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The Perfect Display

Vote 2 Votes
I've recently corresponded with several Panbots regarding displays and nobody is really happy with the current offerings. Skipping what's right and what's wrong, let's help the product managers and tell them what we want.

Having a been a product manager myself, I know there is no silver bullet, so I'd like to set the context by suggesting we provide input to 3 product lines: Basic Digital, Advanced Digital and Analog.

The marketing departments can come up with whizzy names like "XZ-99T" later. I expect these products to satisfy 80% of the boats on the water, both sail and motor. The manufacturer who gets this right can own a big piece of the display market, and then update these products every 4-5 years and get a lot of upgrade sales from the installed base. To maximize sales, all of these products should have, or define, an industry standard form factor that will allow it to replace existing displays with no new holes in the boat AND no new wiring. Roughly 115mm square seems to be as close to an industry standard as exists for displays.

I'll get the ball rolling with Basic Digital.
  - Low power consumption 
  - Non-proprietary connectors
  - Accepts N2K or NMEA 183
  - Black digits on a white background
   - Wide viewing angle, even with polaroid sunglasses
   - 3 customer definable brightness levels
   - 3 models: Budget all-in-one, Flexible Single, Flexible Multiple.
   - User selectable units (e.g., mph/knots, meters/feet, etc.) for each data item
   - No graphic display capabilities, just numbers and letters

Budget all-in-one: 3 fixed lines of data that can display a predefined set of data items on any given line. Typical display would be Speed, Wind, Depth.

Flexible Single: Shows one data item in large crisp numbers. It will display any N2K or 183 data item with firmware that can be field upgraded by the customer to accept new N2K PGNs in the future.

Flexible Multiple: Can be configured to display 2 or 3 horizontal lines of data, any N2K or 183 data item can be displayed on any line. Field upgradable like the single to accept new N2K PGNs.

Anybody interested in refining this or defining the Advanced Digital or Analog? The manufacturers are reading this. Let's quit complaining and just tell them what we want. Maybe 18 months from now we'll see some products we really like.

28 Replies

  • I think you're on to something, Russ. But I don't think a basic or even an advanced instrument display really needs to understand NMEA 0183.

    That should be the job of a separate data translator like the Simrad AT10, which can go anywhere on the N2K backbone. I'm hopeful that there will be more translators available soon (and understand Furuno has one nearly ready to go).

    PS Sorry about the formatting problem you had. I'm experimenting with it and explaining what I know on another thread. Hopefully, the situation can be improved!

  • I don't want to pay for 0183. If it was software features I didn't use, I wouldn't care but legacy hardware support is not free. If someone wants 0183 support they should pay for it, not me.

    I do want an input PGN which allows me to set display modes from elsewhere on the N2K bus. There should be a user defineable display value, numeric only.

    I also want optional BIG FONTS that use up the whole display. The IS20 looks like an exercise in typography rather than an example of legibility. When there is a single value being displayed it's because the user wants to be able to read that value from the back of the bus.

    The red backlighting for night vision on the IS20 is a good idea.

    I'm leaning towards the IS20 right now. They're reasonably priced. But I'll probably do a bake off of the FI50s and the IS20s.

  • For the basic digital, I would also add:
    - change the brightness or switch to night mode on one device, it changes for all devices on the network
    - auto detect ambient light / switch to night time display.
    - support sailing specific variables. E.g. target boat speed, lift / header, best of port/starboard boat speed sensors based on AWA
    - display values change based on start of race, upwind leg, reaching, downwind leg

    I'll get the ball rolling with Advanced Digital, but since I very much like the ST70, I will raise the bar higher …
    - Accepts data via wired N2K or wireless bluetooth
    - Audio capable … with capabilities similar to a cell phone.
    - Touch screen, few external buttons other than power/brightness, menu, reset, escape … if even that much.
    - All the sailing focus of a Tacktick (sailing specific variables like lift/header, change display based on start, upwind, downwind)
    - All the configuration flexibility of the Raymarine ST70 (e.g. 1 to 6 windows per page, choose the value and display graphic per window)
    - More values including rudder angle, time to next way point, time to end of route,
    - More configurability (e.g. set max value for boat speed), 32 pages rather than 8, display graphics can be user created on a PC and shared with boat owners over the internet.
    - Runs Google Andoid O/S, any page in the display can be a boating software application instead of an instrument display. Applications run even if not displayed, and continue from last point when the power went off.
    - Optional proxy cell gateway, connect to displays via N2K or wireless bluetooth, accepts easy loading or unloading of a SIM card and supports multiple digital displays from a single proxy gateway.
    - Included software exposes information on N2K network to Android Applications via XML
    - Included software allows android applications to send information on the N2K network directly (e.g. like alarm clear, change display brightness, etc.), or behave as a virtual instrument .. e.g. an application can take information in then turnaround and output as a virtual sensor … e.g. take multiple variables and output a target boat speed, take in multiple depth sensors and output the lowest measured depth as a virtual depth sensor, take in port and starboard boat speed measurements and output as a 3rd virtual boat speed sensor the correct value based on apparent wind angle, take in all the network alarms and provide a single instruments to display and clear alarms from all chartplotters, and anything else someone can dream of and sell over the Android marketplace.
    - Field software upgradeable via bluetooth from a PC, Android equipped cellphone, or thru proxy cell gateway
    - Display pages across many displays can be combined in a group definition. Choosing a group, from any display, causes all the displays to change to their defined page function in the group. (e.g. a group can be defined for harbor motoring, coastal cruising, racing start, racing upwind, racing downwind, etc.)
    - Wide viewing angle, even with polaroid sunglasses
    - 9 customer definable brightness levels, auto detect ambient light / adjust brightness / auto switch to nighttime mode
    - 2 models: Available in color (moderate power) or 256 shades of grey (low power)

  • wow, that's a lotta junk...

    nmea 0183 is dead, long live n2k

    you want bluetooth, how's it gonna get power? n2k wins again..

    (and no mention of a digital paper display.. a la the Kindle, easily the most energy efficient solution. )

    9 brightness levels? i want 10!

    sorry, these forums needed at least one trolling post, they're already like 5 days old...


  • There should be a lowest power or maybe an off mode. "Off" might be a shutdown until the N2K bus got reset.

    A no buttons version. More screen less crap. All settings get done on the MFD.

  • Perhaps it appears to some my design is a bit over the top and there is room for a middle ground between basic and the advanced display I describe ... but the advanced display can be made of cheap oem parts like the guts of a cell phone, plus quality display, software, and then marinizing and sold at a premium over the component costs to cover the other many costs of being in a low quantity market .. very consistent with marine electronics. Even the gateway hub could be built from the guts of a cell phone and N2K parts.

    If between basic and advanced digital display, should there be room for one ... for the sake of manufacturing costs ... should probably be identical hardware with less software features.

    Mrfugu: With the color displays, it would be seen as a feature to have the power provided separately, rather than off the N2K cable bus. On sailboats it is also advantageous to separately power aux displays that are used for a fraction of the day on different DC circuits, like those at the mast, to conserve power.

    Bluetooth or other wireless protocols have its advantages as follows:

    - Less cables = less weight.

    - Avoid base of sailboat masts: Running some power thru the fiberglass up from the base of the mast isn’t a problem, but the base of sailboat masts are just a terrible place to be concealing N2K connections. It’s essentially exposed to the weather here, not a good idea for maintaining the integrity of your N2K bus. In fact sailboat masts offer a tremendous opportunity for wireless in general for avoiding cable weight and wiring issues at the mast top as well … so it’s real likely the base of a sailboat mast isn’t far from a wireless transmitter.

    - Ease of wiring for companionway displays: Typically it’s going to be difficult to route an N2K bus through one or both sides of a companionway where you may want to have a display for your crew to see (I have two displays), make your N2K bus much shorter by avoiding these areas. It cost me over $500 to get 0183 wiring to my companionway … if all I had to do was get power to the displays I could have done that myself.

    - I probably left something out.

  • The point of 183 support is that most of the boats out there are still 183 based. If the manufacturers make N2K, all or nothing, then it's tough to migrate people.

    And what if you don't want to migrate to N2K at all, you just want new displays because your 10 year old 183 displays have died? But you also don't have the money to completely re-wire your boat for N2K just yet. Or maybe you have no desire to because you haven't yet seen a compelling N2K product. Not everyone is in love with N2K.

    Give customers an easy migration path, don't force them to make big decisions, let them make small incremental decisions. The mfgs will sell more hardware.

  • The buttonless version would be perfect for the masthead display. Simrad and Furuno have graphic and digital versions sort of meant for bulkhead and mast respectively. The more full featured graphic (bulkhead) version could configure the more spare digital (mast) version.

  • Russ,

    Why burden 0183 support in the cost of each device when those with such a need, can get a gateway ?

    Which reminds me ... benefit of bluetooth, get N2K in your boat easier by eliminating the need to install an N2K network along the entire length of your boat or specifically to your cockpit and mast.

  • Dan, where does the gateway get installed such that the owner of the boat with 8 183 displays does not have to re-cable his boat?

  • I'm solidly in the Death To 0183 camp. If we've learned anything from the PC wars, it's that technology changes and that some products will try to retain old customers with legacy support and some others will leave it out for lower cost and greater design flexibility.

    However, the subject was the perfect display. What did Exupéry say about perfection?

    Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
  • Sorry ... I am at a loss for what was I thinking, when I answered that way.

    Geez .. it's easy to want to forget about providing an upgrade path for existing customers ... when it's my turn to be designer.

    When I turn my brain to support existing customers, it seems 0183 support alone dosn't cover many boats. Many 0183 wired boats also have the sensor wiring (depth, paddlewheel, wind) come right to the display ... 0183 support won't help there. Also won't help the large number of boats that came with Raymarine seatalk pre-wired.

    Your solution ?

  • Raymarine makes a SeaTalk to 183 bridge. I'm fairly certain the SeaTalk cabling is fine for 183, they just tweaked the protocols a bit.

    Chris - Screaming "Death to 183" won't make it go away, anymore than screaming "Windows is inferior" will make it go away. But give people a painless migration path and they'll start moving. Parallels and Bootcamp are both helping Apple bring a lot of Windows users over to the Mac, a lot more than when Apple just said "we're better". Why? Because they don't have to choose.

    The lesson I learned from the PC wars, as in all wars, is that only the arms merchants make money (i.e., Intel, Microsoft).

    Including 183 support in a display is pretty trivial, I'd guess the physical connectors will be the most challenging design item, the additional silicon and firmware is not an issue. There does not need to be an N2K vs 183 "war".

    The real question is will manufacturer X sell more units by including the 183 compatibility?

  • Russ,

    1) Seatalk uses less wires. While the reverse would be true (reuse 0183 wires to change to seatalk), going from seatalk to 0183 is a problem

    2) Are you going to address "Many 0183 wired boats also have the sensor wiring (depth, paddlewheel, wind) come right to the display ... 0183 support won't help there."

    3) A thought ... reuse existing 0183 wiring to get power to your new displays, or for extending depth & paddlewheel back to an existing central wiring point, where it could be converted to N2K or 0183 ... then have the new displays get their data from bluetooth, that would be a solution.


  • Russ, the you's and me's doing customs and refits don't matter much to the marine electronics manufacturers. If we matter at all, it's as early adopters shaking out their new technology. On the other hand, design wins with Beneteau and Hunter matter. The nanosecond a total N2K configuration for these boats is possible and economically advantageous Annette Beneteau is going to say, mort pour 0183. At that point, support for 0183 will quickly go from the practical requirement it is today to an unnecessary expense. You'll still be able to get your 0183 equipment to work with a little help from an a-daptor kit, to quote a Johnny Cash lyric. In my somewhat smaller boat, I'm able to refit it in N2K today and I'm willing to pay a bit of an N2K tax now so as to not be stuck with 0183 going forward.

  • For all the requirements we spoke about for a display ... how did we end up in a protocol discussion ?

    Ben ... your thoughts?

  • I am not ready to join the death to 0183 camp, but in this case I will make an exception, and hold fast to my belief that the displays should be absent 0183 support.

    Someone asked about using the display on a Kindle ... no go here I think. That type of display would not get the same power economy's on a boat as it would on a Kindle where the same text will remain displayed for almost a minute at a time.

  • This topic was just mentioned on the main page as a "hot conversation".

    Looking forward to seeing some more posts about the ideal basic and advanced digital display.

  • In all of these entries, I see no mention of the Maretron DSM 200o r DSM 250 which meets most reqirements

  • Martetron dispays are power hungry, 7 and 13 LEN respectively.

  • I would like to see a group of instruments, or a single display depicting conventional instrument faces, that could be moved from one water-proof saddle to another, for multi-helm boats like catamarans, and locked away when not in use. It would be 256 color 72 dpi screen that could repeat a wind selection of MFD images in both horizontal and portrait orientations, with a touch screen.

    I would like to add a screen presentation something like an aircraft Course Deviation Indicator with a compass ring, wind arrow, drift arrow,and touch-selected popup boxes with subsets of data. I would like to be able to overlay radar, weather, AIS, autopilot and other dedicated screens with the ability to "pale out" several and intensify a particular overlay, so that there is less onscreen confusion. This would be accomplished with popup touch screen sliders. It would have an ambient light sensor that would continuously adjust intensity and or contrast to adjust for variations such as shade, running clouds, someone turning on a light, and other minor stupidities.

    But the HOLY GRAIL of display technology is the "tap-to-talk" feature; touch a target, and if there is DSC or AIS information, a text box would ask "Do you want to hail SV Cutename? and would tell you to pick up the VHF mike and talk or do something else.

  • what about an iPhone app that turn an iPod Touch or iPhone into an instrument display and a central computer re-transmitting N2K data over wifi or bluetooth? Couple that with a waterproof arm-band case and each crew member has their own data display. Also, the iPod Touch is pretty darn cheap for what it gives: a touch sensitive, very bright hi-res screen that is tough and scratch resistant. Building a waterproof casing that still gives access to the touch screen surface should be a simple enough task. The displays are then cheap and readily available. Cheap enough to carry a few spares onboard, too.

  • As a pilot I learned to develop a scan that swept the instruments and then went out side the cockpit. Young eyes can handle the change in focus from infinity to an arm's length and back very quickly, just as they are faster to adjust to vary light levels. The Heads up display now common among single-seater in general and fighters in particular permits faster scans.

    These problems are duplicated in a marine environment. I'll admit things happen slower on a boat, but the human factors are constant. Consequently, there is am optimal size and contrast for marine instruments. A small display glued to a forearm sounds really trick, but I would spend a bit too much time letting my eyes adjust from seeing the horizon to deciphering a tiny screen. I am imagining something along the lines of a widescreen format at least 6" diagonal, with a pixel density apropriate for 30-40" from the eye. Something larger might require two hands to mount or dismount, but something slightly smaller might fit in a wide pocket.

  • I work in the industrial automation field and what is often done in similar industrial networks, is to use an HMI (Human Machine Interface) display. The display's screen views, data and pages can be setup visually using a standard computer program. Most of these displays are touch screen enabled. With the display setup for ''the way you want to see the information'', the raw data available on the network bus needs to be ''parsed'' or sorted then sent to the screen, this is done with a PC based network server or logic controller. The Network server will grab the raw data off the network, filter and format what you want to see (should be all/any PGN, Address, sentence and Data). The limitation of present NMEA displays is they don't have the flexibilty to customize much on display format. The dedicated LCD and LED formats are limited, and the fact that the display is also responsible for the processing and filtering the data also limits flexibility. If a single board computer was installed onboard in the pilothouse or cockpit, it could handle the parsing and from there send to the HMI display. You could pretty much format any view you want with any information you want. The network server could also perform
    calculations based on bus data and present these results on the display as ''virtual'' data. How about calculating gallons of fuel to waypoint? The network server could grab the fuel consumption readings off the engine,the distance to waypoint from the gps and then provide a fuel estimate to reach destination. The Network server would also translate from proprietary message format to open NMEA standard format. Instrument suppliers could provide software driver programs for proprietary messages to allow the server to communicate to those instruments, loaded directly on the server with a USB memory stick. The Network server would also allow for gateway to bluetooth, usb devices (for handheld displays) and be able to log all critical trip data onto a flash memory card. Is the marine industry at this point? Not quite yet but users need to firstly encourage instrument suppliers to develop virtual ''software'' versions of the displays, widen the NMEA standard to be more of an open network platform. Using Linux as an operating system for the network server will also help keep the operating platform more open to third party program development.

  • {Ben: I deleted some comments in this thread while trying to squish the little bug which is causing error messages on the forums. Now I'm reposting them.)

    Kees wrote:

    To get the ball rolling again, let's just state what we think is wrong with the current display series from the various manufacturers.

    I'll start:

    Anything on the market with colo(u)r such as Maretron DSM250, Garmin and Ray ST70 uses too much power. OK for powerboats but crap for sailors. I will not buy for this reason alone. At least Maretron gives us a choice (but their DSM 200 still uses too much power by far.)

    Furuno FI50, Simrad IS20, Ray ST60+: dedicated displays OK, but no graphic emulation of analog displays.

    All NMEA 2000 displays: no way to update by customer without MFD of same manufacturer.

    Oh, and btw I fully agree with Ben that NMEA 0183 has no place on a modern display, and should be relegated to a converter somewhere on a bus.

  • Dan wrote:

    - displays with dedicated sensor wiring. (e.g. depth sensors going to depth displays, paddlewheels to boatspeed, wind to wind displays). Sensors go to the network not the display.
    - displays for dedicated purposes. Except maybe autopilot control heads, lets have common display components rather than custom bezels. (e.g. ST70, etc.
    ... but lower the power requirements, make them 256 shades of grey if thats what it takes to reduce the power requiremnts)
    - displays that require you to press buttons to switch brightness levels, that don't pass that information along to other connected displays. (how about a NMEA-2000 PGN for this !)
    - lack of light sensor that switches display to night mode automatically.
    - not viewable at an angle of at least 60 degrees off center left/right/or from above. If every display in radio shack is wide angle viewable, even for products under $20 dollars, why not on every single marine instrument ?
    - lack of ability to designate a display to be a hub for all error messages.
    - No speaker, non whatsoever ... how about some audio feedback when you press a button? Helpful when your reaching over the helm, and can't actually see
    the display. Helpful to hear a depth alarm !
    - too few buttons. Autopilots need -10,-1,+1,+10
    - too many buttons. Use softkeys
    - in some cases, lack of a thumbwheel. What happened to having a thumb wheel you could spin, and then press to select ? They are even dissapearing from chartplotters now. Who decided this interface can be replaced with left and right buttons ?
    - no power button on an nmea-2000 display. With nmea-2000 getting into devices you commonly would like to use while at anchor, we need way to kill power to the others without turning off the nmea-2000 network. How about a power off PGN for displays and sensors ?

  • Russ wrote:

    This is harder because I haven't reviewed all the displays. It turns the discussion in a more negative direction, so the manufacturers will have to be a little more thick skinned to gain useful information from what we say.

    That said, with regard to the FI50's which I do have, I can say that what is "wrong".

    - Lack of flexibility in the FI-503 "Digital" display. I expected this display would have been as configurable as my ancient Raymarine ST80's on my last boat. The lack of configurability limits how much data I can display on the cockpit which is disappointing.

    - Graphics would be nice, especially histories over a selected period of time so I can see trends, particularly in true wind direction.

    - Poor quality wind direction data which is also poorly dampened. I shouldn't have to dampen the data myself (thus giving up the immediacy of the data) to get the data to accurate wind direction.

    - This may be the price of low power consumption, but the off angle viewing, particularly with polaroid sunglasses (which let me see the reefs), is poor. At night it's even worse (without the sunglasses!).

    With regard to the others, I agree with Kees and I've never given Garmin, Raymarine or Maretron serious consideration because the power consumption is too high. Small differences become large numbers of amp hours when the display is powered up 24/7.

  • It appears we are talking about having all sensor data available on this instrument buss. Then it follows that an instrument should have a programmable digital graphic display from an external embedded server, centrally located, permitting virtually any image to be viewed. This could be the perfect use of ethernet. Then these instruments could be no more than smart graphic terminals, Just barely smart enough to switch 'channels', or pick from a selection of data screens. In short, no more complicated than a portable DVR player, without the second most expensive part (the drive.)

    This is good, but I would like to crank in an exception; a three or four line low power display with its own battery capable of running a day without recharging, and acquiring its data directly from sensors. It would accept certain essential data and generate its own display, as an emergency backup, or for running a long time at minimum power on ocean crossings where the emphasis is less on immediate situational awareness. I'm thinking along the lines of the text only AIS display Ben intruduced us to recently.
    This thoroughly marinized and shielded gadget could live anywhere (like the skippers berth) and be called into play after a system casualty. It would fit the same mounts as the glitzy polychromatic screens, but keep on ticking if the vessel takes a licking. [wait, where did that come from?]