RotoKey, RotoCool


Short of a boat show, maybe the best way to see how smartly the new Furuno NavNet 3D interface works is to check out the Tutorials at Then you can see how those soft keys above fan as you turn the RotoKey knob, which thus gives you instant feedback about where you are even if the knob is separated from the display. Plus, being a knob and not actual keys, “RotoKey” means you don’t need to move either your eyes or your fingers to access NN3D’s soft controls. Moreover you can choose from several preset levels of RotoKey controls, also customizable, and you can jump right from your favorite set to all commands available for a particular screen with just a long push on the knob. The little icon at the end of the RotoKey label indicates either more choices under it (the arrow head), accessed with a button push, or its on/off status, changeable with a button push. The latter may seem obvious but truth be told the new Garmin interface often makes you do 3 button pushes just to change an on/off condition (steal this idea, Garmin!).
   Actually I’m told that Furuno itself “borrowed” the idea of separating the scroll and cursor controls from the Northstar 8000i (very much alive, by the way), and what a good idea it is. How many man button pushing hours (MBPHs) have you spent just getting a cursor to the edge of screen so it could start scrolling the chart! Jeff McLaren even compares the NN3D interface to high end video games, in a good way, and I suspect he’s right. I don’t know video games but I see well chosen bits of several good PC (and Mac) interfaces in NN3D. And not only is it frankly PC based (dig those left and right mouse button icons on the keyboard), but you can plug in any standard USB PC HID (human interface device), and use it right along with standard controls. Want a wireless RotoKey (and more)? All you need is a wireless mouse with a clickable wheel. Well done, Furuno.


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.

8 Responses

  1. Russ says:

    Great! But if we’re not buying the $10K black box (no monitor), how does it translate to the 8″ / 12″ displays?

  2. Kees says:

    Russ, the way I read the NN3D brochure you can plug in a mouse to the 8″/12″ plotters as well.

  3. George says:

    The USB mouse is a great feature! You could use some really neat interfaces like the Adesso USB touchpad (about $50) or even tracballs such I have seen on some professional devices.
    I agree with you strongly that separating the scroll and cursor functions is a major step forward. My Raymarine was a pain in the behind in that respect.
    My guess is that the instant screen redraw is going to be their standout feature that the others have to catch up to. (I already have 3D on Nobeltec and never use it — fishermen might like it though.)
    One thing that I would have to know more about is the availability of charts; it sounds as if they have invented yet another new chart format with 3D encoding. Will they have coverage for the West Coast of Canada at ship time?
    I can’t wait to see this guy in person, even though it will be too late for me — my shipyard is (supposedly) going to be ready to start installing my electronics in a couple of weeks so they want me to order now.

  4. Cameron "Praetorian" says:

    Ben asked this very question to Furuno. Their answer was that they would be using Navionics Gold charts that were converted to their 3D system.
    The Canadian Furuno rep, Ken Harrison, told me that they’d be using CHS vector and raster charts.
    Not sure which is the real story (maybe both). Furuno is having a dealer training day in December and I may be able to attend (in Toronto). If I can I’ll check out the charts and let everyone know.

  5. Firsttimer says:

    Getting ready to buy my first boat and I have become addicted to Panbo and the developments in the marine electronics world so I have been lurking here for a few weeks. Great stuff.
    If you don’t mind a rookie question: Could you talk a bit about black box vs. other plotters/radars vs. PC. I am confused. Seems like lots of folks moving to PC Nav options but frankly I have not met a PC I would rely on at sea.

  6. Russ says:

    Firsttimer: Here is one answer…
    the difference between the black box and the plotter/radar is the BB has no display, it’s designed to be connected to an external display. In the case or the Furuno NN3D BB, it’s also got a faster processor and the the ability to manage multiple displays, functionality more like Nobeltec’s Admiral running on a PC.
    The biggest difference bewteen these and a PC is reliability and support. The reliability is derived from two things: 1) the hardware has been designed and built for the marine environment and 2) since you’re not adding arbitrary applications, drivers and other s/w the OS is less challenged and able to maintain it’s reliability. If you never added any 3rd party software to your PC it would also be pretty reliable.
    In terms of support, try calling Dell, HP or Apple and telling them that your electronic charting s/w is not running correctly on their laptop while it’s bouncing around in your boat powered by a vehicle adapter and wired to a bunch of external devices. The first Dell or HP will tell you to do is reload the operating system! The support staff for the marine devices are going to cut to the chase and address your real issues, not try to blame the OS or some environmental factor (though some vendors do have a knee jerk reaction to blame power quality).
    That said, I did explore the difference between using a Furuno NN3D 12″ MFD and using a PC running MaxSea. The answer is there is not much difference in functionality, but certainly a better and more flexible UI. Probably more functionality with MaxSea in the long run (not necessarily on day one)
    The very open question is how Furuno will handle chart licensing and copying between the NN3D devices and MaxSea on a PC. If MaxSea is treated as a “weak sister” by not allowing charts to be copied to the PC, thus requiring an up and running NN3D device at all times, then they’re really dealt MaxSea a blow and you have to wonder why you’d pay more (MaxSea + PC) to get less.

  7. George says:

    The original black box computers from Furuno appeared to be their standard units minus the display and keyboard. This was useful for people who wanted to use larger screens than it was practical for Furuno to provide for a built-in unit.
    Now Furuno and Raymarine seem to have gone into the world of general purpose computing. There is nothing wrong with that, but I do not know how will it will work from a marketing perspective. They are competing with very cheap hardware, and it can be tough to justify an order-of-magnitude price differential.
    You can get perfectly solid computers for marine use; they are used by the military and industry. They cost a fair bit if they are true mil-spec (although not much more than the Furuno) so I have found a decent compromise in the automotive PC market. They make 12 volt computers that are pretty vibration resistant. The trick is that they are simply repackaging notebook computer motherboards, which are actually fairly tough beasts. Get a fanless model with a solid state disk drive, and you have something that is electrically tougher than the Furuno with its spinning disk drive.
    A huge difference is that a system like a Garmin, Furuno or Raymarine has been tested with all of the hardware that they sell with it. That is the flip side of closed systems; the engineers know what is going to be hooked up to the machine so it is a little more likely that their testers will find the bugs before you do.

  8. Firsttimer says:

    Many thanks. Anybody have any experience with failure rates on new non-PC nav gear? As I think back on about 12 years and 6 computers in my home, I have had motherboard or drive failures on 2 PCs…both new PCs within the first 3 months….so about a 20-30% failure rate. Not good. Some guys at Best Buy will tell you this is not unusual.

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