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February 27, 2007

A Jump to the Big Screen

Anyone ordering or building a new boat should take a look at these systems and take advantage of the tremendous strides made in flat-screen technology.

Not too long ago, just looking at a screen on the bridge or in a console took a whole lot of effort. Very few screens were bright enough, they all suffered from terrible glare and reflection, and the only adjustments you could make were for brightness and contrast. Manufacturers couldn't seem to make a screen that could be viewed while wearing polarized glasses, and it really wore me out! I'd have to take off my glasses or twist and turn my head back and forth and side to side like some spastic chicken trying to get a visual, and I would usually end up burying my face in the unit to block the sun.

In an effort to help reduce glare and reflection, builders would recess units deep into the dash or console and surround them with black paint, which helped dramatically in most cases. Catching bait in the early morning, we frequently had to turn into the sun just so I could get a glimpse of the screen on the echo sounder. I hated to do it because that usually meant turning up sea on rough days, making it harder to stay on the bait. But if I couldn't see the sounder, I might move off the bait and waste precious time.

Once again, advancing component technology and the diligence of manufacturers who continually push for better, easier-to-use products and systems have basically taken those irritations out of the equation. Many leading manufacturers of today's electronics have introduced daylight and even sun-viewable screens that actually provide great resolution. Thankfully, screen manufacturers finally stepped up to the plate, and we no longer have to stick our faces in that nasty old radar boot ever again!

Several leading-edge companies offer complete systems designed to manipulate not only the information you can view, but also where you want to view it, and how much you want to see on each screen by providing full-screen and multiple split-screen views. These systems have capabilities to input so much information and equipment that users can view just about every function on any screen, anywhere on the boat. We also now have touch-screen technology that allows us to set up, reconfigure or change what is displayed and which monitor it's displayed on instantly - with the touch of a finger.

Who's Got What?
For more than 20 years, Ft. Lauderdale-based VEI has designed and manufactured cutting-edge viewing components. VEI provides a large number of systems to the megayacht and sport-fishing markets, and some of their units wind up on some of the United State's specialty craft, many of which see actual combat. VEI released a new DM series of monitors that are available with 15- and 17-inch screens. They come in Pilothouse, Daylight, Sunlight and Super Sunlight brightness configurations and sport "scratch-proof" glass. They boast a total of nine inputs, including four computer inputs, four component inputs and one digital video input (DVI). They mount easily with just four screws and offer several different bezels for a customized look. The DM series can be fully integrated with any manufacturers' equipment or system.

VEI also recently introduced a fully integrated central vessel control system, known as SSIR. According to company literature, this system gives you the potential to "centrally select and control any system for any monitor, for any location, from anywhere on the boat." By integrating the SSIR into your system, you can immediately begin to control navigation, echo sounder, GPS, Internet, cameras, TV, radio or video. The SSIR comes as either a black-box unit with push-button control head or as a black box with touch screen. According to company president Kelly Hulse, "SSIR integrates not only all VEI equipment, but all other manufacturers' electronics on the boat into one clean, easy-to-use solution."

The new GB60 Glass Bridge system represents the latest offering from Simrad. The GB60 system allows you to integrate more than 12 monitors throughout the vessel with any combination of applications including vector charts, raster charts, radar, navigation information, echo sounder, 3D bathymetry, video and photos, as well as security and vessel-monitoring information. While these monitors come in 12-, 15- and 19-inch sizes, they are 25 percent smaller than typical monitors - saving bridge and console space without sacrificing display size. There are several dedicated operating units available for controlling the GB60, including a standard weatherproof keyboard and mouse.

Raymarine's M1500 marine monitor is a 15-inch daylight-viewable waterproof display built for PC applications. Its high-resolution XGA 1024x768 display with wide viewing angle features built-in stereo speakers and digital, analog, composite and multimedia inputs for remote video cameras or entertainment systems. It also comes with separate analog and digital PC inputs. You can mount the M1500 in the console or on a bracket.

Furuno's MU155C, a multipurpose 15-inch color display monitor, utilizes a TFT LCD screen with an anti-reflective glass filter to reduce glare. With its XGA 1024x768 display, the unit offers a built-in scaler that can squeeze out even higher resolutions up to SXGA 1280x1024. The MU155C offers two RGB analog inputs, one DVD-D digital video interface and three NTSC/PAL video inputs. (North America utilizes the NTSC, and PAL handles European signals.) You can use this unit either as a remote display for black-box radar, echo sounders, sonar and Furuno's NavNet or to display camera feeds, computer input and the like. The MU155C also features PIP (picture in picture), allowing users to view several feeds at once.

These types of technologies offer exciting potential. Anyone ordering or building a new boat should take a look at these systems and take advantage of the tremendous strides made in flat-screen technology. There's simply no reason to squint or do the limbo to see what's on your screen in any given light situation. And if you purchase one of these integrated control systems, you can control what you want to see, as well as when and were you want to see it. You can run multiple pieces of equipment on the same monitor or change what you see as situations jump from fishing, to navigation, to night steaming or whatever.

By presenting useful information in a way that doesn't cause user fatigue, an effective daylight-viewable screen allows you to catch more fish and travel with greater confidence - because let's face it, if you have to dance around the flybridge to get a look at your sounder or radar, eventually you'll just stop looking.