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Living up to the British tradition of always having been interested in the weather, I received as a Christmas present a while back a basic weather station that can sit in the lounge and give me all the information I need. The one that I have is from the well-respected company Oregon Scientific and is the BAR816 Next Generation Weather Station.
There are many different makes and models of weather station out there on the market these days, but I'd always heard of Oregon Scientific as being one of the better manufacturers of amateur weather stations, and this particular model can still be purchased for around about the £80 mark from several internet suppliers, and also on the high street in your local gadget or independent shop. I'd say that this is a good price to pay for an amateur as its not too much so if you find that you aren't as into the weather as you first thought, you've not wasted too much, and it does the basics well without going into too much technical detail.
The main weather station unit is a nice compact little piece, standing about 15cm high, by 7cm wide and only a couple of centimetres deep. As a result it's an ideal size to sit reasonably inconspicuously in the front room, or on a work or computer desk. It also comes with a screw slot so you can wall mount the unit if you so desire. It is a wireless unit, which saves space on annoying wires everywhere, and uses 3 AA batteries, which make it very easy to maintain and keep running. I find that it is pretty good on battery usage too, and I only have to change them every 3 or 4 times a year, which is ideal. The unit is a very neutral grey colour all over which adds to the "blending in" appeal along with its size and comes with a base to stand on, which is quite secure, and not easy to knock over and damage. The main display is an LCD display, but is covered with a see through Perspex cover, so again it's pretty durable and not prone to damage. A simple wipe with a cloth will clean dust from it, and so with all these features, maintenance is kept to a bare minimum, which is ideal in today's hectic world!
Setting up the weather station is luckily very straightforward, as one big disappointment with this product is the poor quality of the instruction booklet. It does contain a step by step guide to setting it up, but leaves out quite a few features, and deals with other is far too basic a manner. My advice would be to take a quick look, but trust your instincts when it comes to setting up, as its not too difficult. When you first open the product you have both the base unit, and also one external sensor. This also runs off AA batteries which again last a fair while, and are easy enough to replace with a small screw holding the battery compartment door closed, which provides some protection against the worst that the British weather can throw at it, and it communicates with the base unit via a radio link. The link is pretty strong and it states that it will reach up to 70m, but I wouldn't advise placing the sensor more than around 30 metres from the outside of your house if you want reliable, uninterrupted communication, which is more than adequate for the vast majority of households. I've also not noticed any interference with any other radio frequency based devices in the house, which can happen with some products. It is advisable to place the sensor somewhere in the garden, such as on a fence post, but also important that you avoid a place which is prone to extremes of conditions, such as a north-facing wall, or somewhere in direct sunlight, as this will lead to artificially inflated or deflated temperature readings. The device can handle up to 5 external sensors and process the data from all of them, which is ideal if you live in a big house with large gardens or are keen to develop more than an amateur interest in the weather as it will lead to more accurate data being recorded, with the more sensors you have, however for the average consumer, the single sensor is likely to be enough to get you started.
Once your sensor has been located and powered up, it will flash with a little red LED periodically. This is perfectly normal, shows the sensor unit is working and trying to communicate with the base unit. A small amount of information such as the temperature is also displayed on the sensor for you to have a glance at if you are outside. The next task is to power up your base unit and wait for communication, which should only take a maximum of 5 minutes. As I said, you can connect up to 5 sensor units, and the base unit will give them a communication channel from 1 to 5, depending on which order they first communicate. From this time on the unit will start to collect its data and within a few hours you will have a reasonably good idea of local weather conditions.
So that deals with setting the thing up, now exactly what does this unit show? Well at the top of the display is a pictorial view of the predicted weather for the next few hours. This is based upon the trend of the atmospheric pressure, relative humidity and temperature, and I have found it to be pretty reliable, with about an 80% accuracy rate, which is pretty good for the price of the station. It also displays the indoor temperature and humidity based upon its own readings, and also by scrolling through the channels, the temperature and relative humidity from each of the external sensors. It also stores the previous 12 hours of temperature, pressure and humidity data, so you can check just how cold it was the previous night, or during the day, which is pretty useful as you can see just how accurate the Met Office weather forecasts have been. It also shows a trend of whether humidity, pressure and temperature are rising or falling to allow you to come up with your own predictions. You can also choose to have the temperature displayed in either Celsius or Fahrenheit, whichever you are more used to. It also displays the time, and you can set an alarm on it, so it can be used as an alarm clock of sorts, and there is a built in light which is turned on and off with a push button on the top of the unit, so its use as a bedside alarm clock is also well merited. The clock doesn't require any messing about with as its also radio controlled, and will change when the clocks go backwards or forwards on its own within a few minutes when it detects a time signal.
I've found this product to be very reliable with its predictions and readings, and also in terms of maintenance, however one of the more common problems is a break in communications. This really worried me the first time it happened, but after a little trial and error (the instruction booklet is no help here either!), I found that the lack of communication is the first signal that the batteries need replacing in either the external sensor or the base unit. If you try doing this you will probably find that it communicates again fine with no further intervention.
So the important question is, would I recommend the BAR816 Next Generation Weather Station? Well my answer would be a solid yes with a couple of caveats. Firstly for people like me out there with more than a passing interest in the weather, it is an ideal and reasonably cheap way of getting some more information and having a go at your own predictions. It's interesting and also a bit of a conversation piece when people come and visit. However for those with no interest, you will not gain anything from having one of these, and you could spend the £80 or so on something that appeals to you more. Secondly for those who have a very keen interest in the weather and doing some readings yourself, there are more advanced weather stations out there on the market, but you will pay more. With some others you have the option of attaching an anemometer to measure wind speeds, and more advanced sensors which take into account specific as well as relative humidity to get a far more accurate picture of the weather, which will be of more interest and more suitable for you, but as I said, for the majority of budding weather forecasters out there, you can do a lot worse than pick up one of these.
Thanks for reading this review and it may appear on Ciao under my same username.
It features a radio controlled clock so you'll never need to worry about setting the time. The LCD display shows indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity. The unit can take up to 5 wireless sensors (1 included) making it ideal if you want to monitor the temperature and humidity around the house and garden. The unit incorporates an alarm with snooze and the pre-alarm function to warn you if the temperature has dropped outside to a pre-determined temperature. Ideal as it will wake you a few minutes earlier to scrap the ice off your car.