Uniden UBC 780XLT
Have always tried to keep up with the pace making receivers that the public want. When a lot of emergency services and utility companies switched to Trunk systems in the US monitoring became a whole lot harder and the scanning fraternity were a little disillusioned. Uniden stepped in with it's first generation Trunk Tracking scanners and the American scanning scene was alive again. You see in the US they regard it as a right to monitor the airwaves and not only do the public monitor these transmissions but spouses of police officers, Fire Dept's and the users of the various radio systems themselves monitor the airwaves with a scanner. Now we are on to the third generation Trunk Tracker III Uniden Bearcat 780XLT. For the Australian and European market we have it in the Uniden Bearcat UBC 780XLT guise which is slightly different to the BC780 XLT in as much as default frequency steps key layouts etc. My aim is to find out how good it is for the UK monitor.
As most have you have probably gathered by now I am a big fan of hand held scanners, I like the portability, the option to put in my pocket and take anywhere especially with the new generation of micro scanners. It has been a while since I have owned a Base scanner, such as the Realistic Pro 2006 and Bearcat 9000XLT. So I entered this review with some extra excitement due to the anticipation of covering the features it boasts: Trunktracking, CTCSS, DCS, Autostore super fast search and scan, 10 priority Ch's.Computer control. Boy I hoped it would be as good as it sounds. I ordered the 780 and was informed that it would be with me on the next day and sure enough that is when it turned up, quite early actually so I did not even do the familiar get up, twitch the curtains, sit down again routine that has become the norm as I wait in desperate anticipation for a new "Toy" to turn up.
The First thing I did when I had it opened up was power it up and tap in a known frequency. Now that is not something I have been able to do for a while, most scanners these days do not come that easy anymore, now there's a few brownie points already!
Anyone used to using a Bearcat 9000XLT (The predecessor of the 780) will immediately be impressed by the smaller size and sleeker looks of the 780, this unit I found very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. A metal case, a good size Dot Matrix LCD display which comes with a protective film which gives the impression that the unit is turned on with a UHF police frequency displayed. You will of course take this off straight away. To the left of the unit there are two Knobs, the bottom one which doubles as power on and volume control and set below this is another knob for squelch control (Reminds me of the old AOR scanners). Incidentally the squelch control for the 780 is the opposite way to what we have come to expect from other receivers, in practice I did not find this a hindrance at all. ( If you do not like this setting then there is a mod to adjust it). The other knob is a rotary control which can be used for selecting frequencies/Channels, and menu selection. To the right of these buttons there are four buttons the top button is for scanning the next is a manual/hold button the next one is a Trunk button for the trunking facility and the bottom one is a menu button for access of the different options available. To the right of the unit there are 4 more buttons vertical in direction. The top button being the hold button and and for manually navigating through the search ranges. Below this is the search button for...erm.. Searching! Below this a Limit button for manually moving through frequencies and navigating the various menu's and finally a Select button which is used in conjunction with the menu button for accessing the various functions such as search steps, mode, trunking selections etc.To the right of these buttons are another 15 buttons for entering frequencies, Scan banks, Search banks, Priority functions Service scans etc. The knobs I found more than adequate in size with red level marks at specific points so that the operator can see volume and squelch settings. As we have seen on previous Bearcats there are flip up feet that raises the angle of the front of the unit to suit various viewing angles. The speaker is located at the bottom of the unit. On the rear is a 13.8 V DC jack for power supply, a 3.5mm speaker jack (Can be used for external speaker or earphones) a 3.5mm tape out jack for recording audio to a tape recorder, an RS232 port for computer control/cloning, and a BNC connector for attaching the aerial. Packaged with the 780 is a telescopic aerial, an AC adapter, Cigarette lighter adapter, DC Cord, a mounting bracket for attaching just about anywhere, and a user manual.
The user manual that comes with the 780 I found to be very good and well laid out and offering several key shortcuts to access certain functions, a glossary of terms and all the information to get you up and running, this manual was made much easier due to the fact that the 780 itself is a very easy radio to drive.
The supplied aerial is a telescoping 4 segment type with an elbow joint so that it can be adjusted for different angles. It is the BNC type which I personally prefer to say, a SMA type. This is basically the same aerial seen on previous Bearcats and is capable of doing the job for all local type scanning, albeit a very cheap and nasty effort to say the least. I can only assume Uniden believe that all owners of their Base units will be hooking them up to an outdoor antenna, this would be the ideal but not all will so come on Uniden compliment this radio with a decent aerial.
This is more than adequate with varying options of backlight High mid and off. Night time monitoring is a joy all the button functions are on display with the keypad being nicely lit up. The Alpha Numerics offer up to 16 characters which is ideal for most purposes unless you live in a certain town in Wales. This can be set up to make identification easier for memory channels, memory banks and search banks. This used in conjunction with the CTCSS/DCS makes this a dream to use. Other characters displayed are Mode in operation such as FM AM etc. A six segment signal bargraph (Seven if you count the "S") that adjusts to differing strengths of signal received, the current frequency being received and many other permutations depending on what scanning mode is in operation such as Trunktracking etc. Which will be explored during this review. The 780 comes with a feature called Screen Mask, which when activated only displays the minimum of data on screen such as any alpha tags you have entered for a memory/search bank, all frequency display will not appear. This is a feature that I liked on my AOR 8200 so I was very happy to see it on the 780.
Now to the part you all want to know about... How well does it perform? As previously stated the 780 is a very easy radio to program, just follow the instructions in the User manual and you should not go far wrong. You know a local frequency? Well type it in and press "E" (enter) and that's it job done this used to be the norm with most scanners but now most are a lot harder than this, this I found a welcome feature and I knew right away that operating this scanner was going to be a breeze, yes sure there are more features than the 9000XLT but it is still a dream to operate. Those that read that the Yupiteru 7100 and Icom ICR-2 were easy to program came in for a nasty surprise in my opinion, not so with this baby. Okay setting up the Trunking facility seems a bit daunting at first and I did find the manual fell a bit short on setting up certain features of setting up different trunking types, but once mastered it will come second nature next time round.
After programming some of my favourite frequencies into the first scan bank (there are ten banks of fifty Ch's in each bank) and connecting to a discone antenna I was not disappointed at all on uhf and vhf signals came through loud and clear just as good as any other scanner I have owned. At the time of writing there have been numerous messages on the various scanner newsgroups and Yahoo message groups regarding monitoring of low VHF signals from the US Each time I read one of these messages I would run upstairs and try monitoring these frequencies in the 30-42MHz area on a couple of receivers but received nothing. I was pleasantly surprised on my first attempt with the 780 to hear signals booming in with various American accents from different police dept.'s. Also some European voices coming in also.
On VHF civil airband tuning to Birmingham airport signals were coming in lovely from both tower and pilot I usually get bored pretty quickly with airband but have left it programmed into the 780 due to the clear signals received.VHF PMR 162-170MHz signals continued to come in lovely from neighbouring towns showing that this is a sensitive unit. (Incidentally the 780 comes with 12.5KHz steps on VHF which is essential to UK monitors) Further up into the UHF military airband, an area I have had little success with in the past (due to my being so far from a military airfield) after 30 minutes searching I had logged several military air comms some with two way radio traffic. I had not had this much success before on any scanner, either the scanner stopped on too many birdies ( Birdies are noises generated from within the scanner itself that forces it to lock onto frequencies that have no real carrier signal. Those of you who used to use the old Realistic scanners may remember when they stopped on a birdie it would actually sound like a bird chirping this is where the name birdie comes from.) Or it simply was not fast enough to search through the wide Mil air frequency spectrum. The 780 was not without fault in this area as it would constantly stop on round frequencies, by round frequencies I mean those frequencies that ended with 0000 e.g. 242.000 300.000 etc. there must have been about thirty of these frequencies in all and I only experienced it in the Mil airband. There is a handy function which combats this problem and we will explore that a little later in the next chapter.
Further into the UHF part of the spectrum signals came in as good as can be expected with plenty of activity coming from neighbouring towns from 440MHz to the 460's the 780 proved to be a brilliant performer, the only niggle being that there is no 6.25KHz step which is used by PMR 446 frequencies (It is really an offset of 12.5KHz but 6.25KHz does the job) this should not affect the performance of the 780 in this region as using 5KHz steps will still bring in the signals with little or no loss of signals. Still I would like to be tuned to the correct frequency and maybe a step Uniden would like to include with the next scanner it brings out, but in all fairness the 780 was designed for the US market which does not (to my knowledge) employ 6.25 KHz steps and the UK market is tiny by comparison to the U.S.The 780 proved itself a brilliant performer across VHF and UHF which makes a nice change, sometimes a receiver is good in one area and not so good in another area.
Programming all these frequencies is only possible if you know the frequencies that are in use the best way to find them out is by using the search function on the 780, and boy this is a pleasure to use, nice and fast (up to 300 steps per second if searching in 5KHz steps), 10 search banks which can be set to a number of step sizes, mode etc. To suit your needs.There is also a service search which is of very little use to the UK user, this is an add-on of the search feature and comes pre-programmed with search ranges for Police, Railroad, Airband, Marine and UHF CB. Of these only the airband and marine band of any use to the UK user. once again showing that it was originally designed for the US market. The 780 has a nice auto store facility which was also employed by the 9000XLT. For those of you not familiar with Auto Store. Set up a search range including step increments mode etc. select a bank to store the active frequencies to and search that's it you can go out for the day leaving the 780 to find all active frequencies in your area then when you come home press scan and listen to what it has found also it only writes each frequency once so that the bank does not get clogged up with one frequency. This is a feature I have used many times since getting hold of the 780. Out of Autostore doing a search to hold on an active frequency just press "HOLD" until you are ready to resume the search. If you decide you want to store a frequency then just press "E" and it will store into the channel number that is flashing on the screen. (Note make sure this is a blank or unwanted Ch. As it will overwrite any information already stored). Another feature I liked was that if the frequency you tried to enter is already stored then the 780 alerts you to this by giving an error message and informing you that you are about to duplicate a Ch. I liked this feature very much as it saves no end on Channel availability. You can search in either direction but I found searching down instead of upwards was more trouble than it was worth. Up to 250 frequencies can be locked out of a search with any further lockouts overwriting the previous locked out frequencies, anyone doing a fair bit of frequency searching will come to appreciate this feature.
With up to 500 available channels (50 Channels per bank) and ten search banks You should be able to store most if not all of your favourite frequencies. However in this day and age wouldn't have 1000 Ch's been too much to expect? Scanning with the 780 is a hassle free affair with no problems with squelch settings on different frequencies that you sometimes get on some receivers (Some top of the range ones at that) where if the squelch setting is just right for UHF it will be wrong on VHF forcing the receiver to pause on inactive frequencies. Again nice and fast. No data is active whilst scanning apart from bank numbers being scanned and "Scanning" at the bottom of the screen, all frequencies being scanned and alpha tags remain hidden until the 780 stops on a signal, I see no drawbacks or benefits to this feature and it is standard to previous Bearcats that I have seen and the Tandy Variants. Again scanning is an easy affair just press scan and away it goes. You can set up any permutation of delay/resume times on each individual Ch. Such as 1 Second delay before it resumes scanning after the carrier is dropped, 2 second and 4 second. The last option is Infinite where it will stay locked onto a Ch. Once it has stopped on it until it is instructed by the user to continue scanning (by pressing scan!). Another nice feature is to select how long it will stay on a Ch. and resume scanning regardless of whether there is a transmission still on going. This can be set up to 2 Seconds, 5 Seconds and ten Seconds until the 780 gets "Bored" and continues scanning. Again I use this feature on certain Ch's.
On frequencies that are adjacent to strong signals on a neighbouring frequency I found that when connected to a discone the neighbouring signal would "Bleed over" this did not happen when searching and I remember some years ago performing a simple operation on a Realistic Pro 2006 which fixed this problem. You see the 2006 came with a feature called Zeromatic which kicked in when on a search but not when on scan I think it was a simple Soldering of a wire that fixed the problem, and I am pretty sure there must be a similar fix for the 780. (This mod was one of the late Bill Cheeks Mods). This is only a problem when it the signal you are listening to is next door to a frequency of 12.5KHz away and happens on only the strongest signals, (I experience it on two or three frequencies only in my area) so unless the frequency is next door as in my case you may never experience this problem. UPDATE: By switching the mode of the frequency being "Bled over" to NFM totally wipes this problem out! So far I have experienced no problems with Pager signals breaking through, one of the frequencies that I like to monitor gets swamped with pager breakthrough on My R2 when connected to a rubber duck, but no such problems with the 780 on a discone! Audio quality I have found to be more than adequate I have seen a couple of messages on various groups mentioning that some users were left a little miffed at the audio quality and that they found it muffled, I did not experience this on my unit in fact I am more than happy with it I suppose if you had it on the seat of a loud truck with the 780's feet flipped down then yes it would be muffled (The speaker grill for the 780 is on the bottom of the unit). Once again if you are not happy with the audio then there is a mod available.
UPDATE: I have since connected an external speaker to my 780 and can now tell the difference, fitting an external speaker has improved the audio to quite a degree (Speaker £12.50 at time of writing, contact Radioscanners for details) and would benefit anyone using the UBC780 in a vehicle.
Locking out unwanted Ch's is just a case of pressing L/O when you are on the Ch. in Scan or manual mode. To open up all locked out Ch's is just a case of pressing L/O for 2 seconds very neat. Another feature of the 780 is an audio alert which comes in the form of three beeps in rapid succession. The idea being that when the 780 stops on a frequency you want to be alerted to then it emits an audio alert, good stuff but in practice this is not as good as audio alerts on some Ham Radio/Scanners that I have seen which alerts you when a certain CTCSS tone is activated, it just is not loud enough to bring you running out of the next room, but when you are in the same room then it is adequate to get your attention and in all fairness if it was any louder it would be downright annoying when used for any lengthy period. A feature which I do not use much is Data skip,(Another feature of older Bearcats) in theory when activated it forces the 780 to resume scanning when it stops on a continuous data channel but in practice it would force the 780 to scan even when on a quiet voice channel. Fortunately this feature can be deselected.
Another feature is Reverse scan by pressing the "RVRS" button the input/mobile frequency is displayed and monitored, but unfortunately it is preprogrammed with input frequencies that are wrong for the UK, I could not find any way of changing the defaults, this I found quite disappointing
When I heard about certain scanners having ten priority Ch's a few years ago I did not really like the idea I thought it would confuse matters "I only really want to have one priority Ch. what's the point in the scanner searching for ten priority Ch's when I only want to monitor one?" well it is all done quite neatly as the priority Ch's (Which can be set to any Ch. You like incidentally) are given a priority order. The Priority Ch. In bank one is top of the list and takes precedence over the priority Ch. In bank 2, in turn Priority Ch. In bank 2 takes the lead over the priority Ch. In bank 3 etc. So if the Priority Ch. In bank 2 becomes active and shortly after the priority Ch. In bank 1 also becomes active then the 780 will monitor the Priority Ch. In bank 1 disregarding Priority bank 2. So the idea is to have your most important frequency in bank 1, or you can lock out the bank which takes the lead (In this scenario bank 1) to stop the 780 from disregarding a lower priority priority Ch. (Phew!) I have come to like this feature very much and when I sold my Bearcat 9000XLT it was a feature that I did miss. Another good point about the priority feature on the 780 is that on some scanners when checking for a priority Ch. Even when it has found nothing active on the priority feature, it would resume scanning rather than locking back on to the active frequency that was, and still is active very annoying, I rarely used this function on one of my scanners for this very reason. This problem I am glad to say does not rear it's ugly head on the 780.
Now anyone that has read my other reviews will know that I really like to have CTCSS on my scanners, with so many frequencies shared by different users without CTCSS and Alpha tags it becomes very hard to distinguish at times who you are actually listening to. So to see this feature on the 780 was a major bonus, but wait not only does it have CTCSS, but DCS also! Now I am impressed. I found the whole CTCSS/DCS feature a pleasure to use on the 780. To set up the tone squelch search (CTCSS/DCS) you set it up easily from the menu See User Manual and away you go. Now when the 780 stops on a programmed frequency whist scanning or on hold or searching it will search for any active CTCSS tones in use, if any are found the tone in use flashes and to use this tone just press "E". Next time you scan and you have set the 780 to use active CTCSS tones then this tone will be used filtering out any other users using the same frequency on a different tone. Searching for these active tones I found a dream on the 780 it searches for them at about the same speed as my Icom R2 and like the R2 you can still listen to the Channel/frequency in use whist searching for the tone. A lovely feature I found was that once it had started searching for a tone in use it would continue from where it left off rather than scrolling through all available tones again, Well done Uniden!
Searching for DCS tones in use was another nice surprise I fully expected to have to search for DCS by setting up another menu, WRONG! as soon as it has finished searching for CTCSS tones and found none active it immediately checks for DCS tones in use. I cannot express how much I liked the CTCSS/DCS feature on the 780, the only minor niggle being that if I already know of a tone in use I did not find a way to manually program it into memory, like I say a minor niggle. (This can be directly added when using software, see below.)
UPDATE I have since learned that it is indeed possible to enter a ctcss/dcs manually, whilst in CTCSS/DCS mode (Not search) simply press enter and select your tone from the list available. Since writing this review I have seen a few criticisms of the 780 for being slow at decoding CTCSS tones, if they are referring to the time it takes to search out an active tone then I have no complaints here, believe me there are much slower scanners out there. If they are referring to a scan where a tone is active on a preset channel and the tone has been set, then again I have no complaints whatsoever. There is one frequency used by a community repeater in my neck of the woods that has about 14 tones for individual users, if all 14 channels with 14 different tones are programmed simultaneously e.g. Ch 1-14 then yes it can be seen to be slowly (When a channel is active) checking each Channel for the correct tone. But how many of you will programme one frequency into 14 different channels with 14 different tones?
Using the 780 connected to a computer I found a real joy to use I usually end up getting it all wrong and being unsuccessful in my venture of computer controlling a scanner but with the 780 I found it a breeze. I purchased a 9 pin interface cable from my local computer shop for four pounds ( With male and female connectors ) which connects to the RS232 port on the back of the 780 and the serial port on the computer ( Note some computers will need a 25 to 9 pin converter.) and used the Trunkstar 780 software to upload the contents of the 780 to my computer, from there I could edit/add any information I wanted and then simply download to the 780 this process takes several minutes but is a lot easier than programming by keypad. Also when using the software you can see how untidy your memory bank set up is, rather like having an aerial view. There is also a control panel where you can actually "Drive" the 780 via your computer very impressive! The contents of the 780 once uploaded can then be sent via e-mail etc. Then be downloaded to another 780 for long distance cloning!
Another nice bit of software which is free is a program by Andy, which is for cloning two or more 780's again you upload to the computer then send by e-mail etc. For downloading by someone else, A number of these clones can be downloaded from several regional Yahoo groups.UKMidlandscanner being one and Metradio being another. For stateside cloning then Uniden bc780 is the place to go. In all I found the use of software a breeze (After I had a little help from my friends) and this makes for more enjoyment of using this receiver. I remember reading some years ago about computer controlling radios and it seemed a little frightening to me but at the time I was not computer literate, I would recommend for anyone with a 780 (Or any other receiver) to give it a go it opens up a whole new side to the hobby that I have been ignorant to for years now.
OK I have harped on about all the other features but not mentioned what this scanner was designed for, Tracking the Trunks! The reason for this is because I wanted to let you know that this scanner is for everybody and not just for those that require the Trunktracking capabilities. At the time of writing this a message was posted to a newsgroup asking which base scanner he should purchase, it was suggested that he take a look at the 780 but he was put off that it was a "Trunktracking" scanner and did not think it was for anything else, well you can rest assured that it is and that it does the job a lot better than some other "Conventional" scanners. I hope all the above shows this.
For those that want the trunk tracking capability then come into my parlour... This unit can follow any number of trunking systems such as EDACS, LTR and Motorola but at this time the only system we are interested in in the UK is the Motorola type. To watch the 780 follow this system is a pleasure it sits on the control Channel ( Control channel tells the radios and your 780 which frequency to flick to next) which is muted (no horrible control Ch. Noises here) and jumps from frequency to frequency as it is instructed by the control channel. I did find that the first gnats whisker of the transmission was sometimes clipped as the scanner hopped to the frequency but all transmissions could be followed. I found that the user manual was lacking when it came to programming the particular system that I wanted to follow, the manual tells you that for this particular system you will have to program the offset frequencies, I was left with a big question mark above my head here and had to summon help from someone else who had all the settings to program my radio. I know that others are struggling with this part but the settings are now available on the Yahoo groups mentioned earlier. One thing to remember is that once you have entered all the required frequencies to be tracked you must hold down the Trunk button for each frequency so that an "M" appears to the left of the display so that it is tagged for trunk mode.Then press scan then Trunk button to go into Trunk mode (Trunk will or should be displayed on the LCD).
You have a few options available, Search which the manual advises is the best way to get started (I agree) and the 780 will search for all available talkgroups in use, once it has stopped on something of interest just press "E" and that talkgroup will be programmed into your chosen memory bank. I found that unlike when in conventional scanning where you had to make sure that you were saving to an unused channel, when in trunk mode it saved the talkgroup to the next available memory slot. Any talkgroups could be locked out of search by pressing L/O this would subsequently lock it out of memory mode also. (and vice versa.) When you have finished searching and entering the various talkgroups you can now scan them all and once you have identified users add alpha tags just like in conventional mode scanning. Any further searching if stopped on a talkgroup which is programmed into memory with an alpha tag then the alpha tag will show up on a search also, very neat. As in conventional scanning you can set up any talkgroup as a priority Ch. The only difference being that it samples in between transmissions rather than every two seconds. You can scan trunked Ch's along with normal Ch's which was a nice surprise I thought it would be one or the other. Whilst scanning the bottom row of alpha numerics displays "I-D Scanning" showing that it is scanning for active talkgroup ID's.
Another feature in trunk mode is I-Call which can be activated to monitor more private one to one type calls between two units, this can make for some interesting listening as normal radio procedure is dropped.
One observation, it would be a good idea to experiment with different squelch settings when Trunktracking, some systems prefer a squelch setting at the twelve'o clock position whilst some benefit from a full anti clockwise setting.
MPT1327 Tracking? Yes indeed see the review on ftrunk
I found the Bearcat UBC780XLT to be a very good receiver indeed, since getting it my other receivers have been virtually redundant. As previously stated this is one hell of a receiver even for conventional type scanning, but with the trunk feature also, this is a dream machine. I usually have a strong negative point about any receiver, not with the 780. If I had to highlight anything it would be the lack of memory Ch's as I have already stated in this day and age 500 memories is not a great deal. Also the reverse frequency feature should be user programmable. Price £295 at the time of writing this. Worth every penny!! Score
I would like to thank the following for giving me advice for getting things running smoothly.
Mike Burgess and everyone from the Yahoo groups mentioned above.
BC 780 Frequently asked questions FAQ
Plenty of info Here
BANDS 25 Bands
STEP SIZES (kHz)
[ Aor 8200 ]
The Uniden UBC780 XLT is now avalable from our online shop.
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