However, everything has worked perfectly. GRE put a lot of time and effort into this scanner and it shows. I am so impressed with this scanner!

I used the PSR-500 to monitor Arkansas' AWIN P25 9600 bps Statewide System, several Motorola Type II 800 MHz analog systems, Motorola 900 MHz analog system, LTR Systems, Airband, and a ton of VHF-High traffic. I took a small road trip with the PSR-500 in hand and the scanner was awesome. Changing towers, etc. on the AWIN Statewide system with ease.

The owner’s manual is very well written. It is easy to understand when trying to learn the functions of the scanner. Something to note is that there is not a printed version of the manual included with the scanner. There is an included CD-ROM that contains the manual. Also, you can download the manual in as a PDF file from www.greamerica.com. A lot of users were upset about this move, but I personally rarely use the manual once I get to know a scanner. And being able to print your own copy or print only the pages you want or need is a nice advantage in my opinion. Keep an eye on the GRE website for updates to the manual, as they could update it if changes are needed.

I was happy to see that GRE packaged the scanner nicely in a box versus a blister pack, which was used in earlier productions of the Pro-97. The box makes it feel like you are truly getting a quality product versus some toy in cheap packaging. The Pro-97 was a top of the line receiver that performed well, but not many people were fans of the blister packaging.
Construction quality of the scanner is equal to that of the Pro-96 and Pro-97 models. The look and feel of the scanner is second to none. The buttons are very responsive and are much like those used on the Pro-96 but do seem to be a bit stiff, which could prove to be a pain if you program a lot of information by hand. The keypad also felt a bit cramped to me, but that is the sacrifice you make for slimming the scanner down.

The belt clip is definitely my biggest complaint on the scanner. It is flimsy and hard to use compared to the BCD396T. It really could have used updating to a more professional style belt clip.

The volume/squelch knobs work and feel good. The knobs work much better than those used on the Pro-97, which were a bit cramped.

Program Screen
The antenna connection is BNC type. It works well and I prefer it to the SMA used on the BCD396T and my Icom IC-R5. At first I liked the SMA on the 396, but as time has past it is frustrating when you want to change antennas quickly. BNC is a good standard for the scanner market in my opinion.

The scanner is physically larger than it’s competitor, the BCD396T, however there is very little weight difference. The PSR-500 fits nicely in the hand and wears nicely on the belt (or clipped to the pocket, as I prefer).

The LCD screen and keypad are bright and easy to read in every lighting condition. The LCD seems to be the perfect compromise between size and readability.

Overall the scanner is constructed well and should endure normal punishment during everyday use for quite a long time.

Object Oriented programming is the greatest thing since sliced bread! This is the feature that scanning hobbyist has been waiting for. Uniden made a valiant effort, but GRE showed them how it is done with this scanner! UNLIMITED TGIDs need I say more! I love the fact that I can have the same "Object" in multiple scanlists.

I found that the Menu system, navigation and keypad are well laid out. I like the instant access to Fav, Weather, Priority, ATT, V- Folders, Searches, SWPR, and many other features on the keypad to be a welcome feature. On the Uniden BCD396T you have to go through Menus to access many of the features or at least use both hands. Which reminds me, ONE HANDED OPERATION! This is great, especially when traveling.  The 5-way navigation key is much easier to operate than the VFO found on the BCD396T, in my opinion.  The 3 soft keys are very clever.  There are a few changes I would have preferred on the keypad.  Meaning I would have liked to have some buttons in different locations, but this is a personal preference and they work well in their current configurations. 

Programming new TGID, TSYS, and Conventional channels was easy to do, right out of the box.  Everything seemed self explanatory when using the PSR-500. And for the beginner, the help menus will be a great tool. 

The LCD and Keypad backlight is very good.  I like that you can set to either light the keypad only, LCD only, or both.  LCD display contrast is good, easy to read and very clear.  Information displayed on the LCD is very useful.  I like the signal meter, trunking indicators, battery low indicator (thank you for no beeping on low battery), being able to see the frequency, text tag, and CTCSS/ DCS code! I would like to see the backlight be just a bit brighter under certain lighting conditions but at its current state, it works very well.

Size and Physical Construction. While I prefer the smaller profile of the BCD396T. I found that the size of the PSR-500 was decent. It is easier to hold in your hand and isn't as heavy as I had expected. It is essentially the same size as the Pro-97, and they appear to share the exact same case (except the front of course). Having the Volume and Squelch knobs on 1 post doesn't bother me on this scanner. The Volume knob sticks up far enough that it doesn't interfere with the squelch. And the squelch is made in such a way that you don't adjust the volume when adjusting squelch. I like the dark gray color of the scanner. It sort of reminds me of a “black chrome.”

The audio on this scanner is unbelievable! Super loud, and crystal clear on all types of transmissions. But this wasn't unexpected from GRE! .

Multi-Color LED lights are great. This feature is one that I wanted for a long time and I am very glad that it made it to this scanner! I used it on several TGID's and conventional channels. There is an infinite number of ways to use this feature. It is particularly handy when the scanner is on your belt (or across the room) and you can glance down and instantly know who (or at least what agency or type of agency) is transmitting. Being able to "tune" these LED's is a cool feature as well. Also being able to change the blink times for the LCD backlight and LED is a neat feature that I had fun playing around with.

I really like the text entry method of this scanner. I have aPro-97 and have always found it annoying that I have to push the FNC button each time for a lower case letter. With the PSR-500, the function holds so that the lowercase letters are readily available. THANK YOU for QuickText. This is a lifesaver when programming the scanner by hand! I love this feature! QuickText is a feature that allows you to enter 10 commonly used words for instant recall when entering text by hand. For example, POLICE, FIRE, DISPATCH, etc. This keeps you from having to type these in over and over and over.

As with other newer GRE scanners I like the feature that is incorporated on the SWPR and SRCH ranges when you press the # to turn on a particular band, the band is displayed on the screen. For instance on SRCH Aircraft, you can turn on/off bands with the 0 - 3 keys. Pressing 3 turns off a band and when pressing 3 again it displays 225-400.

Being able to use SWPR and SRCH along with scan is a huge plus. I love this feature and use it on a consistent basis.

I like the fact that the 700 MHz bands were included in the Public Safety and SWPR searches! Also I love that Mil-Air was included in the Airband search.

Reception! Reception! Reception! The darn scanner just receives. I mostly used the stock duckie, which works great. Add the RS800 MHz antenna and the 800 signals roll in. It picks up transmissions like none of my other scanners. VHF-High, 800 MHz, Airband, etc. I didn't find a weak spot in the scanner. I picked up a City PD using VHF-High that I have never picked up on a handheld before at a distance over 40 miles away. This happened consistently, which is very impressive to me. Maybe the conditions were “just right?” I tried "parking" theBCD396T (using a specialized VHF antenna) and the Pro-97 on the same frequency and got nothing, while the PSR-500 was pulling the signal in crystal clear. I was easily pulling in several towers from AWIN that I have trouble (if not impossible) to pull in with the BCD396T and Pro-96 using 800 MHz antennas. I connected the PSR-500 to my Scantenna (external antenna) and it worked great. The Pro-97 and Pro-2055 would overload on this antenna causing me to have to use the attenuation, but the PSR-500 handled the extra antenna load great, pulling in those even hard to find signals with very little overloading.

The SWPR works great. It seems to be as good, if not better than the one on the Pro-97. I have picked up several transmissions using the SWPR feature, but this is something I rarely use. I like having it, but seldom search for new frequencies.

Multi-Site Trunking in a handheld scanner, YES!! I love this feature as well. With all of the large Statewide and Mulit-Site systems going up around the country, this is a welcome addition for us. It worked well on my small trip across Arkansas.

I have found that intermod and interference is almost non-existent in this scanner. Only a few times has the scanner caught interference from something that caused it to break squelch. Pressing the ATT button quickly solved this issue.

I-Calls are something that has been missed on the GRE scanners. They work great using the wildcard. I picked up several on a local business type TRS that I monitor.

Priority! I love being able to have Priority TGID's! This is a feature that "some" have said would NEVER happen on modern trunking scanners. All I have to say is, "HA! GRE SHOWED YOU!" I also like being able to have multiple Priority channels and not be limited to just 1 to 10.

More than 250 TGID's per system. Again, a feature that so many people have said would NEVER happen because of x number of reasons. Again, GRE's thinking outside the box made it happen. Thank you for unlimited TGIDs per system (at least up to 1800 memory limit anyway)!

Auto LTR. This is a great feature that I found to work on the systems I tested it on. I didn't have a chance to monitor them at great length as I was just passing through, but the time I did monitor, the systems received flawlessly. I was pleased with the performance.
Tune mode is a feature that I have enjoyed on my Pro-97 and I am glad to see it on the PSR-500. Being able to directly tune to a specific frequency is very useful to me, and others I am sure.

CTCSS/DCS works flawlessly. Search is instant. Easily stored to the frequency if you wish. CTCSS/ DCS search was always correct, even on weaker signals.

I love temporary lockout. It works as advertised on this scanner. This is a great feature on the handheld. I was begging and pleading, wishing and hoping for this feature. This is one of the most handy (and often overlooked) features to include on a scanner!

I like my backlight on 100% of the time. That is just my preference. So I was pleased to discover that you can set the backlight to be on when you power on the scanner using the Global menu. HOWEVER, it would be nice to be able to press the light button and turn the light off, even when you have it set to "On" in the Global menu. Also being able to set the backlight on each individual object is awesome. I almost overlooked this feature (I told you there were too many features to list). I noticed one of my channels would be active and the backlight would be on, then it would start scanning other channels and the backlight would be off. Too cool!

I love the Fav scanlist. I have a few channels that I love to monitor when the $#*@*% hits the fan. This is an awesome feature. One button access and I am scanning those “Fav” channels!

Battery life was great. I typically get 10 to 12 hours out of a set of Duracell 2650 mAh batteries using100% backlight, heavy LED use, and fairly busy radio traffic including P25. I like that I can go into the global menu and see my Battery information and set it to the type of battery I am using!

Hit count is a great feature. I love that I can see how many times the scanner has received a transmission. This feature is great for several things, such as frequency hunting, and if I were still a member of my local FD, I would use the hit count and Latch LED as a make shift pager while I was away. I could set the scanner on the page out frequency with hit count and Latch LED activated so if something happened while I was away, I would know about it by glancing at the scanner. I could walk in and immediately see the LED on if there had been a call and looking at the LCD could show me how many times the call(s) were paged.

Being able to see my memory usage is also very useful. Not only can you see in % how much memory you have, it is nice to be able to see how many Conv Channels you have. How many TGIDs, TSYS, Search Ranges and SWPRs you have set up in the working memory. I can tell I will have a hard time finding 1800 TGID's and frequencies in any one area. ha ha. The expansive memory along with 21 V-Folders may make this scanner the only one you'll need on a trip!

SAME and Weather Priority are features I use a lot on my scanners. I don't have a dedicated Weather Radio (I know I should but I have several scanners with SAME). I typically use the Pro-97 as my SAME receiver when weather is threatening. The SAME and Weather Priority features work on the PSR-500 as they should. I like how I can lockout unwanted alerts. And I like that I can see the displayed message (as on the Pro-97). The SAME feature was easy to program, for the most part.

The Signal Strength Meter is something that I missed on my Pro-97 and am glad to see it made it in the PSR-500.

The FIND feature is another awesome innovation in scanning. It is great to be able to search for the TGID or Conventional channel you want using this feature. This is a very welcome feature in my book.

Default options in the menu are great for beginners (and us experts who screw up, ha ha). This is a feature that I think will be widely used by a variety of users and I am glad to see that it was included with the scanner.

"Expert" menus are another feature I enjoy. Being able to tweak some major settings within the scanner is a great feature. Most users will probably never "tweak" these settings, but a power user will love the fact that they can have a scanner set up EXACTLY how they want it!

Thank you for providing a scanner that has upgradeable CPU and DSP capability. This is huge! And with continuing support from GRE, features and performance can be "tweaked." Keep an eye on the GRE website for updates!

Included Accessories! GRE finally included a PC programming cable and an AC adapter. Also included are the usual 2 battery holders, antenna, and instead of a printed manual, you get a CD-ROM with the manual in PDF format. On the Pro-96, the programming cable and AC adapter had to be purchased separately which could cost you upwards of $40 to $50 extra. I was proud to see GRE step up and include these necessary accessories.

As stated earlier, this scanner is packed so full of features it is unreal. Being able to set each individual object up with different settings such as backlight, alarms, delays, Audio Boost, LED options, Attenuation, AGC, Supertrack, etc. is a great bonus on this scanner. There are so many features available it is unbelievable that they squeezed them all into this scanner!
I have definitely put the PSR-500 through the paces. I turned on every possible feature all at once; Priority, Wx priority, LED's, SWPR, SRCH, Numerous TSYS with hundreds of TGIDs, Conventional with and with out (and searching) CTCSS/DCS, etc. and have found that the scanner performs great! I have done everything possible to make the scanner hick-up but the scanner just works great! Kind of like my Mac, it just works! Ha Ha Ha.

The scanner is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There are some areas that could use improvements in both hardware and firmware. However, I feel that this is the best digital scanner on the market at this point considering features and quality. Not that the BCD396T doesn’t hold it’s own. The 396 is a great scanner, but with the added features and memory you get more “bang for the buck” with the PSR-500.

The PSR-500 is easy to use, but it does take a little while to get the hang of this new memory management system. Some users can pick it up right away but for some it can take a little more time and effort. But using the menu driven programming and on screen help menus will aid in your learning.

•With the expansive memory available on this scanner, buying programming software will greatly assist you. I haven’t used any software at this point so I cannot recommend one over the other. The 3 that I am aware of at the time of this review are as follows:

•Win500 www.starrsoft.com  
•ARC500 www.butel.nl
•PSREdit www.psredit.com.

All 3 versions have screenshots

Demos available for download at their respective websites (ARC500 due out December 2007). You will have to buy an activation key for the full versions of each. I am certain there will be others as this radio becomes more and more popular. For now, I think all programming suites are for Windows only. All three mentioned currently here have, or will have, free demos available. Hopefully a skilled programmer will get some software developed for the Mac!

GRE has broken away from Radio Shack a bit on these scanners. I’m not sure if you can find one at Radio Shack or not? They are being sold through numerous retailers both brick and mortar stores and online. A few places that I have heard you can find the PSR-500’s are: Universal Radio, Ham Station, Scanners Unlimited, Scanner Master, and Grove.

If you prefer a base/mobile version of this scanner, keep an eye out for the PSR-600. I would guess it not be far behind the PSR-500.

Also an analog trunking scanner is coming in the form of the PSR-300 handheld and PSR-400 base/mobile. These will be much like the Pro-97/2055 scanners.

If I had to recommend a digital scanner to someone at this point, I would direct them to look closely at the PSR-500. It is the most advanced, easiest to use digital scanner that I have had the pleasure of owning. My hat is off to the entire GRE team for creating an amazing product!
BCD396T / PSR-500 / Pro-96