Watson W8681 Wireless Weather Station Review

 

Watson W-8681
The unit is made by Fine Offset Electronics. Based on information from Richard Barsby it is probably the WH1080 as he owns a WH1081 which he says doesn’t have the DCF time sync and to me at least the two are visibly indistinguishable on the Fine Offset Electronics website. I’ve also seen what appears to be the same unit sold as Elecsa AstroTouch 6975 by a German seller and Zephyr PWS-1000TD from the USA on eBay. PCE-FWS 20 is another incarnation, It is also being sold by Maplin as a USB Wireless Weather Forecaster for £79.99 which made it one of the most common entry level weather stations in the UK.

G6KIZ Weather station
December 2007
I’d been considering adding weather data to the G6KIZ iGate for some time but really couldn’t justify the cost. Then M0XDK drew my attention to the Watson W8681 weather station which W&S had announced in their newsletter and were selling on eBay at £95.95 delivered. The features on offer would normally cost at least 3 times more. Obviously there would be some corner cutting but I decided to get one anyway – an interesting gadget regardless of whether or not the data could be pushed into UIView. It arrived by courier next day which was excellent.

The W-8681 sensors
Watson W-8681 W8681 Wireless Weather Station sensorsThe sensors are intended to be assembled on the short two section stub mast that is included. This is very easy. Two of the leads are much longer than necessary for this layout and I used zip ties to make as tidy a job of the wiring as possible. Those long cables came in handy as I later modified this mounting in light of experience by attaching the wind gauges to a longer pole (actually a metal broom handle), ensuring that the transmitter which houses the temperature gauge is in the shade, and mounting the rain gauge to something firm so that it can’t be buffeted by the wind leading to false rainfall indications. A picture of this layout is shown in my WH1090 review – a later Fine Offset weather station.

I have some concerns on just how weatherproof the push in modular connectors and battery bay will be. The specifications say waterproof to IPX3 which may or may not prove to be good enough.

Two AA batteries need to be fitted and these should last at least two years according to the specifications.

Once the sensors were assembled on the stub mast I just zip tied the mast to an 8 foot length of rough cut timber and screwed it to a fence post. The mounting position is a bit of a compromise as it is probably a bit too close to a large conifer for wind direction measurements to be spot on but I doubt that the unit would ever be especially accurate anyway as the vane is very lightweight and completely undamped so the slightest gust sets it swinging.



The W-8681 display unit
Watson W-8681 W8681 Wireless Weather Station display unitAttention now shifted to the quite large display. It transpired that what I thought was a loose protective covering was in fact a faulty membrane that covers the screen to provide the touch screen facility. The unit was returned to W&S for replacement which took over a week to arrive which was far from good and rather took the gloss off the original fast delivery.

It requires three AA batteries which are supposed to last a year. I found that the contrast and backlighting (green LEDs) were both rather poor. M0XDK’s had a flickering led – caused by poor quality soldering and OK now he has fixed it. This unit is probably where the inevitable cost cutting is most immediately obvious. Later units incorporate a contrast adjustment and one correspondent says that his is fine on the middle setting.

 

 

Radio Link
This operates at 868MHz and I was originally concerned that this may be a problem as DigitalHam Towers is an old stone building with walls over two feet thick. It seems so far that I need not have worried as with the new display it has maintained sync.

The unit also uses the DCF transmitter located near Frankfurt in Germany to control its clock display. This took an age to sync initially and when it did it showed an hour fast despite the time zone being set correctly. I can only assume that this is a bug and it has added an hour DST despite it being December. I adjusted this manually.

Software
The supplied software automatically adds to an ever growing file with each record being a comma separated list of values. To get this data into a format acceptable to UIView requires some detective work on what is what and scripting to reformat it. As it happens I have a text editor which can run REXX which I used for this purpose. I doubted that this was mainstream enough to be of any use to other hams so I have now produced a Python script which will create a UIView data file – EasyWeather to UIView script This isn’t exactly mainstream either but at least it is open source.

The EasyWeather software has some problems with long term running. I have seen it hang once with an out of resources error. It regularly loses parts of the window furniture and wind direction display. Simply closing it and restarting clears these problems up but it does take a little while to get started again – this delay will probably increase as the internal data buffer fills because the documentation mentions that reading this data from the unit can take a couple of minutes. Changes to the various settings only seem to affect the display and the output data is fixed units – something to be aware of when converting for use in UIView.

User Guide
W8681 User Guide for anyone who has lost or did not receive a copy.

Conclusion
So is it worth the money? I’d give that a reserved yes. That may turn to a definite yes providing water ingress or other weather damage doesn’t put paid to the sensors. If I hadn’t been able to use the data for UIView and was judging the unit just on the display and software I would find it hard to recommend. If your main aim is use as an online weather station and you cannot do the necessary coding you would be advised to avoid this unit until someone has done the work and posted it on the web. I am rather surprised that Waters and Stanton have not produced software for this purpose as it would surely make the unit much more attractive to radio amateurs.

To see what happened later read the follow up.

I’ve had lots of correspondence about this weather station so now that I’ve converted DigitalHam to use WordPress I’m posting some of the emails as comments.



  60 Responses to “Watson W8681 Wireless Weather Station Review”

  1. I’ve had mine running for 3 years now – and I have to say it’s been great, with no faults. Batteries last about a year in the remote unit. Mine is fairly well sheltered (well the main remote unit is).

  2. Peta Jellis
    WATSON W-8681 Weather Station

    Can you please point me in the direction of someone who may be able to help me with the above equipment? I have had this weather station for several years now and it has worked well. But weather conditions have taken its toll and I have now replaced virtually all the “outside” equipment including the transmitter from Maplin. I am confident that I have got the correct parts.. However on the inside display, the outside temperature, humidity and wind direction will no longer display even though I can see that it is receiving a radio signal. I have rebooted the transmitter on several occasions by taking out the transmitter batteries, replacing and then watching for it to flash 5 times (as per the handbook instructions) but nothing! At one point it was picking up this data in the dead of night – weird or what?. But now it is not doing anything. I just don’t know what to do next. I am happy to buy another indoor display but suspect that this might not fix the problem? Any help/advice you could give me would be much appreciated please.

  3. Hi,

    have you ever had the new transmitter working? There are two types – one is 433MHz and the other 868MHz. The W8681 I have is 868MHz.

    They are sometimes difficult to sync too – it is vitally important not to touch the display until after it has synced. From memory although the instructions will confirm it you should power up the transmitter first before putting batteries into the display unit.

    Mark

  4. Thank you for your helpful email Mark. To answer your questions:

    1. No I have not had the new transmitter working other than seeing it show its “cone” symbol about every 5 minutes above the outdoor humidity space.
    2. I was interested in your comments about the MHz. I have kept the old transmitter (which only showed the outdoor readings at night!!) and cannot see where it states the MHz. I still have the box for the new one and again, I cannot see anything about the MHz on it only part no N25FR Sku: N79NF. Looking at the Maplin website, it only shows the one transmitter “Maplin Replacement Wireless Weather Transmitter for N96FY/N96GY” and no mention of different MHz. So I really can’t tell you what MHz I am using other than I worked perfectly for many years beforehand.
    3. I have tried rebooting several times and did note about not touching the display until after synced. I have tried this with and without batteries in both the transmitter and the display although I would have thought that without the batteries in the display unit it wouldn’t be able to receive a signal from the transmitter. Hand on heart, I can’t remember exactly whether we did try this without the batteries in the display unit but I have certainly taken them out since. I have to ask a friend to climb a ladder to reset and replace parts on the outdoor equipment and I think he is getting a bit fed up with this!!! I did replace all the moving parts before the transmitter in the hope that it would sort out the absence of data but when it didn’t, decided to buy a new transmitter too and since then – nothing. I attach data when it was working spasmodically with the old transmitter.

    I do appreciate your trying to help me. I do miss it not working properly and really would like it to be fixed. So any thoughts you or others have are gratefully received.

  5. Peta,

    the N79NF transmitter is for the N25FR weather station and the specs for that as given at http://www.maplin.co.uk/p/wireless-weather-station-n25fr show the transmitter frequency as 433MHz so it will not work with the W8681. If you still have the old transmitter I suggest you reinstate that one and pay careful attention to the “don’t touch until synced” instruction.

    Failing that I see the N25FR wether station is currently on offer at £44.99

    Mark