BRIGHT SPARKS 415 - Onboard with Simrad

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Touch-and-dials hybridisation is Simrad’s preferred user-interface function

BRIGHT SPARKS 415 - Onboard with Simrad
BRIGHT SPARKS 415 — Onboard with Simrad

Touchscreen user interfaces are all the rage and Simrad has recently jumped onboard with the introduction of the NSS Sport series based on the year-old NSE platform. Like rival marine electronics manufacturer Raymarine, it has chosen to follow the hybrid route of touch combined with dials with these new multifunction displays, rather than following the other big player, Garmin who pioneered the touch-only route.

For anyone who has used the ubiquitous iPhone and iPad, you’ll understand the usefulness of touch controls. Touchscreens are great for quick waypoint placing, marking fish on sonar, and tagging radar targets. On the other hand, the rotary knob is a good way of controlling proportional functions such as zooming on a chart, adjusting gain, steering the autopilot, or even cranking up the music on Simrad's SonicHub stereo system.

But touch is not for everybody — such as fishermen with sticky fingers — so Simrad has combined six buttons and a rotary knob as well. The NSS Sport series comprises 7-, 8- and 12-inch models, making them suitable for a wide range of boats; from sportsfishers up to large yachts.

ON THE WATER
Climbing onboard Simrad’s test boat to check out these new screens, the first thing that strikes me is the brightness of the display. It’s good, even in direct sunlight, thanks to the 1200 NITS bonded screen. So, no need to squint or shield the console while you’re trying to steer.

Another plus is the responsiveness and tactile feel of the screen — one advantage of being a late entry into this market is getting things right quickly, something Simrad looks to have done. Unusually, NSS Sport is not simply touch-and-go, but also allows for a long tap that puts the user into a deeper sub menu. So, say in chart and radar mode you can drill down (via a pulsating icon) for more details on a particular object.

Departing Akuna Bay, up of an offshoot of the Hawkesbury River, the 7in console provided plenty of information via the Navionics Platinum+ charts, giving both 2D and 3D views with photo overlays. Underneath, the rocky seabed of the creek was clearly outlined thanks to the 1kW transducer feed, which comes inbuilt on the two smaller models. It was using Simrad’s Structure Scan, an optional module costing $529 plus transducer, which gives a 180-degree sideways (not forward) sonar. This is ideal for navigating narrow channels, apart from keeping the fishos happy for picking out the fish that abound at the moment.

SMARTS
Beyond the basics of the three tabs showing the Pages, Settings and Tools icons, there is a host of clever functions but probably the handiest is page building. As we found out with a few stabs of the finger, you simply drag and drop the desired icons onto the screen to create a custom page. For example, you might want to build a custom fishing page, a custom navigation page and even a custom system-control page.

Other handy features include route recording in Google Earth GPX file formats — for internet loading later; and up to 5000 waypoints can be saved. Other outputs include screen capture shots (of your favourite marks, say) in High Definition bitmap files as well as video files — so you can replay the history of where you’ve been. Data input is via the industry standard Micro SD cards on the two smaller models and the NSS12 also has a USB socket.

Inputting radar functionality can allow mapping of up to 10 MARPA targets and three at a time can be tracked and prioritised for collision avoidance. Other useful functions of the NSS Sport include obligator support for AIS feeds. So between MARPA and AIS the skipper should have all surrounding shipping mapped out.

3G RADAR
Simrad will launch the next generation of its Broadband Radar later in the year. Named 3G, the company says it will give a 30 per cent improved range over existing broadband systems. Unlike the traditional pulse radar, the Simrad-Navico group’s Broadband Radar uses a near-continuous signal (technically called Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave) that provides excellent short-range target information. However, traditional pulse systems had the edge on range. Until now that is.

The new 3G system is the result of doubling the Broadband Radar’s transmitter power (to 200mW) and increasing the receiver’s sensitivity. Test results show this is especially good of identifying mid-range (5 to 10nm) objects clearly, while also increasing range — around 25nm — as well.

The Simrad NSS Sport series will be available in Australia mid-2011. Prices start from $2099 for the NSS7, $3299 for the NSS8 and $3999 for the NSS12.

Photos:

1). A combination of touchscreen and knob control is the way forward on offshore boats like this Maritimo with loaded Simrad dash.

2). During our Akunda Bay test day the new Simrad NSS performed well as a chartplotter and sonar display.

3). Drag and drop icons to create a dozen different custom pages.

4). Sonar readout of the test boat's track (middle line), with shallows to port. Image outputs are a feature of the new NSS Sport range.

5). The NSS7 MFD showing a Broadband Radar image of Akuna Bay.

6). Increasing the power of their Broadband Radar has resulted in the new 3G Radar from Simrad-Navico.

 


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