4 March 2016

More panel thoughts

I'm beginning to think that there is a temptation to put too many controls on my panel! Yes, I realise that this is a contradiction in many ways but it seems to me that some sort of balance needs to be struck between making frequently used controls easily available and having a physical control for everything you might ever want to change. Consider this early layout proposal, in which the small squares are push buttons and the large squares are rotary encoders.

First attempt at the physical panel layout

I am taking it as a given that I want VFO-A and VFO-B knobs. I also like the idea of a large colour display screen that can be used to show any radio parameters I like, including panadapter/waterfall displays. So with those as a given, the task at hand is to fit the other controls around them in an ergonomically sound fashion.

So what do I really need to be able to do quickly? Well certainly VFO tuning, audio level, filter settings and assignment of Tx/Rx functions to each VFO (split operation, etc.). That accounts for the big knobs, a few rotary encoders and a few push buttons. And the display, of course.

To the right of the display is a keypad of 12 buttons. No prizes for guessing what they are intended for - they are the band select buttons. They use up quite a bit of panel real estate.  How often do I change bands? Well quite often actually, but frequently that's under the control of my logging program, as a result of clicking on a spot. Other times I might be chasing some DX (or an FOC member in the Marathon) up the bands, so reasonably quick QSYs are a good thing. But does it need a field of physical buttons?

The proposed display unit

My chosen display, currently on the slow boat from Hong Kong, is a 5" (diagonal) touch screen. Perhaps a better option would be to have a single band select button that brings up a touch pad on the screen? One physical button instead of 12. And, importantly, the ability to easily add more touch pad buttons should, for example, a new band materialise one day.

Another thing to consider is that the physical panel is one part of a project that will let me try out various virtual panel layouts, simply by changing the software. That tends to argue for fewer, more critical, physical controls and greater use of the touch screen for other functions. It might also argue for a bigger touch screen.

Getting the balance right between ease of use/ergonomically sound layout and the temptation to replicate an entire FT5000 panel in hardware is going to be a bit of a challenge!


  1. John, regarding the front panel, yes it could almost be going back to a conventional rig with all of that and kind of defeats the object of keeping the desk clear. I find that I use the profile system so that I can jump band and mode with all the appropriate set ups all done but I guess that could involve even more buttons. Perhaps keeping these as an on screen menu/buttons will keep the hardware down.

  2. Indeed, Malcolm. I'm working on the panel design this afternoon and have pretty well decided that the way forward is a fairly small number of physical buttons that invoke on-screen menus. The availability of low cost touch screens makes that pretty well a no-brainer. More on this later, I predict.