A while ago I was invited to participate in Farnell's product road testing initiative. I'm a semi-regular customer of theirs and the idea seemed interesting, so I chose a pair of 433 MHz transmitter and receiver modules to test and review. It's something I wanted to play with since I threw a scrapped weather monitor into my parts bin. The modules arrived last week and I found some time to try them out.
These particular modules are RF Solutions AM-HRR3-433 and AM-RT4-433. They are hybrid circuits built on a ceramic substrate with SMD components and are equipped with 100-mil spaced pins (something of a rarity these days and quite convenient for quickly testing ideas). They are meant for simple digital remote control or telemetry using 100% amplitude modulation on the industrial 433 MHz band.
This receiver is super-regenerative (they also have super-heterodyne receivers that trade low price for somewhat better sensitivity and selectivity). The datasheet mentions the lack of any tunable components which means they are pretty much usable out of the box. The inductor on the receiver is laser-trimmed - you can see the dark trim line at the top-center of the (larger) receiver module where a laser cut adjusted the length of the coil. The receiver works on 5 V and sinks around 2.5 mA of quiescent current.
As the datasheet promised, the receiver went live at the first try, even on a protoboard with its less-then-stellar RF properties (the thin ceramic substrate did get me worried though that pushing the pins too hard might break it). The manufacturer advises against using protoboards, but apart from that doesn't specify any particular bypass capacitor or layout requirements. Not surprisingly perhaps, since there are basically just four connections you need to care about: supply, ground, antenna and demodulated output. Just to be sure I used a 47 μF electrolyte and a 100 nF polyester capacitors on the supply lines.
My first experiment was with the weather monitor I mentioned earlier. This is very simple telemetry, carrying a few tens of bits in a burst at around 500 Hz. The picture below shows the modulation input to the monitor's transmitter on the upper trace and the demodulated receiver output on the lower trace.
The receiver will also catch for instance the transmission from my car keys (a somewhat more compressed burst of a few hundreds of bits at 2 kHz):
Or any number of other of transmissions for which I have no idea where they originate from (although this page gives a few pointers in identifying the devices that transmit them). At least in this residential part of Ljubljana it seems this is a pretty crowded part of the spectrum.
A robust error detection and/or correction certainly looks like a must for any kind of communication here. Basically all those devices are communicating on a shared channel and depend on the fact that other devices only transmit for a small time interval and collisions are rare and detectable.
So to conclude, at £10.31 (a bit under 12 €) the receiver module certainly looks like a good bargain for anyone that doesn't want to get their hands dirty with their own RF circuitry. The TTL-compatible output makes it trivial to interface it to digital circuits and receiving telemetry from wireless devices like my weather station is just one microcontroller and a Manchester decoding routine away. Also beyond tinkering with one-off projects I don't see many cases where you would want to roll your own instead of using a finished module like this.
As you can see I only touched the receiver at the moment. I'll try a few experiments with the transmitter next. Now that I have a verified working transmitter/receiver pair I definitely plan to also check some of my own receiver ideas.