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Feedback from a user leaving Stellarmate

  • Posts: 28
  • Thank you received: 2
I am writing this to give feedback on my experience of using Stellarmate. After using Stellarmate for over a year, I have finally decided to move on to a windows mini PC setup because I faced too many problems. I hope that some of these are taken into consideration, as I would very much like Stellarmate to succeed. It has many advantages over its competitors, but sadly my experience has been that they are potential advantages, marred by the constant problems that I have faced.

I installed Stellarmate OS on a raspberry PI 4 with 4G RAM. I chose Stellarmate primarily because I was drawn to the concept of controlling my gear and doing EAA from indoors. I am not really interested in astrophotography. The live stacking was the feature that pulled me in. I was, and am still a beginner to EAA and astrophotography. My equipment is as follows:

1. Mounts I used: Explore Scientific iExos 100, Skywatcher EQM 35. I still have the latter mount, and am trying a new one, Skywatcher Az-Gti in Alt-az mode. I have not tried this with Stellarmate.
2. Telescopes: Skywatcher 72mm ED, Celestron C6 with f6.3 and f3.3 reducers.
3. Software setups I tried: VNC from windows laptop to RPI, Stellarmate app on Android, KStars/Ekos running on Windows connecting to the RPI
4. Cameras: PlayerOne Neptune C, ZWO ASI 120MM for guiding

Features I loved the most:
1. The indi drivers worked flawlessly. I never had to do a thing, once I knew which ones to select.
2. Ekos bundles imaging, platesolving and goto all in one. There is no replacement to this on Windows.
3. There is a dedicated app to Stellarmate. This is what separates it from Astroberry, and makes it a competitor to ASIAir.

What made me leave:

1. General software/usability problems: The wireless connection to the Rpi would drop unpredictably (the mount was connected to Rpi by wire, the Rpi was connected to home Wifi). This would happen unpredictably, sometimes in the middle of a session. Then I would have trouble connecting to it again, and unpredictably it would eventually work. This was very frustrating, especially for users like me who are new to EAA. I eventually got tired of reading forums trying to find out how other users fixed these issues.

2. The live stacking feature did not improve: it did the basics correctly. But even the basic controls of adjusting the histogram are not there. The sliders that are there, seem to be about adjusting the image properties like saturation, background, etc. I don't really know what they do, or whether they correspond to histogram adjustment in any way.

I do not know if the live stacking uses darks and flats. I need the flats to work because my telescope gets dew, and then dust motes are very visible on every stacked image. I asked on the forum here, but never got any answer.

This EAA feature should improve. KStars/Ekos supports much more equipment than ASIAir. But Cloudy nights is full of users of Stellarmate moving on to ASIAir for reasons of stability, and the stacking not as developed or smooth as ASIAir.

3. Stellarmate seems to be going in the direction of astrophotography more than EAA. Newer features that I see seem to be targeting users with observatories, multiple equipment and complicated workflows. A good example of this is optical trains. I can see how this would be useful for someone who has multiple setups. But for a user like me, it only added complications. I was never able to make it work correctly on the Android app. I tried adding my telescope with original and reduced focal lengths, added reducers separately, etc. But either it would not recognize the setup, or the platesolving would fail. This was the final experience that made me quit, because this feature broke the thing for me that had been working reliably all along (trying out different OTAs, and platesolving just working). This OS and app update also corrupted my Stellarmate installation, so I had to flash and reinstall just to get KStars and Ekos back.

Targeting astrophotographers is fine. But it seems to me that by offering an app, supporting live stacking, Stellarmate was trying to attract users from the EAA community. For some reason it seems that focus has shifted away from it, judging from new features and recent fixes. I have been on Cloudy Nights forums with many other users who have largely the same (small) set of struggles with Stellarmate (instability of the setup, random crashes, live stacking working but not fleshed out, live stacking not having intuitive controls), and the feeling is that these items were lower priority than newer features.


I want to reiterate how much I liked what Stellarmate promised. I'm on Windows now, and I miss the one-stop software experience that KStars/Ekos offered on my Android app. On Windows I have to use 3-4 pieces of software to get goto, platesolving and live stacking. And there is no mobile app solution other than doing a Remote desktop. And the single biggest advantage that Stellarmate has over ASIAir is that it supports so much more equipment.

I would really like Stellarmate to work for users like me. I will return to it once I see that it is stable and has features that are easy to use for people like me. But I'm afraid right now, for EAA users like me, ASIAir Pro/Plus has a clear advantage of usability and ease of use.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Jasem Mutlaq
2 months 3 weeks ago #87939

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1. Yes there are a lot of problems specially with latest releases. The wireless connectivity of Raspberry is horrible and does not depends from KStars/INDI. Wireless should not be never considered as a stable platform to do nothings. Cable is cable

2. Doing stacking of images with a Raspberry is not a good idea, they get too much resources. ASIAIR is based on KStars/INDI but then there are some stuffs made by paid peoples that to this as work. KStars/INDI developers are not paied people. If you have a stable system like a previous version of KStars/INDI you are not bound to do update, if a thing works does not touch is

3. i think that astrophotography is highly related to EAA. as i sad before, if a thing works does not touch is, you are not bound to do update, and before make a backup.

I also have some problems, but I have a card with my stable 3.4.2 and other with 3.5.6, 3.5.8 and 3.6.0.

Remember that ASIAir is based upon the FREE works of the KStars/INDI developers
2 months 3 weeks ago #87941

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1. There is cable between pi and mount. There is no cable between pi and the app or the client computer. Using a cable between the pi and the device with the app seems silly.

I used my home wifi to connect because it seemed to be the stablest approach.

2. I thought stellarmate is precisely doing this? Stacking on the pi?

I agree with the updates and backups. I updated the Android app. But it forced me to update the OS. The app stopped detecting all my cameras and I interpreted that as a consequence of not updating the OS. So I did.

3. I am not criticizing kstars, ekos or Indi. But I paid for stellarmate OS, so it seems reasonable that I expect a working product.

I do not know how asiair based their work on the free work of everybody here. I think it is fishy too. I have not bought the asiair. But from a user standpoint the product is more usable, so beginners will choose that. That's all I saying, that stellarmate can actually be superior and I gave it time, but the problems never went away.
2 months 3 weeks ago #87943

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Hi Amit,

I appreciate your frustration. A couple of things I've done to alleviate some of the challenges:

1) After trying to use WiFi to control the RPi, including adding external antennas, I finally just used a long ethernet cable to connect the RPi to my network. I think that is what Alessandro meant - not a cable from the RPi to the device with the app. I'm sure the bad RPi WiFi support is why ZWO's ASIAIR now has external antennas. My experience using WiFi was the same as your - almost unusable. Ethernet has been solid.

2) While I don't do EAA, I think Alessandro is correct (I'm sure other's will chime in) that, when you use Stellarmate from a mobile device, the computations and such take place on the RPi and are displayed to the app - can be very slow. I know that when I went to a full frame camera, I also had to change the RPi to an 8GB model - the 4GB was unusable. What I have switched to is just running the Indi Server on the RPi (that comes with the StellarmateOS) and running KStars/EKOS on a laptop or desktop computer - that way most of the work occurs on a more capable device.

I think the UI on Stellarmate is evolving in good ways but the mobile device control of the RPi is hampered by the lack of power in the RPi units and their bad WiFi.

Best of luck to you!
Fred

Celestron EdgeHD 11/Moonlite LiteCrawler/iOptron CEM120EC2/ASI6200MM Pro
Radian 61/Radian Focuser/iOptron CEM26EC/ASI6200MC Pro
OAG: ZWO OAG-L/ASI174MM or ASI290MM
ZWO EFW (7x2")
PegasusAstro Ultimate Powerbox V2
Raspberry Pi 4, 8GB/StellarmateOS
The following user(s) said Thank You: Alfred
2 months 3 weeks ago #87944

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Frederick,

My main usage scenario is mount + scope + rPI outside on my deck, with me inside the house. My area is too cold for me to be outside or to snake a cable through a door somehow. The rpi has direct line of sight to my router, and is no more than 20 feet away. I experimented quite a lot of times with where to sit inside my house to do EAA, and thought I had found some good spots. The behavior is very unpredictable. One day it will work, the next day from the same spot, it will take me 15 minutes just to get a reliable connection.

But I had learned to live with that. Waiting for live stacking to either be more powerful/feature-rich, and struggling through the latest "optical trains" feature and the forced OS update leading to flashing + re-setup is what finally broke my resolve. I teach programming for a living, so I understand the difficulties of maintaining software and debugging. But seeing new features like optical trains (which did not work for me) when so many users had been talking for a long time about existing stability issues and the need to develop live stacking further, just leads me to believe that the Stellarmate developers seem to have a different vision for the product and different priorities than what I had hoped. I have used open-source programs before, and know that they seem less polished than other commercial products. But since Stellarmate OS is a paid product, I expected a smoother experience and a more robust program.

There are a couple of very long threads on Cloudy Nights: one describing an EAA setup by "cuiv the lazy geek" using Stellarmate that got a lot of interest and likely Stellarmate customers (like me), and another equally long thread of users basically struggling and then giving up on trying to get a reliable setup using Stellarmate. "I am moving on to windows/ASIAIR, but I really like the idea of Stellarmate and will watch to see if it becomes stable and usable enough" is a sentiment that is repeatedly echoed on that thread.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Jasem Mutlaq
2 months 3 weeks ago #87946

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Thank you Amit for your feedback, it's greatly appreciated! I agree with you that optical trains was possibly a drastic change but it was a necessary one in the long term for KStars. It was implemented almost 2 years after it was proposed and I believe with 3.6.2 it's going to be in a very stable condition now that we received all the necessary feedback from a much wider audience.

However, the issue you probably had with this feature was not a KStars issue, but an App issue. It happens when a driver fails to start for some reason and this was just fixed yesterday in the Google and iOS stores (v2.5.8 beta of the App). Due to the sheer number of supported devices, we can't test on all permutations, it's very challenging as you can imagine.

Regarding livestacking, we are working on improving it and I'm exploring using Siril for this task, but initial tests showed that it is extremely slow on RPI4 hardware. I'm pretty confident SM App 2.5.8 due in a couple of weeks along with SM OS 1.7.4 are going to be quite stable since we are now just concentrating on fixes and we have no new features planned for this release.
Jasem Mutlaq
Support INDI & Ekos; Get StellarMate Astrophotography Gadget.
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2 months 3 weeks ago #87949

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Full disclosure - I use Astroberry and shamefully haven’t paid a penny to anyone to use the amazing KStars/Ekos/Indi packages. I am presently updated/upgraded to KStars 3.6.0 - and suffer from occasional glitches. For instance each new session KStars will crash on taking the first guide camera image for polar alignment. My workaround is to capture an image with the main camera before trying polar alignment. Similarly there are some issues with the Load and Slew feature in the Alignment tab, so my present workaround is to avoid doing this. Of course this is somewhat frustrating since it used to work so well. I also only use the 5GHz WiFi hotspot for control communications with my laptop PC via VNC, so reach is adequate for my situation at around 6m, and is relatively dropout free. But I accept the limitations of the RPi4 and keep an eye on the CPU and memory occupancy graphs, and take as much processing burden away as I can. So if I wish to see an image in debayered colour I copy it across to the laptop and look at it there in ASI Studio Fits Viewer, and if I want to do EAA I run SharpCap Pro live stacking on the laptop, using the camera folder monitor option.
I know that many of the KStars/Ekos/Indi developers are not paid for their work, and I tolerate the few issues I have, knowing that this forum is feeding back bugs which these excellent contributors may well correct in a future upgrade. The improvements introduced in my experience in the last three years (since the RPi4 came on the market) have been truly amazing. In the meantime I am comfortable with the 99% which works fantastically well, and accept having to look for workarounds for the other 1%.
Currently running KStars/Ekos/Indi on two Raspberry Pi 4Bs 4GByte under Raspberry Pi OS thanks to Astroberry
Two mounts, two Fracs, a Newt and a Mak and a couple of OSC cameras.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Hy Murveit
2 months 3 weeks ago #87955

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Thank you Jasem for your hard work.

For what my personal opinion/suggestion is worth, I think the following would really help with the live stacking:

1. Basic histogram control: adjust the black, mid and white point. Most other stacking software offer this, and these controls are enough for most adjustments. I have not used AsiAir, but I have read that it stacks on the pi but offers the histogram controls in the app. The existing controls in the Stellarmate app may be working this way too, I don't know.

2. Ability to use darks and flats. I know that Stellarmate has the capability to manage a dark library on the Pi, I don't know if a similar "flat library" exists. In any case, being able to incorporate that into stacking will improve the result (noise, dust motes, vignetting, etc.)

3. I don't know what it will take and whether this is even feasible, but if live stacking is incorporated into Ekos that would be great. Currently as a workaround I used to use Ekos to capture the images and save them in the remote folder, then use Sharpcap on Windows in folder monitor mode to stack. If that can work, so can Ekos on the remote computer.

I would also suggest to think about a workflow for EAA that runs like a wizard in the app. This is similar to how astrophotographers can set up complicated sequences and then just let it run. But EAA users want ease of use more than technical capability, and are often more unfamiliar with what needs to be done (e.g. I had no idea what a dark and flat was and how it would affect my result, I was just looking to stack. If an app guided me through steps on what to do for each session, it would make the experience much smoother for newbie users). I would like to think that Kstars/ekos and even the app already have most of the functionality needed for this, its a matter of presenting it in a manner that is easy to follow.

Time and again, users come on Cloudy Nights and ask if it is possible to do EAA using a mobile phone, without lugging a laptop around. There are only two choices that I can think of: Stellarmate and ASIAir. ASIAir is recommended to new users because Stellarmate is "buggy and looks like a work in progress" (not my words). ASIAir currently wins in ease of use. But Stellarmate supports so many more devices, can be installed on any Raspberry PI 4 and most importantly, does not force somebody to buy into the ZWO ecosystem. The stability and ease of use issue is what is pulling it back. Having used Stellarmate for about a year, I see the potential and want it to succeed. I hope you get there.
2 months 3 weeks ago #88010

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Hello Amit,

Currently Ekos does not perform livestacking, it's done using another program. We might switch to Siril to do this since their support for livestacking improved recently. However, when testing it on RPI4, it was very slow, taking up to 60 seconds to stack one image which would mean your exposures would have to be double that. The current livestacking program was optimized for rpi4 can do it in about 10 seconds, but it does not work for all cases.
Jasem Mutlaq
Support INDI & Ekos; Get StellarMate Astrophotography Gadget.
How to Submit Logs when you have problems?
Add your observatory info
The following user(s) said Thank You: Mr. Mister
2 months 3 weeks ago #88018

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I bought stellarmate because the product is well presented. But upon using it I realized that the app is f......g and literally unusable.:angry: :angry: Now I continue to use stellarmate as an INDI server on the PI4 raspberry on the terrace in the cold, connected with an ethernet cable (wifi has too many problems). I could use any INDI server like astroberry for example, but by now I've paid the $50 and I use stellarmate. I use capture and guide software and planetariums like Kstar Stellarium and PHD2 only on win10pro PCs at home connected to the network. I don't use VNC, I just open VNC viewer to close kstar inside stellarmate PI, then that's it. I believe that the Stellarmate project is too young and ambitious, and is presented beyond its actual capabilities. If you want something like this on a small tablet or smartphone the only solution, I think, is ASIair.
2 months 2 weeks ago #88323

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