By Lenny Rudow
I don't care if you think Darwin was a genius or a quack, one thing's for sure: When it comes to marine electronics, evolution is real — and fast! New technology evolves at a breakneck pace, which is why we tell you about the latest and greatest developments every year as manufacturers roll out their new gear; 2014 is no different. Well, maybe it's slightly different, but only because those manufacturers have, if anything, picked up the pace. So strap yourself in, fasten your helmet, and hold onto your wallet. When it comes to marine electronics, 2014 is shaping up to be a wild ride into the future.
Multifunction Display Systems
Humminbird has entered new territory, with their first multi-touch MFDs for fresh- and saltwater boaters that works like your smartphone touch screen. The Onix (8.4" and 10.4" 1024 x 768 pixel XGA LCD screens) and Ion (10.4" and 12.1" 1024 x 768 pixel XGA LCD screens) MFDs bring all the Humminbird sonar functions you've come to know and love (including Down Imaging, Side Imaging, and 360 Imaging) to the table, along with the ability to display radar, autopilot, digital video-camera imaging, CHIRP sonar, and AIS. Both systems include Humminbird base-map chartography, and can be enhanced with both Navionics and C-Map as well as LakeMaster for freshwater units. Thankfully, the Onix and Ion also include full-function keypads so, when the seas kick up or fish gore starts flying, you'll never pine for buttons. Extra nifty function: a double-finger swipe down the screen provides instant access to the main menu. Price: TBD. www.humminbird.com
Raymarine expanded their "a' Series lineup last summer with the A68 and A78, a pair of touch-screen units (5.7" and 7") designed for freshwater and inshore anglers. They combine CHIRP and DownVision sonar, as seen in their Dragonfly unit, along with full navigational and networking abilities. But now, there's bigger news: Raymarine has redesigned the LightHouse II user interface in these and other units. Tweaks include high-contrast color schemes (visible even in midday Florida sun beaming directly on us, when we tested it), a reorganized menu that's more user-friendly, a new chart engine to support Raymarine LightHouse charts (downloaded free from Raymarine.com), expanded waypoints and routes, and pinch-to-zoom functionality. You say you just bought your unit last year? No problem; the software upgrade is free for compatible a, c, e, and g series owners. www.raymarine.com
Simrad has also been busy, with their new NSO Evo2. The big news here is in simplifying and shrinking the NSO black box, the brains of the system, while doubling its power. It's one-third smaller, which may not sound like much, but peeking behind the helm of our Simrad test-boat, believe me, you could see the difference — yet despite the smaller package it houses a pair of quad-core processors. That means it has the computing oomph to drive two different displays independently — which can save you big bucks. Add on the OP-40 remote and you get full keyboard functionality. The black box starts at $5,695 and packages range to $12,999 (for the NSO16 Evo2). www.simrad-yachting.com
Over the summer Raymarine started shipping their latest in autopilots, the Evolution, but we're including it here as it wasn't out in time for our 2013 electronics update. The real news lies in the Evolution EV sensor core, a nine-axis sensor that gathers data on motion in all three dimensions, allowing the autopilot to learn as you go, constantly adjusting for sea and environmental conditions, to always steer the most efficient course. Bonus Feature: This little sensor is so smart it can auto-compensate for onboard magnetic fields — the type that can throw a compass off balance. No more worries about where you've stowed that toolbox. Price varies, depending on system requirements. www.raymarine.com
Thermal imaging just got a whole lot less expensive, with the U.S. introduction of the Iris NightRunner, a two-camera unit carrying both a 320 x 240 thermal imager and 740 TVL daylight color camera. The housing is small (slightly larger than a softball) and light at three pounds. It has a single switchable video output and connects to your monitor or multifunction display via a CAT5 cable. The housing is capable of 360-degree rotation and 180-degree tilt, so you can pan, tilt, then make good use of the digital zoom. The housing is IP66 waterproof and feels a bit less robust than some competitors, but get this: List cost is $4,500. That's less than half the cost of some dual-payload thermal/daylight cameras with similar functions. iris-innovations.com
Garmin is going to stir the waters with new GMR 18 xHD and 24 xHD 4kW HD radar, which can see out to 48 nautical miles. These new domes have a maximum speed of 48 rpm and offer such functions as auto adjustment, Dynamic Auto Gain, and Dynamic Sea Filter. That means they continuously adjust to sea and weather conditions and surroundings. Better yet, you can view split-screen dual-range displays. An 8-bit color scheme will provide plenty of detail when looking at weather patterns and hard contacts. These units have just been announced and we'll tell you more when we test them firsthand. Price to be determined. www.garmin.com
Here's another area in which we see constant change, and in a few short years we've gone from looking down, to looking farther down, to looking farther down with a lot more detail, to looking out to the sides of our boats as well. Now, Lowrance aims to have us looking down and all around, with the SpotlightScan Sonar. This is a trolling-motor transducer system, so it'll be of interest to freshwater and inshore bay anglers who have trolling motors — and a compatible HDS Gen 2 or Gen2 Touch MFD display — on their boats. It operates on 455/800 kHz frequencies, not surprisingly the same as Lowrance's side-looking StructureScan system. Like StructureScan, range is limited to 150 feet. In other words, you're getting the same lateral-looking ability but with a uni-directional searchlight-like beam. The SpotlightScan system works with any bow-mounted, cable-steered, foot-controlled electric trolling motor (not hand- or electric-steered motors). $499 | www.lowrance.com
That's not the only thing Lowrance has been working on. Also new this year is the SonarHub Sounder. It doesn't represent any new technology, but does marry multiple existing technologies into one box: StructureScan HD and CHIRP. StructureScan HD uses those super-high 455/800 kHz frequencies to give you awesome detail but with extremely limited (150-foot) range. CHIRP, on the other hand, uses a wide-ranging frequency blast to extend range to outrageous depths while maintaining excellent detail. In this case, stated high-def detail range is 3,500 feet. The SonarHub costs only $599 for HDS-compatible systems, but you'll have to spend up to $1,600 on transducers to use the system to its fullest abilities. www.lowrance.com
Garmin is seeing things differently this year — literally. With SideVü and DownVü, they're introducing their own take on high-res down- and side-scanners. SideVü and DownVü will be available on stand-alone fishfinders (a new echo dv series) as well as compatible echoMAP units and via the new GCV 10 CHIRP-equipped sonar black-box (compatible with echoMAP 70, GPSMAP 700, 800, and 1000 series). GPSMAP 500 and 700 series units will be compatible with a software update. Garmin just released this news so we haven't tested these units in action yet; stay tuned for deeper info after we get our hands on one soon.
Of course, transducers have a huge impact on just how your sonar performs. And Airmar has a new line of Wide Beam "pucks" that will change your view at the helm. These are CHIRP-capable, and all will have a 150-kHz to 250-kHz spread; some models will add low-frequency ability, as well. The key feature, however, is beam angle. While most high-frequency CHIRP transducers have an eight-degree beam angle that can change with frequency, this new line widens the view out to a 25-degree beam angle throughout the frequency range. Transom, pocket, thru-hull, in-hull, and tank mounting options will be available. Accordingly, price will vary. www.airmartechnology.com
Also meriting some attention, even if they aren't easily categorized, are some other electronic devices new to the market this year. KEP has a keyboard, the Time Zero, designed for use with Furuno's Time Zero black-box software. It allows for easy integration with accessory systems like radar or sounders, is completely water- and weatherproof, and can be mounted horizontally or vertically. $740 | www.kepmarine.com
Music lovers will be interested in the SonicHub UNI-dock, for Lowrance and Simrad systems. This plug-and-play SonicHub add-on accepts Apple 30-pin, Apple Lightning, and micro USB connections, so you can plug your favorite device into the system and jam out — as you charge your phone or music player at the same time. $129 | www.simrad-yachting.com
Lenny Rudow is also an editor for www.Boats.com.
— Published: February/March 2014
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