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Author Topic:   Display Size of Combination Electronic Chart Display and SONAR
jimh posted 03-16-2008 04:21 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
As spring approaches and the boating season gets closer, I have been looking at some new electronics for my boat. There are many criterion that can be used, but one important aspect of electronic navigation devices is their display. The most significant parameter of the display is its size and the number of pixels it can manage.

My current set up on the boat has separate GPS-Chartplotter and SONAR devices. They're both about six years old, and both are a little off the pace of modern marine electronics. That is not surprising, because when I acquired them neither of the units were top of the line choices.

The units and their display sizes are:

SONAR = Lowrance X87
320 x 320 pixel display with ten level grayscale

320 x 240 pixel

The combined display area is thus 320 x 560 pixels, for a total of 179,200 pixels available.

In comparison, here are a few more current units which are combined Chart Plotter and SONAR units:

Raymarine A60 = 320 x 240 = 76,800; $1,000
Raymarine A65 = 640 x480 = 307,200; $1,600
Humminbird 997 = 800 x 480 = 384,000; $1,000
Lowrance LCX-27C = 648 x 480 = 307,200; $1,000

The general idea in getting new electronics would be to upgrade, and it looks like in my situation some of the combined units with smaller displays are not really an upgrade.

Another consideration in a combined unit is the re-draw rate. With two separate units each unit handles its own screen. In a combined unit with a larger screen, the redraw rate may not be quite as fast.

The most expensive component in modern marine electronics is the sunlight visible color display. It is the size of the display, and thus its cost, which really controls the price point for a particular unit. Some devices are not really combination devices, and the SONAR is an add-on unit. The typical cost of an add-on SONAR is about $300 or more. For about that same price you can buy quite a nice separate SONAR device. For example, you could get a Furuno LS6100, a large grayscale display sonar. This would give you a 320 x 240 display in addition to the Chartplotter display.

jmorgan40 posted 03-16-2008 07:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for jmorgan40  Send Email to jmorgan40     
I have the Lowrance LCX-26C which is basically the earlier model of the LCX-27C. The only difference is the 27 has a slightly larger harddrive. I love it. With my experience as a captain I have used Raymarine, furuno, Lowrance, and garmin. I still say nothing draws targets and fish like a Lowrance. I do wish the 27 had a little higher resolution but you would need to jump up to the LCX-38 for higher res.

As for sunlight visibility the Lowrance units are far superior. My GARMIN displays were almost impossible to see in direct sunlight. I believe Lowrance calls it SolarMax. Whatever they call it their screens are amazing in direct sunlight. Crystal clear and bright. Are you trying to stay around a 7" screen or can you go up to 8". If you can swing the extra cost I would jump up tot the new LCX-38C. They also just came out with a digital sounder module that is amazing. I just can't justify upgrading a 3 year old unit.

let me know if you have any other questions

jimh posted 03-16-2008 07:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Joe--It is funny you mentioned the LCX-38C. I have been looking at that model, too. Here is the display information for comparison:

Lowrance LCX-38C =600 x 800 = 480,000 pixels; $1,850

or the same unit minus the hard drive feature

Lowrance LCX-37C = 600 x 800 = 480,000 pixels; $1,650.

That is with the standard SONAR built in the unit. You could also get the same display in a plotter-only model in the GlobalMap 8200:

Lowrance GlobalMap 8200 = 600 x 800 = 480,000 pixels; $1,400

The price difference deletes the built-in SONAR unit. Next, buy the add-on Lowrance Broadband Sounder-1 unit, the new digital SONAR unit with enhanced capabilities. The price for the Broadband Sounder-1 is around $600. That raises the combination of a GlobalMap 8200 and Sounder-1 to around $2,000.

One thing you learn about SMALL BOAT ELECTRONICS is the ease with which the price of these things can rise!

jimh posted 03-16-2008 08:04 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Also, I appreciate the information about the good visibility of the Lowrance display in sunlight.

The Lowrance units were more or less the leader of the pack until I started looking at screen capture capability. It turns out that with the Lowrance there is not a screen capture capability that will work well with a computer unless you can run a Windows binary executable program. That is a problem for me because I don't have any computer that is even capable of running Windows.

However, there was some mention recently that Lowrance was going to add more screen capture capability to their units, and that might solve my problem, as long as they use a file format which is universal, like TIFF, PNG, BMP, GIF, or similar format.

Another attraction of the Lowrance devices is their general very good NMEA-2000 capabilities. That might be a big plus if I change my vessel over to a NMEA-2000 network.

If nothing else, it is fun to spend the winter reading catalogues and pondering choices.

jmorgan40 posted 03-16-2008 08:25 PM ET (US)     Profile for jmorgan40  Send Email to jmorgan40     
As good as the fishfinders and sonar perform on the Lowrance units, I have never really read any threads of you talking about fishing. If you are not a diehard fisherman like Minitauk and I, then I would go with the LCX-27 or the LCX-28C. Just spend the few extra $100 on the 28 C HD with all the built in maps like I have. I have only tried the screen capture once. I saved the screen to the card then used the Lowrance utility. I very have a reason to do it though.

Your last comment is funny. I remember my days living up north and spending the winter planning all the toys and things to do in the spring. Now I get to boat year round when we are not hiding from tornadoes.

Chuck Tribolet posted 03-16-2008 10:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
One advantage of the combo units is that you can point to
structure on the depthfinder display, and set a GPS waypoint,
makeing it easy to get back to those fish you marked or that
structure you want to dive. And the way point will include
depth info.


Riverwhaler posted 03-17-2008 07:42 AM ET (US)     Profile for Riverwhaler  Send Email to Riverwhaler     
Jim, as I approach the third GPS for my boat and after spending hours at West Marine and Hamilton Marine in Portland ME. I have come to the conclusion that GPS screens should be vertical. Why? you ask? At you travel a course on a GPS screen you do so as course up on the screen. What you want to see is where you are and where you are going as much as possible. The most room for this is vertical. I looked at the new Garmins like 4008 horizontal and came away with the 545s which is vertical and has sounder built in. The screen size vertical on 545 is almost the same as the much more expensive horizontal units. Saved lots of money which I can put into gas.
jimh posted 03-17-2008 07:45 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
It looks like the Lowrance screen capture saves the image as a JPEG file. That ought to be readable on just about any computer that can mount the memory card in its file system. The feature was just recently added to the Lowrance devices, so older models might not have it.

Joe is correct, I am not a fisherman, but I have developed an interest in SONAR and getting a better unit than the current X87. Now the X87 is no slouch, it just does not seem to have enough power to get down very deep. And the SONAR echoes I want to look at will be coming from about 530 feet below. The current unit also does not have any way to save screen images or export them, and there is no way to document the echoes.

By the way, Chuck's mention of a combination device being able to save information about the SONAR echo, such as the latitude and longitude, is also an advantage. I have been doing a little research and have found that on the RAYMARINE A65 when you save a screen image the unit also records a meta-data file that contains the lat-long and the time, giving the screen shot some historical reference.

My interest in the SONAR echoes is more aligned with Chuck's--I am looking for structure on the bottom, but I won't be diving down to see it in person. I will just see it on the SONAR screen.

jimh posted 03-17-2008 08:06 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
That is an interesting comment from Riverwhaler on the screen orientation. The aspect ratio of the display is an influence.

Traditionally most displays seem to be either square or in a 4:3 aspect ratio (width:height). I think that is probably due to the influence of television standards, where the NTSC video standard specified a 4:3 aspect ratio. That gave rise to displays with 640 x 480 pixel resolution, which, as you see, reduces to a ratio of 4:3 or 1.33. With the coming of high-definition digital television, there has been a trend in display manufacturing to shift to a wider aspect ratio. Many of the newer displays are widescreen displays with room for a high-definition television image that has a 16:9 aspect ratio, or 1.77:1.

The laptop I am using right now has a 1280 x 845 display, or 1.515:1, and newer models have even wider screens, generally 1.6:1.

When you turned an old 4:3 display on its side, it made a nice "portrait" monitor. As a matter of fact, I have set up a few modern LCD displays which can be rotated 90-degrees, for users who are mainly editing documents, and the taller display works better for them.

Flipping one of these new widescreen displays on its side, however, will probably not be as attractive as the old 4:3 units.

Casco Bay Outrage posted 03-17-2008 10:15 AM ET (US)     Profile for Casco Bay Outrage  Send Email to Casco Bay Outrage     
I agree with Alan completely.

I often am cruising in an unfamiliar area and often need to see my destination and starting point. While zooming out shows this information, often the scale reduces the detail to the point where it is unreadable. My Garmin 172c has a 3.2" x 3.2" screen.

My 20+ mile trip down the coast from Portsmouth to Newburyport last fall was a bit challenging. While the poor conditions didn't help, not seeing my current position relative to the coast made it slower going having to slow down, play with the GPS, then resume.

I am in a low level search for a basic unit that has a large (vertically oriented) screen.

Alan - I will check out the unit you referred to next time I go to HM.



bluewaterpirate posted 03-17-2008 10:26 AM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
Run your charplotter in the split screen naviagtion mode. This way you can zoom the top porition to any scale you desire and maintain a large scale SA navigation screen below.
Plotman posted 03-17-2008 12:23 PM ET (US)     Profile for Plotman  Send Email to Plotman     
Jim -

I have been undergoing the same type of search you have.

I'm pretty sure that I'll be getting one of the Lowrance units. The only remaining question is whether I get a combo unit, or whether I go for a Lowrance chartplotter and get a Hummingbird side scan sonar as well. Whatever I get will most likely move between the 15 and the 22, which argues for a combo unit, but there is nothing on the market like those hummingbirds...

jimh posted 03-17-2008 01:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
For a SONAR, I agree that the HUMMINBIRD is very impressive. I would probably have already ordered one, except for one sticking point: on a Humminbird chart plotter and SONAR combination instrument there is no NMEA-0183 input to the device from an attached VHF Marine Band radio, and no support for plotting or remote vessel position using a DSC Remote Position Poll. They seem to be concentrating on the SONAR part of it more than the bells-and-whistle feature set on the electronic chart display side of it.
Riverwhaler posted 03-18-2008 08:00 AM ET (US)     Profile for Riverwhaler  Send Email to Riverwhaler     
Casco Bay, I did just go to Hamilton Marine and get the Garmin 545s. They are having a great sale. It has the sounder built in. Screen is good and my big complaint, ability to make the bouys bigger on screen has been addressed. It is bright and vertical.It will hook up with AIS and Radio. The price was $900 something including all charts of US built in and sounder with dual beam transducer. What else do you need?
Liteamorn posted 03-21-2008 04:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for Liteamorn  Send Email to Liteamorn     
I second the Garmin 545s, I've just installed one on my boat and the VGA screen is exceptional. It is VERY user friendly and is in fact vertically oriented.

There are quite a few screen set ups just a few steps away. There is a double chart screen in which you can have the top screen viewing at .5(or more) miles and the lower screen veiwing at 200', nice for navigating unfamiliar waters.
There is a chart/sonar split, a full sonar or sonar with zoom. The screens adjust to daytime/nightime, automatically dimming and the base colors turn from bright whites to dark blues, soft on the eyes. You can change buoy sizes with a few keystrokes.

Mine came with a dual transducer and that transducer is 500 watts(RMS), 4000 Watts(peak to peak)which is quite powerful , not all that far from my old Lowrance X85.

I've been running Garmin GPS products for years. I started with the 126 many years ago , and basically the keystrokes used in all of my units were basically unchanged, including my last unit the Garmin 168. The Garmin 545s uses a completely different set of keystrokes to navigate the different menus. It took me about 15 minutes to learn the new unit. I was installing waypoints and routes from my driveway in no time at all.

bigjohn1 posted 03-22-2008 07:03 AM ET (US)     Profile for bigjohn1  Send Email to bigjohn1     
This past Sunday, I did an all-day trip with a friend in his 28-foot charter boat. His regular deckhand (pit monkey) was unavailable and I needed some time out on the water so it worked out perfectly. He and I split the time equally between manning the helm and gaffing fish for his customers.

His boat is equipped with an ancient Raytheon combination unit which is about the size of a compact television set. I have no idea of the model number but it was definitely old. We had 3-4 ft waves and a strong wind chop all day. I realized during that trip I was spoiled from using a latest generation high resolution combination unit. I'm sure his old unit was probably top of the line back 10-15 years ago but it simply did not stack up to the current crop of units on the market today. My 7" screen Northstar 660 is far superior in clarity and ease of use compared his his antiquated Raytheon unit.

The moral of the story: As has been recommended by so many here in the past, buy the largest screen and most pixels you can afford. It truly makes a difference.

Jefecinco posted 03-22-2008 09:15 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     

I have a Lowrance LCX111CHD predecessor to the 113. It is a superior unit and with the installed charts it is a great navigator. The fish finder/sonar unit is also very nice and easy to use. I wish it would operate with the broadband sounder module but that's another story.

The landscape orintation is perfect for the fish finder and just fine for the map. I seldom use the split screen feature as I am not usually looking for fish while enroute from on spot to another.

It's a very large display for the console of my Dauntless 160 but it just sqeezes into the area where it needs to be. Another 1/16th of an inch and I would have been in trouble. As it is I had to remove the compass to install the Lowrance. At least the Lowrance has a compass feature which can be overlaid on the map or the sonar screen. If the compass is more than you want you can simply display your heading.

Great display, superior versatility and competitively priced. I recommend the large screen Lowrance.


jimh posted 03-22-2008 01:54 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Here is another candidate for the best value in display size and price: the Standard-Horizon CP300i. This color chart plotter and GPS has a 7-inch display with a wide screen orientation of 800 x 480 and sells for around $685. That is without a SONAR, so you have to add the FF520 black box unit ($225) and a DST521 transom mount transducer with temperature and speed sensors($110). This transforms the CP300i into a combination electronic chart display, GPS, and SONAR unit for $1,025.

Compared to the previous leader of the pack, the Humminbird 917, we get a similar display size in pixels and width, with similar features, for about the same price. There are two areas of significant difference: the NMEA capabilities and the digital cartography.

In terms of NMEA inputs and outputs, the Standard-Horizon has plenty. At first glance, you would think you could never run out with 5 NMEA outputs and 4 NEMA inputs. However, in the CP300i the internal GPS antenna appears to use up one input. And the FF520 uses another set of input and output ports. This leaves a more modest 3 outputs and 2 inputs. This still leaves you with plenty of capacity. For example you could connect:

--DSC Radio (1 input, 1 output)
--AIS Receiver (1 input)
--Computer (1 output)
--Auto Pilot (1 output)

There is still the possibility of connecting additional NMEA devices in parallel with the CP300's output, so even more expansion is available.

At the other extreme, the Humminbird 917 has ZERO inputs and only ONE output. There is no possibility of using an AIS receiver or connecting a DSC radio for remote position polling display.

The vastly improved NMEA capability of the CP300i makes is much more attractive for use where interconnection to other NMEA devices is planned.

In the cartography, the Standard Horizon devices are generally not sold with bundled cartography, but includes a low resolution base map. This leaves the user with the responsibility of buying the necessary chart data. The CP300 uses the C-MAP NT+ or MAX cartography. Cartography from C-MAP is available on a global basis, and there are generally excellent digital charts available for almost any water.

The Humminbird 917c Combo is available with bundled premium cartography from Navionics for an addition $200 in the form of the Humminbird 917c Combo NVB. This provides a better base map for the entire United States. It may still be desirable to purchase even more detailed cartography for a local area where the boat will be used.

This analysis demonstrates the difficulty in comparing and choosing an electronic chart display, GPS, and SONAR combination device. There are many areas of comparison which have to be carefully considered. In summary, look carefully at:

--display size in both pixels and dimensions
--SONAR capabilities
--NMEA capabilities
--cartography included or available

jimh posted 03-22-2008 02:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
More on the differences between the Humminbird 917c and the Standard-Horizon CP300i and FF520 combination:

Without having used either of these devices on a boat, in the water, and in real world circumstances, I have formed an impression that the SONAR capabilities of the Humminbird may be more impressive than the Standard-Horizon. This judgement might be flawed, as it is just based on a gut feeling from reading the manuals and looking at the product literature. Humminbird seems to be very focused on the SONAR performance of its devices, while Standard-Horizon seems to consider the SONAR as a bolt-on accessory.

Another important parameter to consider--SCREEN CAPTURE--seems to be missing entirely on the Standard-Horizon unit. I did not see any mention of it in the user manual for either the CP300 or the FF520. There must be some facility for capturing the screen displays, because the documentation is filled with screen captures, but I could not locate this option in the manual. There is mention of storing files to a user C-Card for transferring or storing way points, routes, and fish finder settings to a memory card.

Jefecinco posted 03-22-2008 06:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
The FF520 does not seem to be a highly reqarded fish finder on some forums whereas the Hummingbird sonars are regarded as good units.

I would regard your suspicions as valid. If NMEA 2000 is regarded as useful the Lowrance units take on added value.


Marlin posted 03-22-2008 08:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for Marlin  Send Email to Marlin     
530 feet? Planning an outing to the Fitz, are we?
jimh posted 03-22-2008 10:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
jimh posted 03-22-2008 10:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I have also looked into building my own electronic chart display system. There are several options available to do this. My path would be along these lines:

--Mac Mini CPU ($600)
--12-Vdc power adaptor ($100)
--waterproof wireless mouse and keyboard ($200)
--sunlight viewable and waterproof display (see below for costs)
--GPS sensor on USB port ($50)
--free cartography from NOAA ($0)
--commercial software to integrate GPS and cartography ($150)

This solution looks attractive until you price a display which is sufficiently bright to be viewable in sunlight and also sufficiently waterproof to survive in the cockpit of a small boat. Such a display will cost at least $1,000 and can easily cost twice that if you want the really top quality ones.

So the overall cost of the home brew electronic chart system begins to approach $2,000. Another problem is finding room for a mouse or keyboard on a small boat. And, finally, there just does not seem to be a good option here for incorporating a SONAR into the system. Thus a home brew electronic chart display seems as though it might not be very practical on a small boat.

jimh posted 03-23-2008 03:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Just a day or two after I thought there were no black-box SONAR devices compatible with a generic computer display, I found this solution:

An Interphase SE-200 SONAR would be able to use the display from a standard computer VGA monitor, but it is not an application that runs on a computer.

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