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Using the Skywatcher AZGTi with a Windows PC, ASIAIR, and Stellarmate: Review and Opinion

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#1 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 12:50 AM

The following is a lengthy post regarding my review and opinion using various hardware/software control devices with the Skywatcher AZGTi.  Hopefully the review is not too long, but I wanted to be comprehensive in order to answer the many questions I’ve read and received regarding these subjects as they relate to the AZGTi.  While some of this is more informative about the reviewed hardware and software, I hope that overall you will gain the understanding of how it performs with the AZGTi mount itself.


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#2 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 12:54 AM

 Using the Skywatcher AZGTi with a Windows PC, ASIAIR, and Stellarmate:  Review and Opinion

 

I wanted to write up what I hope will be an informative and useful comparison review detailing my experience with the SkyWatcher AZ-GTi mount and several “remote” solutions.  I compare several “control devices”, and which function/feature/ability is available and works with the AZ-GTi.  Specifically these control devices are a modern laptop, ZWO’s ASIAIR, Stellarmate, a PC Stick, and the Ockel Sirius A Pro mini PC.  I am not an experienced product reviewer, and I can only offer insight into my own experience with these devices, of course, your experience may vary, and I welcome any corrections, confirmations, or differences of opinion.

 

While I cannot comment on every available PC device, operating system, or application, you should be able to substitute comparable hardware and software and expect similar results.  Even if you don’t use the SkyWatcher AZ-GTi, you may find this information somewhat helpful with whatever mount you use.  Often where I list “Synscan” you can substitute your mount’s hand controller.

 

This review is focused on the pursuit of imaging (traditional or EAA), not visual, therefore most of the functions I evaluate are related to “Point-and-Shoot”.   “Point” being: Polar Alignment, Star Alignment, Targeting, Tracking and Guiding, and “Shoot” being: Focus, Calibration Frames, and Light Frames.  In addition, I consider Stacking, Sequencing, and Image Processing, as these might also be performed during the acquisition session.  As much as possible I’ll try to highlight the Pro’s or Con’s as related to the Skywatcher AZGTi, however, some of these are less about the mount, and more about the software or control device used.  Generally, “Pointing” is more about the mount, while “Shooting” is more about the other hardware and software.

 

Equipment used:
   Mount – SkyWatcher AZ-GTi (in EQ mode)
   Imaging Scope – William Optics Zenithstar 73 Imaging APO  (73mm aperture, 430mm focal length)
   Imaging Camera – ZWO ASI294MC Pro. (4/3 format, 4.63 um, 14bit ADC, 1.2e noise, 63700e well)
   Focuser – PrimaLuceLab Sesto Senso Robotic Focuser
   Guide Scope – William Optics 50mm  (50mm aperature, 200mm focal length)
   Guide Camera – ZWO ASI290MM Mini (1/3 format, 2.9um, 12bit ADC, 1.0e noise)

 

The following report will use terms defined thusly:
   Control Device – This is the hardware device connected to and directly controlling the gear (mount, guide-cam, imaging-cam, focuser)( Specs listed below). 
   Remote Device – This is the hardware device used, if any, to connect remotely to the Control Device.  In my case I generally used an iPad Pro, but this might be any other PC/Mac/Linux/iOS/Android device.  In all cases this connection was made wirelessly over the listed Network.
   Hardware Connection – This will be the media type of connection made to the various gear, and in the case of Network the device with the host network used.
   Function/Feature/Ability – This will list the “Point-and-Shoot” functions, by what means they were accomplished, and thoughts about my experience.

 

– Control Devices

Microsoft Surface Pro 5 – 16gb memory – 1tb storage – Win 10 Pro – Intel Core i7
ZWO ASIAIR – Raspberry Pi 3 device
Stellarmate – Raspberry Pi 3 device
AWOW PC Stick – 4gb memory – 64gb storage – Win 10 Pro – Intel Cherry Trail x5-Z8350
Ockel Sirius A Pro mini PC – 8gb memory – 128gb storage – Win 10 Pro – Intel Atom x7-Z8750 – built in touchscreen display


Edited by davidparks, 02 January 2019 - 01:22 AM.

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#3 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 12:57 AM

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 (many ASIAIR ratings colored yellow because they were either less than optimal, or I had to seek outside of the device for that function, which may be perfectly acceptable, but was a notable difference when comparing a device which had native provision for that function)


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#4 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:04 AM

Case #1 – Windows PC

 

I feel it expedient to combine the results for the Surface, Compute Stick, and Ockel into a single Control Device designated “Windows PC”, as the image acquisition and mount control experience is essentially the same with these devices, with minor performance differences based on processor speed and memory.  I highly recommend 8gb of memory, although 4 will work.  (This ‘sameness’ of experience does not apply to image post processing, where clearly more is better, more processor, more memory, etc.)

 

The Windows PC Control Device is physically saddled to the OTA, and connects to the AZGTi via the mount’s wireless network, and to the imaging camera via single USB3 cable.  The guide camera and focuser are connected to the imaging camera’s on-board hub via USB2 cables.  In the case of the Surface, the laptop is not physically saddled to the OTA, but rather situated on nearby small table or tethered to the imaging camera via USB3/CAT6 adapter, or active USB3 cable if I want to get in out of the cold winter night.  In the case of a PC Stick, a Remote Client is required for view and control.  In the case of the Ockel, a Remote Client is optional as the Ockel has a built in touch display.   In all cases both the Control and Remote Devices connect to the mounts wireless network.  The AZGTi also features a “station mode”, so the network used could be a private network which simultaneously provides internet access for live broadcast or other purpose.  Because all of my Windows devices run Windows 10 Pro, I use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), this does not require an internet connection or 3rd party account/service.  There are many other remote access software solutions and while this article will not discuss those, please be aware that you may have to configure your Control Device to automatically connect to networks, run host or server software for remote access, or otherwise allow you to connect via a Remote Device while in the field.   The fastest, easiest, and most stable configuration is of course the Surface cabled to the gear via single USB3, with or without extender.

 

Mount control is accomplished via the SynScan Pro for PC application (subsequently just ‘SynScan’), which not only provides many functions, features, and abilities, but also exposes the mount to the functions, features, and abilities of other PC applications through ASCOM.  You may simultaneously connect via SynScan on a mobile device, and/or use SkySafari on a mobile device.  While I list several software applications which I use, wherever I list ASCOM you will generally be able to use any ASCOM compatible software for Windows PC.  Furthermore, the software listed in bold is the one I primarily use, and my personal preference.

 

Functions/Features/Abilities

 

Polar Alignment –  SynScan, Sharpcap, PHD2, ASCOM – Sharpcap’s polar alignment feature is very easy to use and consistently yields < 1.5” RMS error with my setup, well under my 2.2”/pixel imaging resolution.  I feel it fair to say that you may experience more or less accuracy based upon the stability and tolerances of your equipment, Sharpcap delivers consistent results.  Please bear in mind that PA accuracy with the AZGTi is dependent upon the quality and stability of the tripod/pier and EQ Base that you use rather than the AZGTi mount head itself.

 

Star Alignment –  SynScan – The AZGTi is easy and quick to align using any of SynScan’s alignment routines.  For EQ Mode I recommend 2 or 3 star alignment.  Utilizing Sharpcap’s platesolving sync & slew when centering alignment stars provides for extremely accurate GoTo’s.  When accurately aligned, the AZGTi’s unguided tracking and spot on GoTo’s always make me smile.

 

SkySafari –  iPad connected to the mount’s wireless network, SkySafari directed to the PC running SynScan.

 

GoTo SynScan, SkySafari, SGP, ASCOM – SkyTools, Carter’s du Ciel, TheSky… etc.

 

Platesolving Sharpcap, SGP, ASCOM – I use All Sky Plate Solver for the engine behind Sharpcap because it’s very easy to manage the index files.

 

Guiding PHD2, Firecapture planet tracking, ASCOM – Even though I consistently have less RMS error than my imaging resolution, I feel I can take a somewhat relaxed attitude towards guiding and still obtain excellent long exposure imaging results.  The AZGTi takes guiding very well, and a much larger error can be guided out (as with the  ASIAIR, see review below).

 

AutoFocus – Sesto Senso, Sharpcap, SGP, ASCOM – Focusing with Sesto Senso is easy, fast, and extremely precise.  Sharpcap’s focus aid feature works great with the Sesto Senso, and SGP’s autofocus routine is even easier.

 

Calibration Frames Sharpcap, SGP, ASCOM.  This generally means being able to pause and manually control exposures so that dark covers and light panels can be put into place.  Flat’s taken “on-the-fly” between targets are quick and easy to setup with Sharpcap.

 

Light FramesSharpcap, SGP, ASCOM – complete and total control over all aspects of image acquisition, including pre-processing with lights and darks, bit-depth, file format, color balancing, stretching, etc.

 

Stacking – Live with Sharpcap – whether short exposure in the spirit of EAA, or longer exposure integrations, Sharpcap’s stacking features with various rejection filters, and guiding and dithering control is absolutely the best, bar none.

 

Sequencing SGP, ASCOM – full support for complex sequencing, equipment control, and data acquisition.

 

Case #1 – Windows PC – Summary

 

In my opinion, the Windows PC represents the Best Case Scenario, offering the most functional,  most versatile, and easiest setup/use experience.  All of the listed “Point-and-Shoot” functions can be easily, quickly, and accurately accomplished via SynScan, Sharpcap, and PHD2.  In the case of the Surface or other laptop, this scenario also provides post image processing.  This system is a joy to use due to it’s ease of use and accurate, consistent results.  Sharpcap provides pre-processed (dark, flat, color balanced, dithered and stacked) images for either immediate consumption (EAA), or that later go directly into post-processing to squeeze out every pixel of beauty.

 

All the features of Sharpcap, PHD2, SGP, and ASCOM - from setup, alignment, platesolving, guiding, on-the-fly calibration frames, live stacking, long exposures, fully automated sequencing…   Life couldn’t be sweeter.  The AZGTi is a great little mount that works well with all the latest technology and “best-in-class” software.


Edited by davidparks, 02 January 2019 - 02:18 PM.

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#5 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:09 AM

Case #2 – ASIAIR

 

The ASIAIR Control Device is physically saddled to the OTA, and connects via a usb serial cable to a SynScan Hand Controller, which in turn connects to the AZGTi mount.  SynScan Hand Controller sold separately.

 

UPDATE:  ASIAIR has now been updated with the latest INDI Drivers which include EQMOD drivers which work wirelessly with the AZGTi.  Hand Controller no longer needed.

ASIAIR connects only to ZWO branded cameras and filterwheels via USB2 cable.   ASIAIR connects only to INDI compatible mounts.  At this time, ASIAIR is not compatible with focusers and other equipment.  (Check ZWO website for compatible equipment).

 

ASIAIR is a proprietary INDI server running on a Raspberry Pi 3 device.  There is no provision for direct console connection/control.  Remote control is made possible via an iOS or Android app.  New features and functionalities are delivered through the mobile application as a ‘firmware update’.  The mobile app currently allows connection to 2 cameras (image and guide), mount (including on-camera st-4), and filterwheel.  Your mobile device must connect to the ASIAIR wireless network.  If using a wireless INDI compatible mount, it must have a “station-mode” to connect to the ASIAIR network.  The ASIAIR does not currently have a “station-mode”, so all equipment must connect to it.  There is currently no provision to connect the ASIAIR to other networks.  INDI compatible mounts may also be connected directly via usb/serial cable.

 

ASIAIR requires your equipment to be Polar Aligned and/or Star Aligned prior to use.  ASIAIR currently has no provision for Alignment.  A hand controller can be used to control the mount, or a mobile device running SynScan can be used (preferred).  This can be the same mobile device that is running ASAIR.  Because the wireless of the AZGTi can run in Access Point mode and Station mode simultaneously, you can connect a 2nd mobile device running Synscan to either the AZGTi wireless, or ASAIR wireless network.

 

Functions/Features/Abilities

 

Polar Alignment –  SynScan for mobile device, Hand Controller – SynScan polar alignment requires that you first be Star Aligned with at least a 2-star alignment.  Synscan prompts with easy instruction to select an alignment star, which it will then slew and ask you to center.  Synscan will then move the mount slightly and ask you to re-center the star using first your latitude, and then your longitude adjustments.  Having a finder scope/device is helpful for visual centering, however you can also use the “Focus Aid” in ASIAIR with crosshair turned on to help with centering.

 

Star Alignment –  SynScan, Hand Controller – The AZGTi is very easy to star align using any of Synscan’s alignment routines, however, I recommend the 2 or 3 star alignment when in EQ mode.

 

SkySafari –  mobile device connected to the ASIAIR wireless network, SkySafari directed to the ASIAIR (this can be same device that is running the ASIAIR app, or 2nd device)

 

GoTo – Synscan, SkySafari, ASIAIR now includes a GoTo database – The ASIAIR database for GoTo objects is found on the ‘Mount’ settings page.  I found it very easy to use, giving interesting information as well as a thumbnail picture of the object.  The mount very accurately slewed to both of my test subjects (M45, M42) and I was very pleased that the Object Name was automatically used for my subsequent image acquisition file names.

 

Platesolving ASIAIR – I’m sure platesolving is dependent upon having the correct aperture and focal length settings of your main telescope, so be sure to have them correct on the initial ASIAIR connection page, or subsequently in the Main Camera settings.  ASIAIR platesolving is FAST! It never failed to solve in less than 2 seconds, at which point it displays the center coordinates and optionally performs a SYNC with the mount.  ASIAIR Platesolve DID NOT then re-center the previously targeted coordinates.

 

Guiding – ASIAIR – You can turn guiding on and off from the icon on the left side of the screen.  Turning it on will display the guiding graph, and tapping the graph will open the guiding controls/screen.  Once a star is selected, ASIAIR will perform a calibration the first time before guiding.  PHD2 users will be familiar with this.  ASIAIR gave me a warning with the AZGTi that my DEC MAX was set too low.  After increasing it from 2000 to 5000ms I received no more warnings and ASIAIR was able to successfully guide out a 5-6” RMS error.

 

AutoFocus – No provision – ASIAIR provides a “Focus Aid” screen which continuously updates with the camera’s latest image, providing star measurement.  I found it somewhat frustrating to focus due to several factors including the download/update speed of screen refresh, lack of understanding and inconsistent feedback given by the star measurement, and inability to zoom in or brighten Bahtinov diffraction spikes after giving up on the star measurements.  I got close, but not so finely focused as I am used to when I can use my Sesto Senso robotic focuser, and it took more time than I like.  Focusing became a chore which I would not look forward to with changing temperature, or if using filters.

 

Calibration Frames – ASIAIR, limited… see below

 

Light Frames – ASIAIR – ASIAIR does provide a manual and auto histogram stretch for your preview/screen, but saves the uncalibrated, non-stretched, non-color balanced FITS file to the SD Card.  You will need to calibrate, debayer, and otherwise process in post.

 

Stacking – No Provision – ASIAIR clearly states that it is designed for DSO imaging.

 

Sequencing – ASIAIR, not the way I think of sequencing… see below

 

Case #2 – ASIAIR – Summary

 

I had to change the ASIAIR network from the 5Ghz band to the 2.4Ghz band in order to connect the AZGTi in station mode to the ASIAIR network.  I am an IT Professional so I’m pretty good at these things, however, if someone else can successfully connect using the 5Ghz band, I’d be interested in comparing notes.  While the 2.4Ghz band offers a longer wireless range, it also suffers from slower data transmission speeds.  This download speed has a definite impact on the user experience, particularly when using a continuous update mode like in the Focus Aid feature.

 

Although I hope ASIAIR offers a polar alignment feature in the future, this and sky alignment can be accomplished via SynScan with the AZGTi (or hand controller/polemaster for other mounts).   For mounts that do not have a built in GoTo database (like SynScan), the inclusion of the new GoTo database in ASIAIR is a very welcomed feature.  I found it very easy to search, select, and use.

 

The ASIAIR has basic control of your ZWO camera, including exposure, gain, and cooling.  It saves images to the SD Card in FITS format.  You can designate a quantity of images as “Flat”, “Dark”, “Bias”, or “Light”, which does nothing more than append this designation to the image filename.  You cannot “sequence” them together as there is no provision for pausing, or prompting for dark covers, light panels, or re-focus.  Also, you must previously work out what gain and exposure setting you will need for your flats, swapping back and forth between the camera settings page (for gain), and preview page (for exposure and histogram).  There is no provision for precise eDu measurement for flats, you can only ‘guesstimate’ based on a ‘close to the middle’ luminance curve on the histogram, ignoring the un-balanced RGB curves. There is no provision for color balance when using an OSC camera (preview images can be debayered).   You can sequence a series of acquisitions using different exposures without any pauses between.  For example: you could take any number of 1 second exposures, immediately followed by any number of 10 second exposures (or any selectable exposure time).  I do not see how you could sequence different types of calibration frames without being able to accommodate pauses and prompts for the equipment changes these different frame types require.  The use of a Dark Library in post may preclude the need to take temperature matched darks on-the-fly, and you might be fine doing Flats at a later time as long as your image train doesn’t change. (I like to rotate my camera between targets to frame each appropriately, so I like taking flats for each target).   My main point here is to help illustrate the process/experience of acquiring data with the ASIAIR, and to point out that it is not presently “sequencing” the same way you might do in something like Sequence Generator Pro or Ekos.  Ultimately these features are all software controlled, and I hope will receive updates from ZWO over time.


Edited by davidparks, 02 January 2019 - 01:10 AM.

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#6 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:14 AM

Case #3 – Stellarmate

 

The Stellarmate Gadget (Raspberry Pi3) is physically saddled to the OTA, and connects to the mount via the AZGTi’s wireless network. Like the Windows PC, you could optionally utilize a private network which includes internet access.   I was able to connect the Sesto Senso focuser directly to the Stellarmate via short USB2 cable.  The 2 cameras were connected in sequence via USB2 cable.  Because Stellarmate runs on an open Rasbian OS, using K-Stars/Ekos, you can use any equipment with INDI compatible drivers, including mounts, cameras, filterwheels, focuser, domes, etc.  Check the INDI website for your particular equipment.  After running the “Software Updater”, Stellarmate can use the EQMOD driver to control the AZGTi wirelessly.  This was a very easy and straight forward configuration, and there is very well written documentation on the INDI site if needed.

 

KStars is a full featured planetarium program which allows you to visualize and navigate the night sky, and control your telescope via Slew and Goto much like SkySafari.  You can simultaneously connect SkySafari to Stellarmate, although you may find this to be redundant, as KStars gives you similar functionality.  The Stellarmate App (I used the iOS version), allows you to start and configure the INDI server and drivers for your equipment, configure and control the Raspberry Pi, and connect via VNC to the Stellarmate desktop.  The Stellarmate desktop not only allows you to run KStars with EKos, but gives you complete OS control with the ability to update all the included software, and even add other Rasbian compatible software should you wish to.   Unlike the ASIAIR, you can connect an external monitor via HDMI, and USB keyboard/mouse for the full desktop experience.

 

Functions/Features/Abilities

 

Polar Alignment –  Ekos – Polar Alignment is simple and straight forward using the Ekos Alignment module.  With the Alignment Module, you can Platesolve, Sync, and Slew to Target.  Ekos modules in general are very robust and feature rich.  You may want to review tutorials and documentation.

 

Star Alignment –  Ekos – As with Polar Alignment, the Ekos Alignment module is easy to use.  The more alignment stars you add, the more accurate your GoTo’s will be. 

 

SkySafari –  INDI – INDI allows for SkySafari connections to be made from mobile devices.

 

GoTo – Kstars, Skysafari – Full featured planetarium program working with Ekos/INDI with the ability to target and Goto.

 

Platesolving – Included in the Alignment Module of Ekos, with index files already installed on Stellarmate, you can configure for online or offline use, including Blind Solving.

 

Guiding – Ekos, PHD2 – The AZGTi takes guiding extremely well.  I recommend using the internal guiding of the Ekos guiding module, as it is very capable, easy to use, and fully integrated with the other Ekos modules that you are already using.  However, you can easily configure Stellarmate to use PHD2, which comes pre-installed.

 

AutoFocus – Ekos – Similar to SGP, Ekos provides focus and autofocus ability with it’s Focus and Framing module.  This works fantastically with the Sesto Senso, and I would expect the same success using any other INDI compatible motorized focuser.  The focus module can be fully automated and includes the ability to auto select star, dark frame correction, automatically suspend guiding during the focus operation, and work with your filterwheel and filters.  It’s very pleasing to see a well defined V-curve that pinpoints correct focus.

 

Calibration Frames - Ekos – Manual and Automatic calibration frames can be sequenced and scheduled, including Darks, Flats, and Bias, using manual equipment such as dust covers and light panels, or auto equipment such as “flip-flats”.  The capture module allows you to set a flat exposure time, or can even automatically set the exposure based on a set ADU (I used 32000 for my ASI294).

 

Light Frames – Ekos - I could not find any way to control GAIN from the Ekos Capture Module, however you can select Gain, as well as Red and Blue balance for OSC cameras from the INDI control panel.  Once set, you rarely need to change them.  Otherwise, you have complete control over your imaging with exposures, number of frames, size (ROI), binning, etc.   You can configure the capture module with limits, such as meeting guiding deviation, meridian flip, and auto focusing based on measured HFR values or time based, such as every hour.

 

Stacking – No provision for stacking.  Stellarmate is designed to be a full featured imaging platform in the more traditional vein of astrophotography, for which I think it excels, but Live Stacking is not provided for.

 

Sequencing – Ekos -  Full feature scheduling and sequencing, with fully automated equipment control.  The scheduling module integrates tracking, guiding, and focus, as well as imaging sequences.  It even includes the ability to do Mosaic sequences.

 

Case #3 – Stellarmate – Summary

 

Stellarmate is a very mature, fully developed and feature rich (via Kstars/Ekos/Indi) product with support for a wide range of compatible equipment.  I do feel there is a bigger learning curve with Ekos than with the ASIAIR, but you get far more capability and versatility with the Stellarmate.  SGP users may find themselves right at home with Ekos.  All of the Ekos modules worked very well with my equipment, most notably the AZGTi, which was very easy to configure for direct wireless mount control, no Synscan needed.   I had no issues using the Ekos modules via the remote connection from my iPad, however, I did experience minor annoyances when navigating Kstars via a touchscreen device.  The Raspberry Pi, like a Windows PC, and more specifically the application interfaces for these OS’s, are designed for a keyboard and mouse, not a touchscreen… where right-clicking the mouse could be a challenge.  The ASIAIR does not suffer from this, as it’s APP is built for and run on the mobile device, only using the Raspberry Pi as an INDI Server for direct equipment connection.  However, where ASIAIR is a closed, non-configurable INDI Server, Stellarmate is open, and completely configurable, so you can install Kstars/Ekos on your Windows PC, Linux, or MAC, and connect/control the Stellarmate INDI Server.   When in the field without a laptop, you can easily interface with Stellarmate via mobile device (I’d recommend a tablet, as I believe a phone screen would be just too small for a mouse pointer driven interface), and when at home you might find the wireless remote connection to the Stellarmate INDI server from a Windows/Linux/Mac installation of Kstars/Ekos even more versatile and satisfying.


Edited by davidparks, 02 January 2019 - 01:15 AM.

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#7 davidparks

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:15 AM

Opinionated (but experienced) Summary

 

The Windows PC experience clearly outshines the others by a HUGE margin.  With it’s plethora of software choices and ASCOM compatibility, you can have any and all features and abilities that you may want or need to obtain consistently great images.  The only possible downside I can think of might be in the power management area, where a laptop would require more power than a Raspberry Pi/Mobile/Combo.  My Surface Pro has a great battery that lasts all night, however I can easily supplement if needed from the Suaoki lithium cell that I use to power the whole rig.  While power is not such a concern for me, it is something I urge you to consider for your situation and gear.  I’d also like to mention that it is very easy to power all of this equipment including the focuser, ASIAIR, Stellarmate, PC Stick, and camera cooler from the same 12v power line used to power the AZGTi.  While my power draw did peak at 2 amps with cooler on, slewing the AZGTi in both axis at highest speed, and running the focuser out, my average draw was just 1 amp.  Even the Ockel, with it’s built in touch screen display only pulled 1 additional 12v amp before converting to its preferred 5v 3amp flavor.

 

Obviously, I recommend using SynScan for PC, Sharpcap, and PHD2 (optionally Skysafari), for a “best-in-class” experience with the AZGTi, especially for EAA Live Stacking, but even for long exposure integrations.  Toss in SGP for fully automated sequencing.

 

If you are looking for a Raspberry Pi remote solution, I’d recommend Stellarmate over ZWO’s ASIAIR, unless your situation falls strictly within the ASIAIR’s limitations (equipment compatibility) and only use manual focusing.  If you really like Kstars/Ekos, I’d recommend either a Stellarmate, or consider running the INDI Server for Windows on a PC Stick, with Kstars/Ekos on your laptop.

 

The exciting part of course is that all of these options are available and can be successfully used with the Skywatcher AZGTi mount.  I couldn’t be happier with the performance of the AZGTi in terms of stability, consistency, and ease of use.  I’m equally happy that whether you want to simply use Synscan on your phone to control the AZGTi while visual, or want fully automated and sequenced imaging, or anything in between, we have many options to choose from.


Edited by davidparks, 02 January 2019 - 01:17 AM.

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#8 tkottary

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 01:55 PM

Nice review David ! As far as I recall you can set gain per filter in ekos via custom properties.
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#9 yoandresmza

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Posted 02 January 2019 - 08:16 PM

Great review David! This is just what I was looking for!

I probably decide for the StellarMate. I thought to buy only the OS since I have a RPi 3+ and its cost is only $49, do you know if there is a problem with that option?



#10 davidparks

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 09:10 AM

No problem at all with that option.  Having an existing RPi is exactly why Stellarmate offers the OS only download at reduced price.  It works exactly the same on any RPi3.  (Although some RPi's don't have a Real Time Clock, the Stellarmate RPi now comes with a RTC)



#11 mAnKiNd

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 10:02 AM

David, wonderful writeup and supremely informative, thank you for taking the time to do the research and then writeup your results.

The only thing I would like to add, is in regards to a mono plus filters situation in the application of traditional long exposure imaging, as your writeup pertains to a OSC setup.

I mention this in particular to highlight the need for extra usb ports. For example, i also use a zwo camera with a usb hub, which is occupied by the filter wheel and guide camera and which can relay information from the three usb devices (guider, filter wheel and mono camera) through one usb3 connection.

I also have a pegasus focuscube and a pegasus pocket powerbox, therefore, I need an extra two usb ports.

If I use a direct connection to my laptop, it has three ports, which suffice. I could also use the stellarmate and it's on board usb hub to connect to these (need to check if the pocket powerbox is indi supported).

The ASIAIR is currently not useful for someone in my position, as it doesn't support the pegasus gear. Hence, I'm left looking at a compute stick. The drawback with that, is that most compute sticks have one, perhaps two usb ports, which are not enough for my scenario.

This ultimately brings me to my point, the need to add a powered usb hub to this conversation so that only one usb cable is fed to the compute stick. I've tried a few of them and unfortunately i get disconnects to some of my equipment, namely the pegasus focuscube. Need to do some reading from other members here as to which usb hub is satisfactory for avoiding disconnects. I did consider purchasing the pegasus ultimate powerbox, but i cannot justify the large price hike for merely having more usb ports than the pocket powerbox.

It may be worthwhile then to add to your wonderful information, which usb powered hubs would work well for successfully using a single usb cable to the compute stick solution, when using multiple usb devices.

Many thanks again and have a wonderful year!
Minos


Edited by mAnKiNd, 03 January 2019 - 10:04 AM.

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#12 davidparks

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 01:10 PM

Thanks Minos,  yes, you bring up a very important piece of the puzzle for people trying to "put it all together".  In my experience USB hubs are not all created equal.  With some, it may be poor quality control in manufacturing, with others it can seem to be just plain hit-and-miss.  Not only can you get disconnects caused by plain old bad electrical connectivity/conductivity, but also disconnects in your wireless communication.  USB3.0 has a 5Gbps signaling rate and the noise from the USB3.0 data spectrum can be as high as 2.4 - 2.5 GHz... so it can cause wireless drops on the 2.4GHz band.  Sometimes a hub or cable can ground on a unibody chassis and interfere with the WiFi antennae, so you may just have to change the cable.  Having shielded cables can help, but sometimes the noise comes from the usb port itself.  If you can move the usb farther away from the wifi that can be helpful, but in a device like a Raspberry Pi or PC Stick, you have a wireless antenna and usb ports in very close proximity.  Best to run wireless at 5GHz if you can.

 

I've had good luck with this Anker USB Hub, and I like that it can be powered via a USB-Mini cable, so almost any portable battery works.  I'm not certifying that particular product, just saying when I was chasing dropping issues that's the one that worked for me.  I may have just gotten lucky with my sample of that product.

 

The number of ports needed is also an important consideration. I'm at 3 devices (2 cams, 1 focuser), a mono imager would add a filter wheel.  The Raspberry Pi does have 4 USB2 ports, however, i'm not sure all equipment will work with INDI if connected via hub.  My two zwo cameras had no problems being connected to one usb port, but I noticed INDI wanted to permanently assign a name to, and assign a specific port ID to my focuser, which it then reused without prompting the next time restarted.  I had no problems with this, but I had my focuser connected directly to the RPi, not through a hub... so potentially you could run out of non-hubbed ports...  and as you say, a PC stick might have 2 ports at best.

 

good points all


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#13 dapalmer

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 06:25 PM

This is a nice review and I appreciate the  time and effort it took to compile. It would great if you would provide separate summaries for the Surface, PC stick and Otek.   Any issues with processor power, memory, speed, available USB ports, etc.? 



#14 Ken Sturrock

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 07:00 PM

Thanks for taking the time to do the research and write this up, David!


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#15 davidparks

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 11:48 PM

This is a nice review and I appreciate the  time and effort it took to compile. It would great if you would provide separate summaries for the Surface, PC stick and Otek.   Any issues with processor power, memory, speed, available USB ports, etc.? 

As much as possible I wanted the review to focus on how these devices worked with the Skywatcher AZGTi.  Initially it started with a basic “yes/no” chart depicting simply if that function could be performed.  The results for the Windows Control Devices are essentially the same with the exception of running post processing software, because each one was capable of running the same “in the field” sofware like Sharpcap, PHD2, etc.  However, you are correct Doug, there definitely is a difference with those devices.  The differences are not related to the AZGTi, so I didn’t want to go into great detail on a “Mount” forum...

 

... that being said...  I’ll try to be brief -  generally more is better when it comes to PC resources.  None of the software used in the field on these devices demand a lot of processor, so even the Cherry Trail X5 on the PC Stick was more than sufficient.  Not true of memory, 4gb is barely enough to run the Windows OS and there are definite performance hits especially noticeable with Sharpcap and screen refresh rates when remote viewing/controlling.  I say Sharpcap because once you get Synscan and PHD2 going, they kind of just sit there doing their thing, while you are paying more attention to  Sharpcap, so the performance hit is more noticeable there.  It’s really an overall system struggle as the OS tries to juggle everything in virtual memory.  All that goes away at 8gb of memory as these applications get their own true memory allocations.   Communication speeds over wireless remote was the same regardless of device.  4gb memory works, and there are some services you can turn off, and others you can remove (like Cortana) that can really help, but 8gb makes a big difference.  In all cases just one USB3 port was used to connect Windows Control Device to the ASI294 imaging camera, the guide camera and focuser were connected to the USB2 hub on the ASI294. (I use retractable USB2 cables so the length varies with the focus travel, and never leaves wire hanging down).  Of course in the case of the Surface Pro, with it’s direct connection instead of remote view/control, fastest processor, and most memory of the devices I tested, the experience is exquisite waytogo.gif  I will say the Ockel is also a great performer, having 8gb and X7 processor.  One other advantage for the Ockel is it’s built in touchscreen, if you do need to troubleshoot a wireless connection, or whatever, no need to unmount it and stick it into a monitor/keyboard/mouse back inside the house.  Of course it’s also more pricey than a PC Stick..


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#16 DevilJack

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 11:54 PM

Nice write up David! Thanks for all the info!


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#17 Henrique J

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Posted 24 January 2019 - 08:56 PM

David,

 

Could you please ellaborate on Windows PC experiences a bit?

What do you consider as a preferred choice: using a portable PC + IPad Pro through RDP client or using a traditional laptop?

 

it seems to me that IPad Pro running RDP will tive you some freedom to move as the tablet shall connect wirelessly to Stick or mini PC.

 

Does the touchscreen of the IPad work with all buttons, sliders and checkboxes from PHD2, Sharpcap or SGP?

Is there anything awkward to command from the IPad ?

 

How does this experience compare to using a laptop running the very same software?

 

Congrats for all of your achievements with the little Az-GTi.

 

Regards

 

Henrique

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil



#18 sbradley07

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Posted 24 January 2019 - 11:02 PM

David, outstanding and incredibly complete write-up.  I think you nailed the key pluses and minuses.  I gravitated to the Stellarmate option primarily because of it's client server architecture; my network would not reliably support Window RD or VNC, so running a local ekos client on my Mac and connecting to the INDI server at the scope was the ideal solution for me. 

 

But I still have my little HP Elite laptop with all my ASCOM s/w from my pre-Stellarmate days as a backup.  Didn't think I'd need it, but I learned Stellarmate on Pi doesn't always appreciate having the power yanked on it (not sure if this is a Pi thing or a Stellarmate on Pi thing).  It was procedural errors on my part by not doing proper shut downs, but two times the sdcard somehow got botched and it failed to boot.  Not a huge issue because I just re-image the card with my backup, but annoying nonetheless.  So I had two nights with CdC and SGP and, not having used it for 6+ months, everything connected up first try and ran all night.  Solid.

 

BTW, I use the same USB hub you mentioned and it is rock solid.  I used it out of necessity when I was using Windows (only two USB ports on laptop), and found that the Pi struggled with 3 usb devices, so a powered usb hub was mandatory for running Stellarmate.

 

I have since fixed my network reliability issues by using powerline ethernet adapters, so the reason I went to Stellarmate has been eliminated.  But I still intend to stick with it simply because it's a tiny little box velcroed to my pier and it does everything I need!


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#19 davidparks

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Posted 25 January 2019 - 09:17 AM

 

Could you please ellaborate on Windows PC experiences a bit?

My preferred choice is connecting my Surface Pro via a single USB3 cable to the ASI294 imaging camera  (focuser and guidecam are connected to the imaging camera's built in hub)

Surface Pro connected to the AZGTi via wireless.

This gives the most responsive experience, as well as the native mouse driven interfaces of the software used.

 

Using the iPad as a remote screen to portable, totally wireless control is also very doable, and you are able to work with all of the buttons, sliders, etc of the windows GUI, however, it might be awkward with any right-click operations because you are using touch instead of a mouse, it all depends on your iPad's RDP client.  Also, the remote Windows PC that you are connecting to is likely to be something less than a powerful laptop, like a PC Stick or similar.  These devices work fine, but their performance will never be like a more powerful laptop. Also, adding in the "remote iPad control" is just another layer of communication, which again, works just fine, and can be very successful, but when comparing to a powerful laptop connected directly via USB cable will never perform as well.  The remote iPad control scenario, for me, is perfectly acceptable when and where I need to, but I will always prefer the direct connection of my Surface via USB to camera.

 

Having said all that, I'd like to point out that it doesn't make any difference with regards to control and operation of the AZGTi mount itself.  In all of these scenario's the mount is easily controlled with optimal performance.  No lags, No hestations, etc.  Mounts don't require nearly as much as video/images waytogo.gif


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#20 davidparks

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Posted 25 January 2019 - 09:34 AM

Didn't think I'd need it, but I learned Stellarmate on Pi doesn't always appreciate having the power yanked on it (not sure if this is a Pi thing or a Stellarmate on Pi thing).  It was procedural errors on my part by not doing proper shut downs, but two times the sdcard somehow got botched and it failed to boot.  Not a huge issue because I just re-image the card with my backup, but annoying nonetheless. 

Thank you Steve!  Yes, i understand it's a Pi thing, corrupting the SDCard when it's not shutdown properly.  In fact it was one of the original 'complaints' and feature requests for the ASIAIR because it didn't have a way to shutdown other than to remove power.  ZWO responded by including a power down option in their latest release.

 

I love the INDI architecture, most notably it's server/client model.  And while Ekos is a strong, full featured system which I enjoyed using, I much prefer the Windows applications, especially Sharpcap.  So I stick with my Surface connected via USB3  (I'll even use an active USB3 extension cable powered by the same 12v circuit as the mount), or connect remote using the Ockel mentioned in the above review.  But again, the INDI model is extremely versatile, and I've been looking for a similar architecture for ASCOM... like an "ASCOM Server for TCPIP".  I've found some small attempts at such, and some that is fine for some gear, but not video, not cameras.  I keep wishing we could connect Windows ASCOM software to an ASCOM server running on a PC Stick, or Pi, similar to INDI waytogo.gif   Either it doesn't exist, or I havn't found it. 


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#21 sbradley07

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Posted 25 January 2019 - 02:21 PM

Thank you Steve!  Yes, i understand it's a Pi thing, corrupting the SDCard when it's not shutdown properly.  In fact it was one of the original 'complaints' and feature requests for the ASIAIR because it didn't have a way to shutdown other than to remove power.  ZWO responded by including a power down option in their latest release.

 

I love the INDI architecture, most notably it's server/client model.  And while Ekos is a strong, full featured system which I enjoyed using, I much prefer the Windows applications, especially Sharpcap.  So I stick with my Surface connected via USB3  (I'll even use an active USB3 extension cable powered by the same 12v circuit as the mount), or connect remote using the Ockel mentioned in the above review.  But again, the INDI model is extremely versatile, and I've been looking for a similar architecture for ASCOM... like an "ASCOM Server for TCPIP".  I've found some small attempts at such, and some that is fine for some gear, but not video, not cameras.  I keep wishing we could connect Windows ASCOM software to an ASCOM server running on a PC Stick, or Pi, similar to INDI waytogo.gif   Either it doesn't exist, or I havn't found it. 

Your comment about an ASCOM server got my attention because I've never heard of that, but it would certainly be very cool.  Couldn't help myself from searching on it, and perhaps you've already found this, but isn't this exactly what you are describing?  https://github.com/A...ive/ASCOMRemote  I haven't dug into the doc yet, but it's using the ASCOM REST apis on a server.  There's code and installation documentation.  Cool...something new to tinker with wink.gif



#22 davidparks

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Posted 25 January 2019 - 03:24 PM

Yes Steve, that is more or less what I'm describing, however when I looked into that particular one, I believe i found that it did not support cameras.  It worked fine for mounts, focusers, domes, and other equipment types.  Maybe it's been updated since. 

 

I've been trying to find out more about Eros Lite Server & Client, which is apparently able to share ASCOM driver over TCP/IP, but I can't get any farther than this:  http://www.e-scop.org/astro-systems



#23 Henrique J

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Posted 25 January 2019 - 10:11 PM

Many thanks David.

Top notch analysis. Good point on right-clicks Windows thing. This may get complicated through the IPad interface.

For now, I’ll Stick to my trusty Dell laptop. At some point I may consider a Tablet that runs Windows 10 Pro.

I have already tested my AZ-Gti using the Synscan on the laptop. i can arrange the screen to show the app as well as APT. Sharpcap is on plan Wendy I start guiding. Never did that. But I’ll get there!

 

thanks again 

 

Henrique


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#24 davidparks

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Posted 26 January 2019 - 05:01 AM

A slightly different but same purpose idea would be USB OVER IP, basically USB Port/Device sharing.

 

I tested these products:

   USB Network Gate

   USB Over Network

   VirtualHere

 

Each of them worked great for most gear, again, with the exception of imaging camera bawling.gif 

 

Easy to use, run it on the server side and click Share for any device connected via USB

Run it on client side, and hit Connect on any device it sees on the network.  Very Slick.

 

But they just can't handle the data from an imaging camera.  I could successfully crop/ROI down to 800x600 or below with a few dropped frames here and there, but anything above 800x600 was just too much, nothing got thru.



#25 Ulmish

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Posted 27 January 2019 - 09:27 AM

Thanks for taking the time to write this excellent review, David! There is lots of good information here. I have an AZ -GTi on order to go with my AT72EDII as a portable setup.  It's interesting to see the options, especially with the RPi.  Too bad that there is no stacking capability with either the ASIAir or the StellarMate, which would make EAA rather difficult.


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