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Old 21-03-2013, 09:00   #16
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

Another reason to delay the purchase of the plotter and the radar until the final "polish" phase of fitting-out. The field continues to evolve rapidly, and as the owner of a pilothouse cutter, I would prefer a netbook PC-based nav system with a simple sunlight-capable "auxiliary monitor" slaved to the outside helm. I don't need to "do" anything at the outside helm other than view our progress, particularly, and compare eyeball data with chart data. I want to keep the calculating parts inside where it is typically a lot drier.

A lot of people wouldn't have those same goals, but for me, a whiz-bang MFD at the outside helm is not only unnecessary, it is not flexible enough when compared to a $400 netbook (or even an elderly Toughbook) also capable of handling my SailMail, GRIBs, provisions/spares lists, PDF manuals and vast collection of sea shanty MP3s and Patrick O'Brien audiobooks.

Not to mention that the entirety of a netbook's data and programs can be backed up onto a separate drive in a protected part of the boat, and also "ghosted" once a week onto a separate and stowed away second or even third "backup" netbook...and still cost less than the typical two-grand MFD.
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Old 21-03-2013, 11:23   #17
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

One has to look not only at the initial cost but the life cycle cost in my view. When you consider the life cycle cost of an MFD against the number of netbooks it takes to run for say 15 years the $1.5K MFD will win out. So while consumer electronics are initially very cheap their life cycle cost is very high because they are obsoleted every 18 months. That's not considering they may not play well in salt air environments and a host of other concerns that reduce their life expectancy further.

There are a lot of things that require user interaction at the helm on most boats. An MFD can be an important part of a safety system. I think a MOB button at the helm is pretty important. Being able to control the radar and AIS displays is also important.

My system has a new MFD at the helm and it communicates perfectly with every piece of older equipment that was installed in 1998. It would work with equipment that is more than 20 years old. I fear those days will be gone when marine equipment manufacturers start chasing consumer trends.

It's all about what you want. Some of us want to sail safely and others want to write their own operating systems and compilers. I think the marine electronics market is and should be geared more toward the former.
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Old 21-03-2013, 11:49   #18
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Its worth pointing out that Simrad GoFree requires its MFDs. Hence its really an iPad iThingy connectivity solution rather then any sort of open system

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Old 21-03-2013, 13:40   #19
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

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Originally Posted by transmitterdan View Post
It's all about what you want. Some of us want to sail safely and others want to write their own operating systems and compilers. I think the marine electronics market is and should be geared more toward the former.
I don't think the two concepts are mutually exclusive. If you don't want 3D zoomable views of some of the more elaborate MFDs, or require the connectivity to support tank levels, exhaust temps and other unusual sensors that can be integrated into CANBUS or NMEA2000 setups, the actual processor power needed for navigation is relatively modest. Keep in mind also that some prefer standalone displays for AIS and RADAR as overlays can be cluttered and perhaps staring at a screen is less seamanlike than eyes on the sea.

It's also possible to greatly "sea-proof" even low-end consumer electronics with conformal sprays and anti-corrosion coatings...or just to keep them at the nav station or at the pilothouse helm.

Ethernet setups using PCs or pico-ITX boxes are a logical outcome of not wishing to be stuck in a proprietary trap. They are no more inherently dangerous than the level of seamanship of the person interpreting their displays. The popularity of SeaClear and OpenCPN and Active Captain argues that this is an increasingly valid choice for the cruisers looking for options beyond the "Star Trek helm station", which is fine for those who wish it, I suppose.
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Old 21-03-2013, 20:53   #20
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

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When you consider the life cycle cost of an MFD against the number of netbooks it takes to run for say 15 years the $1.5K MFD will win out. So while consumer electronics are initially very cheap their life cycle cost is very high because they are obsoleted every 18 months.
MFD's are "just" rugged computers with much higher markup for the niche market. MFD's go obsolete just as fast, sometime faster because some vendors (watch me not mention Raymarine) just abandon products when it suits them.

We are having quite a bit of thread drift, because I'm the OP and I'm looking to buy a MFD, looking for recs on those which can share their data. I'm sold on safety, and having something bulletproof for the helm.

So we have opposite conclusions on the lifecycle costs because there is no pair of depreciation/support curves that will make a $2 to $5 thousand MFD look cheaper than a $0 to $5 hundred new nettop or used laptop. Old PCs, especially when running something like Linux, have much more power than needed for NAV tasks, and likely have more power than many big dollar MFD.

Are you buying two MFDs? One for the helm and one for the Nav station, and maybe a third for the home office?


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It's all about what you want. Some of us want to sail safely and others want to write their own operating systems and compilers. I think the marine electronics market is and should be geared more toward the former.
Really ... "compilers" and custom OS coding?

What, you think we're not man enough to etch our own silicon or something...
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Old 21-03-2013, 21:13   #21
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
Its worth pointing out that Simrad GoFree requires its MFDs. Hence its really an iPad iThingy connectivity solution rather then any sort of open system

Dave
You are partly correct, the Simrad/Lowrance/Navico toolkit only connects to their equipment. But it's hard to imagine them giving away software to connect to the other vendors, when the other vendors' protocols are still closed. And yes, iPad and iPhones.

Still, the purpose is only to get their data and use it elsewhere, and AFAIK they are the first to provide that themselves, as opposed to from reverse engineering.

My read of their materials (have not used successfully or read of others use) is that it will work on any computer, smart phone i.e. Android,
Apply iThing that supports the transport protocols. This includes high end displays like VarTech, Argonaut and who knows how many others. Who knows, maybe
a Furuno MFD could be configured to display Simrad/Lowrance data through the toolkit.

Yeah - this "cool new feature" is only working with their equipment as the source. And that is the moral of this story, which other posters have also expressed:

For the buyer - If you want this feature now, your Radar/Plotter etc. purchase choice is easy because it is so limited. For the vendor - (other than Simrad/Lowrance) it will be easy to explain to your boss why sales have declined.
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Old 21-03-2013, 21:21   #22
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

I wouldn't buy a marine plotter. You can do everything you need to do with an i-Pad or netbook type computer. My overpriced Raymarine plotter is a piece of garbage. At night when I dim it, it tends to completely fail and need to be restarted. It's a common problem with E-80's but good luck getting Raymarine to stand behind their product. The price of having them repair it is a substantial percentage of the cost of a new one.

A good friend of mine has logged about 20,000 miles with a $200 netbook and open source software. The nice thing about using a computer or iPad is you can afford to carry a complete spare system.
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Old 21-03-2013, 22:09   #23
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Re: Plotter or MFD recommendations - with ethernet

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MFD's are "just" rugged computers with much higher markup for the niche market.
I have never heard another sailor say "be sure to back up your MFD in case you have to reload Windows/Linux/iOS/Android/OS X/etc." But I hear it all the time from people with netbooks and PCs at the nav station. I'm guessing no one has to update their antivirus on their MFD every weekend either.

There are high end systems for glass cockpits that are PC and network based. But the typical mid to low market MFD is based on an embedded processor with no hard drive and dedicated hardware, firmware and software. They have water tight enclosures with conformal coated electronics to survive the harsh corrosive environment. They do not run Windows but might be some flavor of Linux under the covers as this is quite common in embedded systems design. They typically have an Ethernet port as well as CANBUS, multiple serial ports, video inputs/outputs and proprietary bus ports such as SeaTalk. Putting all these interfaces on a PC or netbook will quickly drive the cost well over $500.

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MFD's go obsolete just as fast, sometime faster because some vendors (watch me not mention Raymarine) just abandon products when it suits them.
My Raymarine experience is that the 20 year old unit talks just fine with my new one over SeaTalk. Raymarine still supports the 20 year old unit with service and tech support. My new MFD will control my 15 year old autopilot. I'm not sure what product Raymarine abandoned but it wasn't any of what I have.

Raymarine had/has a huge market share. Therefore, there are obviously users that had problems with equipment and for whatever reason did not think the service was good enough. That happens when you have 90% of the market even if only 0.001% of your customers have issues. But my direct experience with Raymarine is that they make a quality product have good service and their newer units are cutting edge while the recreational marine market is much smaller today that it was 10-15 years ago. The same can be said for Garmin and the brands by Navico that are still in production.

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We are having quite a bit of thread drift, because I'm the OP and I'm looking to buy a MFD, looking for recs on those which can share their data.
So far as I know there is no MFD on the market meeting your requirements. All the posters so far have said the same thing. I further postulated that it was unlikely to ever come to market. I considered that responsive to the original post but I apologize if it wasn't.

The closest out there today are MFDs that can send their screens or some form of graphic replication to an iPad application. Raymarine offers MFDs that do this as do some other manufacturers. But none of them support writing your own display code via a documented API to the transducers. Neither do they offer any API for querying the status of the transducers via the MFD. The MFDs that use Ethernet for radar do not expose that interface to the user. There is a group over on OpenCPN section that are hacking one type of radar but it is slow going. Have you gone over there and asked the same question?

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So we have opposite conclusions on the lifecycle costs because there is no pair of depreciation/support curves that will make a $2 to $5 thousand MFD look cheaper than a $0 to $5 hundred new nettop or used laptop. Old PCs, especially when running something like Linux, have much more power than needed for NAV tasks, and likely have more power than many big dollar MFD.
I agree about the computing power required. However, there are very few old PCs at sea. They don't last in that environment and they cannot be repaired economically. A quality MFD should last for at least 20 years. I suspect no netbook will last even 3 years at sea assuming it doesn't get dropped into the drink before that.

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Are you buying two MFDs? One for the helm and one for the Nav station, and maybe a third for the home office?
No, I bought one MFD for the helm for a lot less than $1,500. I still have the old one at the nav station which works quite well. I also have a PC at the nav station that can interface with everything on the boat (except radar) via NMEA 0183. I do route planning on the PC or iPad then upload the route to the MFD.
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