Furuno FI-50s, another calibration road taken


Well, it’s one thing to contemplate testing a rack of N2K instruments (between slurping oysters and admiring sea birds), and quite another thing to do it. So many factors…oy! Today’s focus is Furuno’s unusual approach to calibration; it turns out that the FI-50s can do extensive calibration of almost any sensor because its done within the instruments instead of within the sensor. This could cause some confusion but overall seems like a terrific option, especially for folks who are going to use other manufacturer’s N2K sensors or bring existing 0183 smart sensors onto a network with a converter (like the Simrad AT10).

Contemplate the photo above, or, better yet, the full rack shot (now with scroll bars!). All the wind and depth data is coming from the same two sensors, Furuno’s analog whirly gig piped into a 502 Close Hauled gauge and a Maretron DST 100 (both off screen). The DST is actually mounted about 2’ over a concrete floor but has a 10’ offset programmed into it (which can be done with the Maretron, Garmin, or Simrad displays, but that’s quite unusual, and only because all three companies sell the same Airmar transducer). At any rate, that explains the 12’ foot depth PGN seen on most pictured displays and elsewhere on the network. But the 18.6’ on the FI-50 Multi is because, for example’s sake, I programmed an added 2 meter offset into it. (Nevermind that I meant 2’, but the unit ‘fooled’ me; I dare say that will be clarified by the time these actually ship in a month or so, and maybe Panbo will get a credit ;-).
   The FI-50s synchronize such calibrations among themselves (if desired), but they are not broadcast onto the network. You can see the same phenomenon with the wind. Note how the speed (actually a small fan) is nearly the same everywhere, the differences only a matter of individual instrument dampening and timing. Ditto wind direction on everything but the FI-50s, which have their own 30 degree offset set up. Yeah, I got carried away, but hopefully made the point? NavNet 3D will do the same sort of independent calibrations.
   Today I also realized how hard it is to evaluate all these different screens, almost every one a different technology. For instance, the FI-50’s bold segmented LCD fonts are very legible, as you can see, but they can’t change font size for menus or put up useful icons like all the other (bit mapped) screens. Their OLED backlighting (less than 0.1 amp!) also seems to be the dimmest of the bunch, but it’s automatic (if you desire), and did pretty well in my simulated low light photo below, and bigger here (except for the wind gauge LED’s bleeding and poor lighting, which Furuno is looking into). But I’ve got a lot to learn about light settings on some of the other screens, plus put all these puppies in some real sun, not to mention figure out what that warning sign on the Simrad IS20s means. Oy!


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

13 Responses

  1. Russ says:

    Lots to review here, but one quick question. If the wind is the same for all units, and the Furuno has a 30 degree offset, why do the Garmin and Martetron show somewhere around 44 degrees and the Simrad and RayMarine about 60 degrees? These are big differences. It would be interesting (though perhaps challenging) to see the N2K analyzer raw PGN data at the same time.

  2. artist/scientist says:

    Russ – look again please. Wind angle is 96(degrees) on everything except Furuno which is 66(degrees). The 44 is a 4.4 and it is knots.
    Check your graphics card or your astigmatism.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “artist/scientist”, you’ve embarrassed yourself with sarcasm. You’re looking at the lower photo and Russ was looking at the upper photo, which shows much more wind angle variation. I think the problem is mainly my funky fan test setup, which produces a much flukier breeze than real life.

  4. norse says:

    Just a nit-pick, but I think the seven-segment digits are LCD displays. A bit old-fashioned for my taste; especially for text. I find the contrast of all the LCD displays is disappointingly low. Not super-twist I guess. An OLED display would be very good in this application.

  5. Russ says:

    I was looking at the “full size” version of the upper shot where the Maretron and Garmin show something around 40, the others about 60, except the Furuno with the 30 degree offset at 30. If they are all feeding off the same sensor, why the variation?
    Norse: I think the FI-50 is an OLED.

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, gents! I corrected the entry to reflect the FI-50 brochure, which describes the displays as LCD with OLED backlighting.

  7. norse says:

    I know what I don’t like about my old monochrome LCD displays, so I’m not keen on buying new instruments with those same problems.
    Contrast: the black of the on segments isn’t usually the problem. But the “white” of the background and off segments often is too close to a black. (The colour LCDs get around this by using a backlight, but that increases power needs and it’s hard to make it bright enough to be sunlight viewable unless it’s transreflexive). If the sun is at the wrong angle, the off segments are just as black as the on segments, which makes the display unreadable.
    Viewing angle: On a powerboat, you probably have a stable viewing angle. On a sailboat, you could be sitting or standing so the vertical viewing angle can be very different. You could also be sitting way to either side, or not. There are few places to mount an instrument and the view to those places is often blocked by the crew.
    Icom has an aviation radio with OLED display:
    Sony is selling an OLED HDTV (xel-1) with a 178 degree viewing angle. They also sell a Palm Clie
    (vz90) in Japan with a 3.8 inch 480×320 pixel screen. Google that to see that screen.
    Also, why not have touch interfaces on these instruments?

  8. Dan (b393capt) says:

    I agree completly.
    B&W is just fine, but accomplish it using OLED technology and get the needed high viewing angles !
    Touch interfaces … yes ! Do away with the buttons and get more screen area !

  9. Adam says:

    We have been trying touch screens in the marine industry for years and they just do not work!
    Buttons are always reliable!
    What next wireless NMEA 2000!

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Adam, I think there are a lot of Garmin 5000 series and Sea Ray Navigator (Maptech i3) owners who would disagree with your touch screen assessment.
    Also, wireless N2k already exists, in the Simrad WR40 remote:

  11. norse says:

    There are many different touch technologies; hopefully at least one of them works well in a marine environment. I played with a Garmin GPS for cars briefly and I was impressed; other touch devices have quite a buzz too šŸ™‚
    Here’s a scenario. You have very limited space to put instruments. How many do you really need? If each could display any kind of information, then how many would you need? At any particular time, you might be focused on certain things, but at different times you would focus on different things. So you only need a few instruments, as long as they are very flexible.
    To be most flexible, the display should be a pixel matrix, not seven-segment style. Changing the display on one type is just a matter of programming; the other type is fixed forever.
    Then who knows how many buttons you need? It depends on what you display, so any fixed number will be a compromise. Even on simple one-function displays, there are often other modes where the button labels are wrong and you have to remember what each button does. So there is a big advantage of having touch buttons on-screen (when needed). And using the space that they would have taken up for more screen area.
    To make it even nicer, there should be a remote control (hand-held mouse) which can select each instrument and can then operate that instrument without touching it. (Let’s skip the ten remotes syndrome and agree on a standard for a remote that works with any instrument, any brand).

  12. Philipp says:

    I know this is a fairly old entry, but I was wondering if have heard anything from Furuno regarding that messed up backlighting on the FI-50 windgauge.

  13. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Philipp, I think the problems were fixed before these even went into full production, and am not sure even the beta batch suffered consistent bleed thru.

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