Weird Funkiness with scanners: 536 Cuts out

We here at ScannerMaster get calls from customers often to explain some sort of weirdness happening with their scanner. Usually we can figure it out pretty quick but once in awhile we get stumped. When we get stumped it sticks in our craw for a while until we have an epiphany and figure it out. We had one just like that earlier this week.

A customer called and his brand new BCD536HP was acting all ornery. Every couple of seconds it would stop hearing and the signal strength meter would fluctuate. Most of the time this is caused by the Priority or CloseCall features. We determined it was neither of these but still couldn’t figure out what it was.

Here is why we were looking at these features:

Priority, when enabled, will check specified channels every couple of seconds for activity on it. If there is activity it will divert the radio from what is was doing to listen to the Priority channel.

CloseCall will check for strong signals in the area and if detected will divert the radio to the frequency the CloseCall feature detected. If the feature is set to CloseCall Priority then it will cause the radio to stop hearing a channel for a bit, just like the customer complained.

So when we made sure both Priority and CloseCall were off we were flummoxed. Well, I was flummoxed; he was frustrated. I am sure there were some other words starting with “F” being bandied about as well.

I started going thru the menus on the radio in the office (We have one of just about everything here at ScannerMaster) and eventually dug thru all the menus and submenus. Eventually we found the culprit: The Weather Alternate Priority. Somehow the customer got this turned on. As soon as we turned it off the radio worked great again! We had one happy customer and a relieved representative.

The Weather Alert Priority tells the radio to check the weather channels every few seconds and if it detects the standard 1050 Hz. tone used to signify a Weather Alert it will divert the radio to that alert.

New scanners have a ton of neat features but sometimes they can be too smart. Some of these features can cause aggravation when that feature is not needed.

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When the data isn’t right: How to get your database scanner working.

So you went out and bought one of these fancy new database scanner like the HomePatrol, BCD436/536 or a Whistler TRX and set it up. The problem though is that you are not hearing your local channel that you expected. There are a couple things to try. The first is to double check that you have the location and Service Types set properly. If these are correct, did you accidentally lockout (“Avoid”) the Channel, Department or System?

If you have ruled out these issues take a look at the RadioReference Database at RadioReference.com. This is where the frequency information comes from. If the channel is listed there but not included in your radio then you need to update the database on your radio. Make sure you have installed Sentinel (Uniden) or EZ-Scan (Whistler) and run the update procedure for these scanners. After updating the database make sure you copy (“Write”) it to your radio and try it again.

If you find that the channel is not listed in the RadioReference database then you will have to do some detective work. If you know what the frequency or talkgroup is then be sure to submit it to RadioReference so it can be added or corrected in the database. All you need is a RadioReference user name and password, either a free or paid membership will work. In the meantime it can be added to a Favorites List or Scanlist via the software.

If you do not know what the channel’s frequency or talkgroup is then you will need to do a little more work. If you know they use a trunking system then create a Favorites List and set it to Trunked Search (if on a Uniden). If you have a Whistler then create a ScanList with that system and add a Wildcard to it. This allows you to listen to all activity on the system and when you hear the traffic you want make sure you note the talkgroup number for future reference. You can submit that talkgroup number to RadioReference to update the database and also add it directly to the Favorites List or ScanList with the appropriate name.

On conventional (non-trunked) systems you can do a couple things. First off, check the FCC license for the agency you want to listen to. Most of the time you can do this from the RadioReference database page, just click on the call sign. Since the RadioReference Database only contains information that is verified a new channel might be listed on the license but not included in the main database since no one has reported it as verified yet.

If the channel you seek is not listed there, check licenses for nearby communities, the local County or a regional dispatch center. The actual license might be held by another agency that does dispatch for your town.

Still cannot find it? Now it is time to get serious! Your scanner has a “Search” function. Learn how to set up a Limit Search. Check the most common scanner bands used in your area and set up a search for that band. Lockout the channels as you hear them if they are not your local agency, checking the RadioReference Database as you find them.

Regardless of how you find them be sure to share the knowledge. Submit your finds to the RadioReference Database system so that others in your area can listen in and so that future versions of the database include it. Remember that the database is updated weekly, usually Sunday or Monday. Submissions might take a little while to get processed however so wait to the following week after you receive the notification that your submission has been worked.

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ZIP Code based scanning: How does it work?

One question we get all the time here at ScannerMaster Intergalactic World Headquarters is “when I put my ZIP Code in my (HomePatrol, 436 or 536) scanner how do I hear something in the next ZIP Code over?” The answer is that you already are… Let me explain.

On the Uniden ZIP Code type scanners (Home Patrol, BCD436HP and BCD536HP) when using the ZIP Code method of scanning (versus using Favorites Lists) you enter your local ZIP Code into the “Location” menu. You then can set the range (in miles). The ZIP Code acts as a center point on a map. The range is how big a circle that is drawn around the center point of the ZIP Code. More miles equals a bigger circle; a bigger circle equals more stuff programmed into your radio.

So if you live in Mayberry and your ZIP Code is 27031 you would enter it in the scanner. You then set a range; let’s say 15 miles. Draw a circle 15 miles in any direction from the center point of the ZIP Code and that is your primary coverage area. When the radio loads up it will load all the channels that are in that area, based on the service codes you enabled. Simple, right? Well, not so much.

The way the HomePatrol Database is constructed is that each entry itself also has a geographic location assigned to it with a range. So the various entries in the database all have their own circles. If any of these circles touches or crosses your circle then they will be entered into your scanner. For this reason you may hear things that are actually outside your circle.

Let’s say that Mt. Pilot is 20 miles from Mayberry, where you are. If you set your range to 10 miles you may not expect to hear Mt. Pilot. In the database however the Mt. Pilot stations are set to a range of 15 miles. So the Mt. Pilot circle goes out 15 miles and crosses the 10-mile circle you set in Mayberry. Therefore you will have the Mt. Pilot channels in your scanner. Clear as mud, right? Well wait, it gets even weirder!

So, you see Mt. Pilot’s frequencies on your radio but you never hear them. Why is that? Your range is set to include them and they show up but the radio doesn’t stop on them. There are a couple possible answers:

The first reason may be that they are too far away. Just because they are within the range settings of the radio doesn’t mean your scanner will actually be able to hear them. Perhaps sometimes you can hear them and other times not. Radio signals are predictably unpredictable.

Systems are designed to reliably cover specific areas. When you are within those areas your scanner should be able to hear them all the time. When you are outside the main coverage area it all depends on things like elevation (yours and the transmitters), terrain, obstructions, distance and sometimes even the weather. If there is a mountain between you and them you may not hear them. If you cannot hear them you might want to try a taller antenna, but that is a post for a different day. A good rule of thumb is that if the agency’s radios work where you are your scanner should as well.

Another reason might include the database being wrong. The HomePatrol Database is derived from the database at RadioReference.com. This is maintained by scanner enthusiasts all around the world. Some areas are better covered than others. If there are a lot of dedicated scanner users in the area the database is liable to be more accurate.

Still another reason might be that your scanner is not capable of hearing the type of signals used.

Whistler ZIP Code scanners work differently. You select a location and the radio offers a set of systems and channels to enter into a ScanList. The same thing applies for distance however; you may not hear something that is closer than others due to obstructions, low antennas or power.

If this is all too confusing for you then have ScannerMaster perform its “Setup and Optimize” service on your scanner. We will set up Favorites Lists for your county or counties so you will only have the items programmed into your scanner that you really want!

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Software UPDATE: ARCXT Software V.2.1 Build 3

BuTel ARCXT Software update is now available
Download here ARCXT Basic / ARCXT PRO

BuTelChanges in 2.1 build 3:

  • added support for DMR/Mototrbo systems
  • added talk group filters to RR import
  • added service type filters to RR import
  • fixed error message in RR import
  • add print group quick keys option
  • added Color code settings to DL/DPL

DMR/ProVoice firmware update information 

Note:
Owners of the BCD325P2 and BCD996P2 must update the scanner firmware in order to use the new ARCXT update.  This is only for P2 models and does not effect XT models.

BCD325P2 Firmware Updates
BCD996P2 Firmware Updates

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Uniden Location Based scanner hints

Uniden’s line of Location Based scanners allow one to enter their location (usually by ZIP Code) to load local channels without needing to know frequencies, systems, talkgroups and other technobabble. There are a couple things to remember and a couple byproducts that can make life your scanner easier. These scanners include the HomePatrol 1 & 2, as well as the BCD436HP and BCD536HP.

First the good stuff! Did you know that you do not need the scanner itself to do most updates, including firmware? That’s right! If the radio is mounted in the car (especially for the BCD536HP) just remove the memory card and connect it to your computer using a card reader. Since these are “Mini SD-Cards” you will need a card reader that will read them or one that works with standard SD Cards and a Mini SD-Card adapter. Just plug the SD card into the card reader and then the reader into the computer and run Sentinel just like you would if the radio was plugged in. (When doing the Extreme, DMR or ProVoice Updates you must do them on the radio itself as the code is installed from the keypad.)

SD Card readers are inexpensive and some computers have SD-Card readers built in. Remember that the Mini SD-Card requires the Full-Size adapter since most computer slots and card readers do not accommodate the Mini SD-Card directly. While Uniden doesn’t supply the adapter card with the radios they are easy to find and come with Mini SD-Cards you buy in the store. This leads us to the next part:

Get a spare card!

Why have just one SD-Card for your scanner when you can have several? SD-Cards are cheap these days. You can buy spare or replacement cards anywhere (including ScannerMaster) and keep them in case you have difficulties. One problem with SD-Card based scanners is that the cards can be corrupted if the power is removed while the radio is on. Since the radio has to write some closing data to the card, one must turn the radio off before removing power or the batteries. Sometimes a voltage spike could cause this as well.

With a spare programmed SD-Card you can be ready if you have a problem. I have found that having a spare seems to prevent the need for it; the only time I corrupted a card was when I was on the road with no computer. I have since always carried a programmed spare card and never had a corruption issue. Coincidence? I think not!

Update your radio.

Using a card-reader to update the SD-Card in your Uniden Location Based scanner is simple, you can update the firmware, database and Favorites Lists directly on the card itself, plug the card in and the radio will automatically be updated. When you do this the radio’s firmware will be updated the first time you power the radio up with the new or reprogrammed card. The database and any enabled favorites lists will then load.

On the 536 you can just pop the card in and out from the front panel. Be sure to turn the radio off first! On HomePatrol and 436 radios the card is behind the batteries, so to access it remove the batteries, On the 436 slide the small metal retaining clip over and remove the card. To replace the card slide it into the clip, fold it down and slide the clip over again. On the HomePatrol the care pops in a slot, gently press it in a tiny bit to release it. When replacing the card carefully pop it into the slot until it clicks in.

Buy a new card from ScannerMaster!

When we do our Setup and Optimize on a scanner most customers would send the radio in to us, we do the updates etc. and then ship the radio back to the customer. We soon figured out that it would be easier and cheaper for the customer to buy a replacement card, have the card programmed and delivered. This way an expensive radio isn’t being shipped across the country twice, risking damage or loss. You get a new SD-Card, of a type faster and more reliable than that supplied with the radio. If your old card still works then you already have a spare. You save up to 10 days of transit time, don’t have to pay expensive shipping fees. Mailing an SD-Card costs less than $2.00, shipping a radio costs $15-25 each way. We also include the Full-Size adapter!

You can also create SD-Cards yourself with Sentinel. Remember that you need to use the “Clear User Data” menu item on a new card to format it for use on your Uniden radio.

Whistler SD-Card based scanners can be updated to a lesser extent, the DSP and firmware updates must be done thru the radio itself. The mobile Whistler scanners (WS-1095, WS-1098 and TRX-2) come with a full-size SD Card, the portable Whistler scanners use Mini SD Cards. Mini SD-Cards can be used in the mobile radios with the full-size adapter.

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EZ-Scan Install Hints

Everything you need to know about Whistler Scanners and SD-Cards in one handy location!

After installing EZ-Scan on a bunch of computers and talking to several customers on the phone it appears that there are issues installing EZ-Scan from the memory card. This occurs on on various Whistler scanners, like the new TRX-1 and TRX-2 as well as the older WS-1098, 1095, 1088 and 1080’s. It appears that the most problem-free method to follow is to download the installer from the Whistler website and install and update it before connecting to your radio.

Follow these steps and you should be good to go. While we have also installed it fine in some instances from the memory card there have been enough issues to warrant us suggesting this method to avoid problems.
1) Download the software from Whistler (https://www.whistlergroup.com/usa/updates/)
    (Do NOT install the version on the memory card)
2) Install it on your computer from the downloaded file.
3) Check for updates to the SOFTWARE and run them if applicable
4) Connect the scanner to the computer and run the database, firmware and DSP updates via EZ-Scan.
Here at ScannerMaster our folks have used this procedure on several computers with no issues. We did have a problem on a couple computers installing from the SD Card and reverted to the above procedures to make it work.
Remember that on Whistler scanners the scanner needs to be OFF to recognize the card for database updates and programming. This is the opposite of Uniden scanners. Also remember that you can use an SD Card reader to program your radio instead of connecting the radio itself. This is sometimes quicker due to the faster read-write times of a card reader. You still need to connect the radio (with the card installed) to do firmware updates.
Mac users: This worked fine in Windows 7 and Windows 10 using Parallels and BootCamp. Joy for the Rest of Us!
EZ-Scan has the ability to reformat SD Cards from within the application. Instructions are provided at the above software link. You can create spare SD Cards for your scanner in case your regular card gets corrupted. Certain SD-Cards may perform better in the scanner but also know when using larger capacity cards the radio will take longer to become active at startup. Once the radio is on it should work just fine with higher capacity cards, it just takes longer to load.
Whistler mobile radios (TRX-2, WS-1098, WS-1095) use full-size SD Cards (or Mini-SD Cards with the full-size adapter) while the handheld scanners (TRX-1, WS-1088, WS-1080) use Mini SD-Cards. Cards are cheap, buy a good one if you want better results and more reliability.
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ProVoice, DMR, MotoTRBO, NXDN and scanners FAQ

Recently Uniden and Whistler announced scanners with capabilities of handling new digital formats. Each company has announced updates to their top-tier scanners and Whistler has also announced new models.

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions:

Q: What is DMR?

A: Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) is a digital format, similar in function to APCO P-25. It is mostly used by businesses but occasionally by public safety users. It is less expensive than P25 for the end user but it is not compatible with P-25 radios. It can be used in conventional or trunked modes.

Q: What is MotoTRBO?

A: It is Motorola’s implementation of DMR. They added a few features to the DMR standard and named it TRBO. DMR scanners can handle TRBO.

Q: What about encryption?

A: If the user selects the Encrypted mode then scanners cannot monitor it. There are no modifications or upgrades that can be made to get past radio encryption.

Q: What is Uniden offering?

A: Uniden has announced updates to its BCD436HP (handheld) and BCD536HP (desktop/mobile) scanners. One update is for ProVoice, a digital format used for some public safety purposes in parts of the country. They have also announced updates for DMR and MotoTRBO formats occasionally used by public safety but more often used by business users. Each of these updates are paid and ScannerMaster can install them for you.

Q: What is Whistler offering?

A: Whistler has announced updates for its WS1080 and WS1088 (handheld) and WS1095 and WS1098 (Desktop/mobile) scanners for DMR and MotoTRBO. These are free updates that are installed by updating the firmware in EZ-Scan. Again, ScannerMaster will be happy to install these for you as part of our Setup & Optimize service. No ProVoice upgrades have been announced for Whistler scanners.

In addition, Whistler has announced 2 new scanners. The TRX-1 (handheld) and TRX-2 (desktop/mobile) will work on DMR and MotoTRBO out of the box and will be updatable later for NXDN. (Expected about January 2017.)

Q: What about NXDN?

A: NXDN is a separate digital format used by some public safety agencies and businesses. It is slated to be used by the nations railroads once the required updates are made to the railroad’s infrastructure and radio fleet.

Whistler has already announced that NXDN will be available sometime in late 2016/early 2017 for its TRX-1 and TRX-2 scanners but will not be available for others. Uniden has not announced any NXDN updates yet but has said they are working on “other formats”.

Q: What about DMR trunking?

A: Both the Uniden and Whistler scanners will track DMR trunking systems.

 Q: My question isn’t answered here. Where can I go for more information on these scanners or to buy them?

A: You can send your questions via email or call 1-800-SCANNER.

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DMR Scanning is coming soon! FAQs & More

DMR Scanning is coming soon! Here are some FAQ’s

On May 16, 2016 Uniden announced that the BCD436HP and BCD536HP scanners will soon be capable of being updated to allow reception of DMR and MotoTRBO communications. There are a lot of questions out there, here are some of them:

Q: What scanners will this work on?
A: At this time ONLY the BCD436HP and BCD536HP scanners.

Q: Will I be able to upgrade my (insert model here) scanner for DMR?
A: If it isn’t a BCD436HP or BCD536HP then no. There are no upgrade paths for ANY other scanner model.

Q: How much will it cost to update my scanner for DMR?
A: If you do it yourself the introductory price is currently $50 from Uniden. If you prefer ScannerMaster perform the update for you then it will be $69.95 plus return shipping (if not purchased with a new radio). The price may change.

Q: What formats of DMR will this update work with?
A: Conventional DMR and MotoTRBO as well as Capacity Plus and Connect Plus trunking.

Q: What about NXDN? IDAS? IDEN?
A: Only DMR and TRBO formats are covered now. Any possible future formats (if any) would be announced later.

Q: I have 2 (or more) x36 radios. Do I need to pay for each one? How does the pricing work?
A: The above prices are PER RADIO. If you want to update more than one radio you will have to pay for each.

 

Q: Do I need to have the ProVoice update also?
A: No, they are separate updates and are not dependent on each other. You can have the ProVoice and DMR updates at the same time, or just one or the other. Each is a separate purchase.

Q: If I update my radio now and sell it can I install the update to my other radio?
A: No. Once updated the update will only work with that radio. If you sell the updated radio the update stays with the radio, you cannot remove it and install it into a different one.

Q: When can I obtain the update?
A: As soon as Uniden makes it available. As of mid May 2016 they are still tweaking the update and ironing out some wrinkles to ensure a smooth installation and operation.

Q: How do I do the update?
A: Hard way: First you update the radio with the latest Uniden Firmware Update for the x36 radios by using Sentinel. Then you obtain the ESN (Electronic serial number) via the menu system of the radio. Then you go to Uniden.com and order the update, providing the ESN at the time. You will then be provided with a one-time code to enter into the radio via the radio’s menu system. After all that the x36 radio will be capable of decoding DMR audio and trunking.

Easy way: Just send the radio to us and we will do all this for you and return the radio to you. Fill out the form at (insert link to form) and send it and the radio to us and a little while later you will get it back ready to go with the DMR Update installed.

Q: Will I be able to see it in action first?
A: Sure, come see us at HamVention 2016 this weekend in Dayton OH. ScannerMaster will be in Booth 402 to demonstrate the update to you!

If there are any other questions please contact us at support@scannermaster.com or 800-SCANNER and we will do our best at answering it!

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Favorite Scanner: RS PRO-2004

Years ago in the mid and late 1980’s police scanners were pretty tame by today’s standards. 20 channels was the norm, 50 channel scanners were top of the line. Most scanners did not cover 800 MHz, the displays were small and hard to view.

Radio Shack surprised the scanning world in 1987 when it introduced the revolutionary PRO-2004 scanner.  Made by GRE (like most RS scanners at the time), it had 300 channels, totally unheard of at the time. People actually complained that there were too many channels available! Soon it was discovered that the memory could be easily expanded to allow 400 channels.

In addition the PRO-2004 had full coverage from 25-520 MHz. and 760-1300 MHz. This was also unheard of at the time. This was one of the first radios that covered the entire spectrum, including Military Air and more. Later versions of the PRO-2004 had the cellular bands removed from the radio.

The radio itself was pretty big and heavy. There was a lot of metal involved, the entire frame and case was made of steel, just the front panel was plastic. The metal case helped reduce outside interference sources. The radio soon developed a reputation for excellent sensitivity and image rejection and it was soon considered the top-of-the-heap scanner.

An entire cottage industry soon developed for modifications to the PRO-2004. It had plenty of room inside for additional boards and components. The radio had a diode matrix used to configure it for different areas and these uses were discovered in short order. Enterprising hobbyists created memory expansion cards. computer interfaces and data decoders to be installed to the radio.

The PRO-2004 spawned 2 successors, the PRO2005 and PRO2006. These were essentially identical to each other with minor updates to the 2006. The 2005/6 were identical in function and features to the 2004 but were in a smaller plastic case (although the interior case was steel).

Almost 30 years on and the PRO-2004/5/6 are still considered among the best scanners ever made. Many are still in daily use. The large channel capacity and wide coverage made them ideal for Military aircraft listening. While current scanners dwarf them in features and capacity the PRO-2004 made a tidal wave sized splash in the scanner hobby. Old-timers maintain fond memories of these scanners.

 

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Firmware, Firmware, who needs Firmware?

OK, you have this whiz-bang multi-hundred dollar scanner sitting there and you want to make it much more better! You read about Firmware Updates but haven’t a clue what this means. Should you update the firmware on your scanner? If so how do I do it? What does it all mean? What is the meaning of all this? Can you do this for me?

First, let’s explain WHAT firmware is. Firmware is the operating system of your radio, it works behind the scenes and tells the radio how to deal with things like keyboard inputs, frequencies, etc. Just like your computer or phone has an operating system (Like Windows 10, iOS etc..) scanners do too. Remember, scanners these days are miniature computers, they work much in the same way.

Firmware updates are released for a couple reasons. They either fix a problem or add/change features. Sometimes they do both. As an example, the BCD436HP’s most recent firmware update added the ability to add ProVoice digital, the version before that addressed an issue with clock settings.

When updating firmware one must follow ALL instructions CAREFULLY! You have the possibility of “bricking” your radio if you don’t do it right. This means that your $500 scanner may now be more useful as a brick than a radio… Follow the provided instructions to the letter and make sure that the program and firmware file you use is intended for your radio. The firmware for the PRO106 will not work on the PRO97!

Before trying to update the firmware on your radio make sure you have properly downloaded the firmware file itself as well as the installation program (if needed) BEFORE you start. If you do not have a replacement firmware file to install do not start the process since this erases the existing firmware to make the radio ready for the new version. No new version means no radio once you get going.

Some radios firmware updates are easier than others. The HomePatrol type radios use a program called Sentinel to check for new firmware versions and install them (easy, safe). Other Uniden scanners use a “Bearcat Version Updater” program to install a new update. GRE/RadioShack/Whistler scanners also use an application to install new firmware versions (nerve-wracking maybe).

What they all have in common is that they require a computer running Windows to update. You can use also a Mac as long as you are running Windows on it (with Bootcamp, Parallels, Fusion etc.). You also need the appropriate cable to connect from your computer to the radio. This is usually done via USB but some older radios use a Serial port.

Before updating your firmware make sure you have the following on hand:

  • The radio you want to update
  • The proper cable for your radio, along with the drivers already installed (if needed)
  • The Firmware Updating program appropriate for your radio
  • The actual firmware file itself
  • A strong sedative or plenty of alcohol to calm your nerves (optional)

Follow the instructions included with the firmware update TO THE LETTER. Make sure your radio and the computer can communicate properly. If you have programming software for your radio then read it first and save the programming file just in case you need to restore it to the radio. This also ensures that the radio and computer can communicate.

We also suggest that you check the RadioReference forum for your radio to see what other peoples experiences have been. Reading about someone else’s mistake is a lot easier than trying to fix your own.

Owners of PRO651 and PRO652 scanners that had tried to update their radios’ firmware versions had issues since no firmware updates were available until recently. Now one can download them and install them so previously bricked radios can be reincarnated.

ScannerMaster can update the firmware on many different models of scanners. Download the Hometown Programming Form for your radio and check the Firmware Update option if you would prefer our expert programmers to do this for you. We keep them heavily sedated all of the time already so their nerves are steady. Firmware Updates for “Zip Code Scanners” (HomePatrol, 436/536 and the WS1080/1088/1095/1098 series scanners) is included with the Setup and Optimize package already, it is an extra cost option for other scanners. If you aren’t sure call us and we will let you know.

 

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