Uniden BCD396XT non-standard “USB” cable and a source of connectors.

I’ve been modifying radios, scanners, and mobile phones for years. I’ve learned from experience that these industries are total bastards when it comes to connectors and pinouts. More often than not, the connector on any mobile device, including phones, is some proprietary one-off thing, even when the protocol is almost invariably serial. This goes double for scanners, communications receivers, and pagers. Hell, even GPS units have bizarro connectors. Connectors so badly designed and outrageously expensive that most people just made their own.

These are the sorts of things that are only justifiable to businessmen — Yes! make a one-of-a-kind undocumented connector, and then charge loads of money for cables and connectors, because we’re the only source! You can almost hear them laughing all the way to the bank extinction.

I recently acquired a Uniden Bearcat BCD396XT, which is a remarkable radio. The most salient feature of this radio is its ability to decode APCO25-standard broadcasts, which now comprise the majority of public service frequencies like police, fire, etc. But this radio goes a step further, allowing connection to a GPS (for “location based scanning”, a funny thing for a radio device, when radio was invented to overcome problems of distance) or to a computer for complete control. Problem is, the connector of interest is wacky.

This connector, though it kinda resembles USB connectors, does not transport a USB signal. It is a plain old serial connection. Why they chose to use this connector is beyond me. However, as a hacker, I want access to those pins. I could just open the radio and solder to the board, but it’s more elegant and flexible to find the connectors themselves. After taking some detailed photographs, and searching around a bit, I was able to find a replacement.

Detailed photographs:


Items on eBay — they can be had for about a dollar each, with shipping — a hell of a lot cheaper than the $20 asking price for the standard serial cable. The magic search words turned out to be “4 pin mini USB cable” (most are 5 pin, these 4 pin models appear on a few odd digital cameras and MP3 players).

Please note, these cables are only good for the connectors on the end. Plugging the radio into a USB port without a proper USB adapter is asking for pain.

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35 Responses to Uniden BCD396XT non-standard “USB” cable and a source of connectors.

  1. danreetz says:

    Update: I received these cables today, and they fit the BCD396XT well.

  2. Port80 says:

    Thats an awesome idea. I’ve got a BCD396XT also and have been eyeing the $$$$ Uniden USB-1 adaptor but just can’t convince myself that supporting that sort of corporate proprietary crap is worth it. How did you turn this ebay adaptor into a usable one for your scanner?

  3. I’ve draw the wiring diagram for between the male RS232 connector on motherboard and the female oddd connector on the scanner. Here’s the link:
    http://img529.imageshack.us/img529/6820/bc95xltserialportpinout.jpg

  4. danreetz says:

    That’s fantastic! Thank you Francois. May I archive it here, too?

  5. recountry2 says:

    Making a cable for my BCT 15. You are using the standard pin outs?

    1 VCC Red +5 VDC
    2 D- White Data –
    3 D+ Green Data +
    4 GND Black Ground

  6. danreetz says:

    I’m not sure I understand your question – the cable ends I linked would allow you to create a serial cable, not a USB cable… that’s what Francois described in his schematic.

  7. M.Steff says:

    I am about to make my own cable but I have a question for you. I found this site that has the pinout with 4 connections instead of 3:
    http://pinouts.ru/DevicesCables/uniden_bc246t_pinout.shtml

    Does the 4th connection matter?

  8. danreetz says:

    The safe bet would be to connect all 4. please let me know how it goes!

  9. M.Steff says:

    Thanks for replying. I will let you know. In your article you never mentioned if you actually built the serial cable. If yes, did it work and can you post some pics?

  10. Norm says:

    I see this is an old thread, but I found it searching for the same question, so maybe it will be useful to the next person. I built the the cable, total cost $1.99 shipping included on ebay. I had the DB-9 side of the cable in my scrap box. Works great, I’m using it with a CP-US-03 USB to Serial adapter, and this is on Windows 7, 64-bit. For the software side I’m using the Uniden BC95XLT SS.
    BTW, I used the 4 connections shown in the link provided by M.Steff.

  11. danreetz says:

    Norm, thanks for the followup-much appreciated- and very glad this was useful to you.

  12. Terry says:

    Would this 4-pin USB cable work if plugged into a USB port and then use a serial-USB driver such as the one provided by Uniden?

  13. danreetz says:

    Nope. what I’m showing here is that it’s not a USB port, it’s a serial port. If you want to do that, you need to use their cable, which has hardware in it to convert from serial to USB.

  14. Joe says:

    We will be offering this same cable with the FTDI chipset instead of the Prolific chipset that is in the Uniden OEM version.

    I have one sample available for testing. Let me know if you would like it and I will send free of charge.

    Thanks!

    Joe

  15. danreetz says:

    Hey Joe,
    Sure, I’d be very interested in testing one. I’ll email you.
    Daniel

  16. Alain says:

    Does this method fit for the home patrol 1 (4pin mini usb to usb then usb to gps 5pin)
    Without the famous serial rs232 adaptor and cable and mor ???
    Thank You
    Alain

  17. danreetz says:

    Alain, I’m sorry, I don’t know about the Home Patrol.

  18. Bob says:

    This connector best I can figure out is referred to as a DCUP-15
    Aiptek used them on many of their USB to camera connections. Using one on my GPS to HP1 now.
    I have not been able to find just the connector at Mouser or Digikey.

    Bob

  19. danreetz says:

    Thanks, Bob. I’ve never heard or seen any designation for it.

  20. danreetz says:

    BTW, I tested the product that Joe linked above, and it is excellent and a good alternative to making a cable yourself.

  21. Pete Bronlund says:

    Just a heads up to say in my rush to setup some control over a BCT15X so i could investigate using the program ProScan all i had to hand was a spare FTDI cable (TTL-232R-5V-WE) wire ended and a computer with no serial port. It took me a few hours to sort so i hope this helps at least one person not to get bogged down.

    I soldered on a D9 male; brown>8, black>5, orange>3, yellow>4 to the bare-ends FTDI cable for standard RS232 Serial. Your cable might already have a moulded on DB9.

    I downloaded FT_Prog from the FTDI website, allowed the cable to enumerate once plugged into the computer and ran it. Clicking Scan and Parse (the magnify icon) dumps out the status of the EEPROM in the cable. In the Device Tree, Click to open Hardware Specific then Invert RS232 Signals. On the right i clicked; Invert TXD, Invert RXD and Invert CTS# which left a check mark for each, then The Disc Icon to Save As Template. This programmed the cable for now to have inverted going data…

    Plugging my FTDI cable DB9 male into the standard included accessory Serial cable DB9 female end (that in turn plugs to the front connector on the radio) I just needed to ID the Serial port being by the FTDI (System Properties… Device Properties on the PC) I now have full access and control to the BTC15X and can get on with setting up remote control over IP with the ProScan Program…

  22. danreetz says:

    Thanks, Pete! Wasn’t even aware you could invert the data on an FTDI via software.

  23. Bob says:

    Best one I have found so far:
    http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/515013724/FOR_AIPTEK_VIVITAR_USB_CAMERA_CABLE.html

    It will fit the Uniden GPS connector on my HP-1 just fine. Cut off the other end and hook it to what ever GPS you have. The GPS connector on my HP-1 has come loose, I may just replace it with a 1/8″ stereo headphone connector. Much easier to deal with.

  24. Faust says:

    It´s an usb cable. Mini usb hirose, not just an old serial connection.

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  29. BlitzKriegBR says:

    I developed this simple PCB to help to solve the problem connecting the BCD396XT to a PC using a common USB to RS-232 cable AND the 4 pin mini USB cable. You can order the PCB from: https://oshpark.com/shared_projects/F1gkKYCV

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  31. Pablo Belmonte says:

    Good article! I was searching for this non-satandard cable for a long time! There are two variations: with 1 groove and 2 grooves:
    http://wiki.s1mp3.org/Temp:USB_cables

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  33. steve says:

    Hi all does anyone know where i can get the connectors from and a wiring diagram for the rh-96 remote head cable. On one end it has the funny uniden plug and the other is a headphone /aux plug
    Or even better know where to get the cable from
    Cheers steve

  34. amberhina says:

    Thats an awesome idea. I’ve got a BCD396XT also and from this blog its gona benefit me very well … thanks dude

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