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The GRE PSR400 Analog Scanner Features, Operation and CompetitionA Scanner Master Ultimate ReviewCopyright 2009, Richard Carlson/Scanner Master Corporation
The GRE PSR400 Desktop/mobile scanner was introduced by GRE after the 2007 Dayton Hamvention as an analog counterpart to the digital PSR600 scanner. While outwardly similar in appearance, the PSR400 operates in a much more conventional manner than the PSR600.
The PSR400 directly competes with Uniden’s BCT15X. While the PSR400 is about $70 cheaper than the Uniden ($150 for the GRE vs. $220 for the Uniden) it has fewer advanced features and less memory. The GRE’s main difference is that it uses the older fixed banks and channel programming method instead of the newer Dynamic Memory Architecture (DMA) methods used by the Unidens and digital GRE’s.
The PSR400 has 1000 channels and 1500 talkgroups, split evenly among the 10 banks. While this makes it easier to program for both novices and experienced hobbyists and professionals used to the older method of programming, it tends to limit the flexibility achieved by the DMA method. With the newer method the user is not limited to a small number of banks and can use as many as needed. The classic programming method limits one to a specific number of banks (10 on these radios) so you tend to “lose” channels that go unused if you dedicate the bank to a trunked system or group of a small amount of channels.
All that said, the PSR400 is a great radio for the price. For $150 you get a lot of radio, and as long as you don’t need digital and the features of the more expensive scanners you will do very well with this model, particularly if you want a simple and straightforward programming methodology.Pardon me, but you look familiar…
One of our favorite come-ons, but it is apropos here. You might look at the PSR400 and think that it looks familiar, and you would be right. It is also sold as the Radio Shack PRO163, and is very similar to the PRO2055 that preceded the current model. It is similar enough that you can clone any of these radios to each other and share programming files. GRE has made many of RadioShack’s scanners for decades and continues with these, but now also sells scanners directly. It also bears some resemblances to the digital PSR600 and the RadioShack cousin.
Since the PSR400 is analog only, if you need to monitor digital operations then you will need to upgrade to the PSR600. If you only need analog, then the PSR400 is a great radio.
The PSR400 supports LTR, EDACS and Motorola trunking monitoring as well as conventional non-trunked scanning. It also supports the rebanding process now being implemented throughout the USA. For conventional use, it supports both PL and DPL privacy codes.
With maximum channel capacity of 1000 channels (10 banks of 100 channels each) and up to 1500 trunked talkgroups (10 banks of 150 each) most users will be content with the capacity. The biggest problem with this radio is that with only 10 banks you are limited to up to 10 trunked systems. This makes monitoring large networked systems or many single site networks more difficult. Since so many of these are now digital in whole or part these days this would be less of an issue for users of the PSR400.
The older programming method does make it easier for many to quickly add channels or alter them, since it works the same way as older radios many of us already are familiar with the methods used.
The PSR400 is computer programmable of course, and one can use any of several different packages to program the radio, including Butel’s ARC300. You will need to purchase the GRE USB programming cable, it is not included in the box (it is available from ScannerMaster). The same cable can be used for any of the current GRE made radios (including some RadioShack models) and can also be used for updating the radio firmware. ARC300 also supports the RadioReference direct download feature, if you are a paid subscriber to the RadioReference.com website you can download programming directly into your radio. This allows you to quickly program the radio without having to keyboard or type the information in, just connect to the computer, select your area of interest and click “GO”.GRE PSR400 Base/Mobile Scanner
The PSR400 has the same basic specifications and features as the PSR300, but in a DIN packaged format that can be mounted under or in the dashboard of a vehicle or placed on a desktop. If you want to mount it into a DIN slot you will need to purchase the DIN sleeve and insertion keys separately which are also available through Scanner Master.
The PSR400 includes an AC power supply, a DC power cord, mounting bracket (which can also be used as a desk stand) and telescoping rear of the set antenna.
The speaker fires from the bottom of the case and is plenty loud enough for most installations.Display
The PSR400 display is roughly the same height as the Uniden BC396XT but slightly wider. On the GRE radios the PSR400 display is identical to that of the corresponding PSR400 mobile, the Uniden mobile scanner displays are wider than their portables. The GRE display has 4 text lines plus the top line, which is reserved for specific symbols like signal strength, battery level and other items. The display uses a dot-matrix LCD display, each character is up to 7 dots high and 5 wide, and there are 16 characters per line.
During scanning operations the text lines display the pertinent information about the operation, such as the frequency, talkgroup ID, Tone Code, Scan List, Mode and other information. What information is listed where depends on the operational mode currently in place on the radio.
On the PSR400 the display is on the left side of the front panel, the keyboard and volume/squelch controls are to the right.Keyboard
The PSR400 has a 30-button keyboard with the regular 0-1, search, lockout, scan, program and Priority buttons. In addition there are buttons for Tune, Trunk, WX, Mode, Attenuator and a Clear button. The layout between the PSR300 and PSR400 radios are a bit different, so it might be a little confusing to users that have both radios.Size Matters
The PSR400 is the same size as its big brother PSR600, The DIN Case is the same height and width as the Uniden but it isn’t quite as deep by almost half an inch. It is also about a half pound lighter (The BCT15X is about 3 pounds, 6 ounces, the PSR300 is 2 pounds 10 ounces.) While the radio can be mounted in a DIN enclosure, it does not include the DIN sleeve or insertion keys, these must be purchased separately if needed.Power it up
The PSR400 uses the same power connector as other GRE and RadioShack scanners, with 12VDC going to a center-positive connector. An AC adaptor and DC power cord are provided as well as a mounting bracket and hardware. Feature Set
The PSR400 does not have some of the features found on the digital models. Some of these are the multi-function LED light, 5-way dial pad, the 3 “F” function/soft keys, DMA programming and the ability to produce special trunked data at the computer port. In addition the PSR400 does not have the “V-Scanner” expanded memory feature of its digital brothers. The two series of radios do share common case sizes and accessories from one work with the other. You cannot clone between the digital radios and the PSR400.
The PSR400 has several features that are pretty much standard these days for better scanners as well as some that are unique, including:
• Motorola, EDACS and LTR trunking modes
• Weather Alert (with SAME)
• Quick access to Weather channels (WX button)
• “Skywarn” mode
• Alpha-numeric text tags for channels and talkgroups
• Near-field detection (Called Spectrum Sweeper on GRE’s and Signal Stalker on the Radio Shack clones)
• Limit and service searches
• Channel priority
• Programmable attenuator
• Keyboard light and keylock
• PL/DPL decodingTurn it on, turn it up
When you turn the scanner on you get a welcome message. During the couple seconds that this message is present you can press specific buttons to check the radio status or set some special parameters.
1 Turns the keyboard beep on
2 Turns the keyboard beep off
3 Firmware Version
0 Factory tests and memory clearance
PGM Reprogram the radio to original frequencies (Deletes all your freqs!)
* Edits the dial light modes
After a couple seconds the Welcome screen goes away and your radio is set to the status or channel it was on the last time you turned it off. You can let it scan or you can start programming away.
Most programming is similar to older RadioShack scanners such as the Pro96 and 2096 or Pro97 and 2055. Being a GRE radio it uses the PGM button to get into the Program mode. You navigate to a channel, enter the frequency and then add any text tags, make mode changes or set PL/DPL codes.
Unlike the PSR500/600 series, the PSR400 cannot Search and Scan at the same time. It operates much like older scanners in this regard.
The volume and squelch controls are concentric knobs on the radio, you also turn the radio on and off with the volume control like on older radios.
Looking at the display, there are 5 lines. The top line contains symbols relating to programming and operating modes as well as the signal strength indicator. The second line down has the bank/channel number, mode and frequency when stopped on a channel or in Manual or Program modes and the bank numbers (so you can tell what banks are being scanned) in the Scan mode. The third line down shows such items as Priority, delay and lockout status when stopped on a channel and the bank status in Scan mode. The bottom line shows the Text Tag when stopped on a channel and the active bank when scanning.
The display layout changes depending on the status of the scanner. It can get kind of busy as well, so is kind of hard to get used to. Once you know what to expect you will have an easier time. One thing that is either confusing or ingenious (depending on your point of view) is that some functions are indicated as On/Off by whether the symbol is capitalized. For example, if the radio shows “lo” then the channel is not locked out, “LO” indicates it is.
On the PSR400 keyboard the keys are arranged 7 columns. The first 3 from the left are the various functions such as Priority, Mode, Dim and Scan/Manual keys, the next 3 columns are the numerals and the last column contains the Program, Lockout, Clear and Trunk keys. The numeral keys are black with white print, the others are white or beige with black print. The numeral keys are rounded while the others are cornered.
The Alpha text tags are created by multiple presses of the number keys, those letters are labeled above the keys. The keyboard can be locked by pressing the F(unction) button followed by the Dial Light key, this has a secondary label on it.What’s the frequency, Kenneth?
The PSR400 receives the following frequency ranges:
764-960 MHz. (Minus cellular)
The receive mode is switchable between AM and FM as well as the various trunking modes and PL/DPL modes on any frequency, except that trunking only works above 137 MHz. Since the radio is analog only, it does not support NAC codes. Also, since the radio does not receive the FM Broadcast band there is no provision for wide FM.
The radio deals with narrowbanded frequencies internally. Basically the detector is a compromise between older wider channels and newer narrower bandwidth channels, so you might notice a slightly lower volume level on narrowbanded channels. There is no separate setting for NFM like on some other scanners.Trunking
Like most scanners sold these days, the PSR400 supports EDACS, Motorola and LTR trunking. EDACS and Motorola are used by many public safety and business systems and LTR is mostly used by business operations. Control Channel Only mode is used by 800 and 900 MHz. systems.
For all trunking system types you must have all the frequencies in the system programmed into one bank. On Motorola systems above 800 MHz. you can only need the active control channels. You can program in talkgroup tags, and when in the “Closed Mode” you will only hear those groups, in the “Open Mode” you will hear all activity and see the names of the groups you programmed into the bank. Since each bank allows up to 150 talkgroups, you should have enough memory for most systems.
When programming various types of trunked systems you need to know some of the basic information about these systems. This information varies somewhat depending on the type of system. For many Motorola systems all you really need are the Control Channels and system type. For rebanded 800, most UHF and VHF systems as well as some odd 800 and 900 Motorola systems you may also need further parameters, such as base channels, offsets or other technical details. For EDACS and LTR systems each of the frequencies used as well as the order in which they are programmed are needed.
Most of the information needed for individual trunked systems is freely available on the RadioReference.com website, paid members can even program the systems directly into their radios using software such as ARC300. Thus, if you are not a scanner expert capable of figuring out technical details of complex trunked radio systems you can share in the work of the rest of the scanner community to program your radio. EDACS
The PSR400 supports only the original EDACS Wide protocol, the newer Narrow protocol often used on UHF or 900 MHz. systems is not supported. While this will work for most EDACS systems there are some that you will not be able to track with this radio. Motorola
The PSR400 supports several flavors of Motorola trunking, including Type I, II, Ii and SmartZone. This is the majority of public safety and many business systems. It does not support the P25 protocol or any digital modulation modes.LTR
The PSR400 also supports standard LTR trunked systems, commonly used by businesses and common carrier operations. The LTR Finder feature on the Digital line of GRE scanners is not present on this radio, so you must know the proper channel order layout. Most systems are defined on the RadioReference.com website so this should not be an issue.Conventional Scanning
“Conventional Channels” mean voice channels that do not use some sort of trunking. Mostly you just need to know the frequency in use and you can monitor the action. Things such as CTCSS, DCS and the modulation Mode make programming even conventional channels a challenge sometimes – these features are available but are not required for programming. Since the PSR400 programs very much like older scanners, it remains pretty easy to figure out. You can worry about CTCSS and DCS codes later.How will I know whether to use FM or AM?
This is actually pretty easy. Use FM for anything but CB and aircraft and you are pretty much all set. Almost all analog two way radio traffic other than CB and aircraft use FM. Since the PSR400 doesn’t have a separate NFM setting you can just program all FM traffic to FM and off you go.
Since the two-way radio market is in transition to narrower bandwidths to create new channels out of existing spectrum there are a lot of references to NFM (Narrow FM). What this means for scanner listeners is that NFM stations will have somewhat less audio punch than older systems with wider FM modes.
Some radios have separate settings for NFM and automatically adjust the volume to make them sound the same as wider FM stations. The PSR400 does not have this, so some variances will be noticeable between NFM and older stations.PL, DPL, CTCSS, DCS etc.
Years ago radio manufactures hit on a great idea. Transmit a low level tone on a radio channel so that radios equipped with a special decoder would only hear radios transmitting that tone. This way users would not have to listen to all the rest of the users of the channel, either local or when “Skip” comes in. Eventually dozens of different tones were developed by manufacturers and 38 of them were more or less standardized. The various manufacturers had different trade names for this feature, Motorola’s “PL” (Private Line) was the most used. It kind of became a generic name for the feature even though it was offered by GE, Kenwood and many other vendors, much like Kleenex has become a generic name for facial tissue. Since Motorola owns the trade name however, the scanner manufacturers call the feature by its technical name of Continuous Tone Coded Signal Squelch, or more succinctly, CTCSS. These are expressed in Hz., with one digit right of the decimal point, ranging from 67.0 to 254.1 Hz.
CTCSS served the industry well, and eventually scanner users wanted this feature on their scanners. Eventually it became a standard feature on higher end scanners.
As the radio bands became more crowded the few dozen CTCSS tones became inadequate and a new method of achieving the same results was developed. Motorola called it Digital PL (DPL) and the industry name was called DCS for Digital Coded Squelch. These are continuous digital words transmitted in a similar fashion to CTCSS. They are expressed in a three digit number, and there are about 100 codes in common use. Some references express DCS codes as Dxxx (D023, D251 etc.) but the GRE only displays the 3 numbers.
What can you use CTCSS and DCS codes for? Well, pretty much the same reasons they are used in the field. The most common use is to screen out unwanted radio traffic, either on repeaters or on simplex (non-repeater) channels. Is the same fire frequency in your area also used in the next county? Figure out the code used by your local agency and program it in to your scanner to exclude the other unwanted users of the same frequency.
Some agencies also use multiple codes to separate traffic on multi-site repeater systems to avoid interference and expensive steering equipment systems while only needing a single channel. On one system in my area, there is one code used for operations and another used only to contact emergency services, so the 9-1-1 Center does not need to listen to the day-to-day operations. You need help, you use the emergency code. This allows a single channel to be used but keeps the 9-1-1 center from having to pick out emergency requests from the routine communications.
You can program the PSR400 to display the received CTCSS or DCS code, and once you figure out the code used by your target, program it in to exclude other users of the same channel. Conversely you can leave it in the Code Search mode and use it to identify the users.Searching and Sweeping
All scanners allow you to search between a set of frequencies in order to find new (to you at least) channels. Some, including the PSR400, also have preset search protocols, called Service Search, which scan thru a set of commonly used channels for specific types. The PSR400 has a limited set of Service Searches that include a generic “Public Safety” group, Aircraft, Marine, Ham Radio, CB and a group of miscellaneous radio channels called FRS/GMRS/MURS/DOT. Families, small businesses and others often use this last group for low power local communications.
Surprisingly GRE did not include any type of Service Search for racing operations, race fans are among the biggest buyers of scanners. The generic nature of the Public Safety Service Search reflects the modern use of many of these channels by different types of agencies. Gone are the days of segregated Police, Fire, Conservation, Highway and Special Emergency allocations, now all the frequencies are in a single pool that has reduced the segregation of use. Uniden has a more extensive list of service search options including railroads.
The GRE also has the standard Limit Search that allows you to search all channels between a pair of frequencies. You can also lock out frequencies in Limit Searches.
Spectrum Sweeper is a nearfield frequency detector that allows you to find nearby transmitters. There are a couple different modes. All-Band allows you to search all frequencies the radio is capable of while the Public Safety Mode allows you to concentrate your search on the bands commonly assigned to police, fire etc. These bands are parts of the Low and High VHF bands, part of the UHF band and part of the 800 band.
The ZeroMatic option allows you to set the radio to look for the actual frequency used by the transmitter instead of stopping on the first valid hit it finds. Let’s say there is a strong transmitter on 155.4750 in your area. A strong signal might cause a hit on 155.470 and the radio would stop there with the hit. ZeroMatic checks to see if the same signal is actually on a nearby or adjacent frequency and causes the radio to go to the actual frequency.Programming channels
The basic programming on the PSR400 is pretty simple. Just press the PGM button, go to the channel you want to program, key in the frequency and press ENT. Keep on doing that until you have all 1000 channels in, then go back and enter in the CTCSS/DPC or trunking types for each, then 1000 text tags. By this time next year you should be done…
You can make it easier on yourself by getting software to do the hard work for you. Sure, you can do it by hand but most of us have the need for instant gratification, so take the easy way out and buy a software program like ARC300. It is a lot easier to type the info in on a computer than the tiny keyboard on the scanner.
You can even use a RadioReference.com website to make this job even easier than that. As long as you are a paid member ($30 per year, a pittance for the returns) you can connect via the programming software to the RadioReference site and download your local info directly into the radio. Going to Grandma’s for vacation? No problem, just do the same for her neighborhood.
Don’t forget to get the USB programming cable. If you already have one from GRE (orange) or RadioShack (blue) you can use it or buy one from ScannerMaster.Weather Alert
You can use the PSR400 as a weather alert radio as well. Just program in the proper FIPS codes (from the National Weather Service website) and the radio can be used to monitor for severe weather alerts. You can also get instant access to the NWS weather channel in your area by pressing the Weather button.Skywarn
The unique GRE Skywarn feature sets a special priority channel in Channel 999. When you have severe weather just press and hold the WX button for a second and the radio will go directly to the frequency you put in Channel 999. You can actually use this feature for any type channel; I use it for my favorite railroad channel for quick access.Text Tags
The PSR400 allows you to add text Tags to just about everything, from conventional channels to trunked talkgroups and systems to search types. If you have had high-end GRE-made scanners like the Pro96 in the past the PSR400 method will be easy to learn. After you have entered the frequency, talkgroup or whatever, press the TXT button. Each number key on the keyboard is assigned to various characters, you then press the corresponding key to select it. The letters assigned to each key are shown on the secondary label, just press the key 1, 2 or 3 times to get the letter you want. While it sounds confusing perhaps, once you start using it, it gets pretty easy.
Of course it is a lot easier to enter tags from the computer, but that comes later. You will want to know how to do it from the radio so you can make changes on the fly and impress your friends.
The PSR400 manual has complete instructions and a code chart. If you are going to enter a lot of text tags manually you may want to copy this chart and keep it with the radio.Firmware updates
GRE has allowed for the update of the internal programming of the radio, called Firmware. These occasional updates fix problems, add new functionality and address other concerns. Check the GRE website or RadioReference.com for the latest firmware updates.Competition
If you have read this far you have probably already asked about alternatives. GRE’s main competition in the scanner market is Uniden. Both manufacturers produce 3 main lines of scanners (Digital, Advanced and Basic are my terms), all lines include base/mobile and handheld versions. Both companies’ base/mobile versions are the same size DIN format, while the GRE handhelds are larger than the Unidens.The main competition for the PSR400 is the Uniden BCT15X.
While the Uniden Bearcat BCT15X is more expensive than the PSR400, it has been a best-selling radio. The state-by-state feature, huge memory, GPS option, more advanced Service Search, excellent Close Call feature and more all make this a standout radio, well worth the additional $70 over the fine PRS400.
Typically the Unidens have more features than the GRE’s, but the GRE’s have better sounding audio. Also, as a general rule, GRE’s are more sensitive than the Unidens, but suffer more adjacent channel interference or intermod. These rules hold true for the PSR400.
The GRE’s is less expensive, usually by about $70.00. The Unidens however have several features that the GRE lack, like Fire toneout, Site trunking, more memory, the Uniden GPS feature and the ability for remote control by computer or remote heads. If any of these features are worth $70 to you then you might be better off with the Uniden. If not, then save your money and get the PSR400.
Since the PSR400 operates much in a much more classic method than the newer Unidens or digital GRE’s a lot of users will be less intimidated by it. Also, if you live in a more rural setting then the increased sensitivity will help pull in more distant or weak signals. Users in larger metro areas and cities may have some difficulty with the lack of selectivity that the GRE offers however.User Report
I used a PSR400 along with a PSR300 around my suburban area for a few months and found that is more sensitive and has better sounding audio than my BCT15X. The closer I got to Chicago or Milwaukee though the less thrilled I was as it started to get overloaded with noise.
Where it really shined was on a railfan trip I took to western Illinois and thru Iowa into Nebraska. I was hearing trains from 50 and 100 miles away on the GRE like they were next door, while the Uniden either didn’t hear them or they were noisy. The loud audio provided by the PSR400 punched right thru the wind noise while driving on the Interstate at 75 MPH with the window open. Approaching Des Moines and Omaha however the interference increased and soon I was inundated with pager noise and data signals from taxicabs.
I found that this radio works very well with the included antenna. I used an inexpensive mag-mount antenna on the roof of my truck on both the GRE and Uniden for this trial and it was more than sufficient for my needs with the GRE. I found these traits to be true for both the PSR400 and PSR300 on this trip.
The PSR400 has found a permanent place in my home as my preferred rail and aircraft scanner, I have all 99 rail channels in Bank 1, programmed to the AAR channel number and I use the SkyWarn feature for railfanning by putting in the local Road Channel in channel 999 so I can quickly access it. I also have several local and transient aircraft channels programmed in to keep track of local aviation.Direct competitionThe PSR400 is better if these are most important to you:
* You prefer a radio with better audio.
* If you prefer separate volume and squelch controls.
* If you don’t want or need the extra features of the Uniden.
* If you are not bothered by excessive strong-signal interference.
* If you need higher sensitivity.
* If you want to save some money.You will want the BCT15X if these are more important:
* You prefer a simpler yet more detailed display.
* If you want the amazing feature-set of the Uniden.
* You prefer the Systems/Groups method of programming.
* You need or want the GPS features.
* You will use the radio in a high interference area.
* You need more channel memory.
* When fire tone-out capability is important.
* You monitor a large networked system with multiple sites.
* You want remote control or a remote head.
* State-by-State pre-programming.
When people invest good money for a scanner, they probably want to protect it, get some accessories to go with it or otherwise add to the experience. Scanner Master has a full line of scanner accessories such as antennas, cables, power adaptors and references to make your scanner more enjoyable.
Probably the most important accessory will be a copy of the ARC300 software, which is available at Scanner Master. If you're going to program this scanner on your own, or even if you have Scanner Master or a friend do the programming for you, it's a great benefit to back up a copy of the programming to your PC. Furthermore, once you've backed it up, you might also want a copy that you can tweak and add to over time as you get more familiar with the scanner and scanning. Then you can tailor the programming just for your tastes. The software is easy to use and extremely powerful and it will help you understand all that the radio can do.
Many of the accessories for the other GRE and Radio Shack scanners will work for the PSR400 as well. You can also buy an assortment of remote speakers (amplified or not), headphones, antennas, cases and more. Just go to Accessories
and chose what you want.
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