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March 19, 2009

High-Tech Acceleration

Marine electronics leap light years in three decades


? Multifunction displays
? Digital Signal Processing/
? Side-Imaging Sonar
? Touch screens
? 3-D

The late '90s saw the dot-com boom; the year 2000 saw the dot-com bust. But that brief mania accelerated computer technology and consumer awareness.

As a matter of fact, I still own the Mac laptop I worked on in 1999 and 2000; it was an electronic masterpiece to me then. But the Mac I use now offers much greater speed and gobs more space. I would compare the difference to manual versus electric typewriters. Remember those?

In marine electronics, this decade has seen the improvement and proliferation of multifunction displays, units capable of not only showing depth, charts, radar, engine performance, aerial photography and other visuals, but also overlaying them.

"The capability to bring all these  different components together is huge," says Garmin's DeVries. "A lot of center-console-fishing-boat owners didn't have a ton of dash space, but the industry had been telling them they would need three screens. ? Now, with MFDs, all the features are networked together. That gives the boater a lot more awareness. He can overlay radar onto a chart or use the split-screen to show sonar next to a chart. ? The smaller boats can actually realize the same performance as the bigger boats."

The act of processing information has changed as well: Radar and sonar units now use digital versus analog signal processing. Instead of a sonar system interpreting a signal as a whole picture, it now breaks the signal into pieces and analyzes it. Manufacturers market that process with "broadband" or "high-definition digital" products. However, know  that DSP means something slightly  different for every company.