Lowrance Simrad SonicHub, some details revealed
Here’s what excites me about innovations like the Navico’s SonicHub: If you’re going to spend fairly big bucks on what is essentially a dedicated waterproof computer with goodies like an extra bright screen and custom soft keys — like a Lowrance HDS or a Simrad NSE — plus a rugged NMEA 2000 sensor network running around your boat, why not have them do as many display and networking tasks as possible? I first heard about SonicHub last weekend — in a very pleasant way — and now that I understand more of the details, it sure looks like a winner…
If you look closely at the Lowrance HDS screen above (click on it!), you’ll see that the stereo controls are only taking up a small fraction of the screen, and of course none of the dash board, since it’s a black box design. (And let’s forgive whoever chose AC/DC for the photo shot; this is about technology, not taste 😉 But note the “Virtual Head Unit” button, which means that you can use that whole color screen to access your iPod/iPhone audio selections, and maybe other stereo functions, when you want (as you can see toward the end of this demo video). In other words, the Lowrance SonicHub spiel — “the perfect choice for craft with limited space” — makes sense, especially given a suggested retail of $300 for the 200 watt box with a pair of 6.5-inch speakers and an iPod/iPhone dock.
But what about larger boats, like the cruisers that might consider Simrad NSE SonicHub? It seems like a downside of this system architecture is that you’d have to leave your MFD and N2K networks running even when you were listening to tunes at anchor or on a mooring. Well, a close-up of the petite audio server (below) reveals a DIN remote plug, and, sure enough, Navico tells me that it will take the second generation Fusion MS-WR600 wired remote (maybe even a series of them). Note too that the box has outputs for amped subwoofers and a third zone (by implication it can power two zones of speakers on its own), and both RCA and USB inputs for auxilary devices, as well as inputs for an AM/FM and/or a Sirius Satellite receiver.
What’s not clear yet is the video story. The NSE, for instance, has dual video inputs (and can make sharp use of them in my experience), and the latest Fusion RA-200 head and DKIPUSB dock can manage and output iPod/iPhone video (as discussed here). Can the SonicHub accomodate full Apple A/V with the right dock, or might that entail a future model? Also, will SonicHub integrate smoothly with Simrad and Lowrance’s own Sirius Audio/Weather module? I dare say we’ll learn these details as Navico and partner Fusion prepare the SonicHub for planned delivery in September. But the SonicHub details we already know are pretty attractive, I think, and given the CZone and DSS distributed power options already announced, it’s clear that Navico is doing some very creative development around the latest Lowrance and Simrad MFDs and N2K. What the heck else could be up their r&d sleeve?
PS, 5/28: It turns out that SonicHub already includes the iPod/iPhone video features I wondered about. I don’t know why the feature isn’t mentioned anywhere in the marketing materials (talk about a product exceeding expectations!), but here’s some pretty good proof:
Incidentally, Garmin MFDs can also control at least one audio source over NMEA 2000, if the system includes a GXM 51 XM satellite receiver, discussed here recently:
And hence there’s the same issue of controlling the audio when the MFDs would normally be shut down. I’m wondering if Garmin is working on a small N2K XM audio head?
And don’t forget that Raymarine can also control Sirius radio through their C/E/G etc. MFDs when you have a Raymarine Sirius receiver.
I’m pretty amazed to learn that SonicHub includes iPod video output and control (and I’ve added a screen shot that illustrates it above). Apparently you only get the video resolution native to your iDevice, currently 480×320, but that may improve with the next generation. This is going to make some boaters very happy. And given that Fusion’s own video out dock is $150, SonicHub seems a bargain.
Having used the Raymarine feature to control Sirius radio thru my E-80, which was done very very well with channel lists, soft buttons, etc. I have experience with this type of feature, and as a result I am not so thrilled with the ability to control music at the MFD. There is a big pitfall that needs to be addressed.
First let me say, that I very much like the ability to instantly mute music in response to an emergency on my own boat, a channel 16 broadcast, or even something as simple as a cell phone call or the need (on a sailboat) to ask crew to tend to an adjustment, etc. Each time I mute this I am reminded why I might want to keep using the radio controls via MFD.
This could be just a litte bit better, if the mute button was a dedicated control on the charplotter or a softkey that is available on the menus most people leave their charplotters on, but thats a little nit pick.
I very much DISLIKE that my family is at the MFD constantly changing the channel or changing volume whenever they don’t like a song, or making me the DJ doing the same. To avoid this issue it would be ideal if a capability existed for a seperate wireless remote or the Raymarine ST70 instrument display could be used to remote control the music controls on the MFD, so family members need not disrupt the chartplotter presentation.
Maybe you should fence off your helm, Dan 😉
Seriously, alternate controls is an issue with MFD integrated entertainment. That’s why the option of a dedicated Fusion remote is good news regarding SonicHub. That’s also why NMEA 2000 based control systems may be a good idea. All the Ethernet-based systems like Raymarine Sirius may not be able to control audio without an MFD or at least an Ethernet hub powered up.
Hey Ben, I’m trying to integrate a broadband radar with chart overlay, with a PC navigation system like Fugawi. What is the simplest way to do this? Thanks, Sam
Well. an old curmudgeon like me would say that there is no way to justify connecting navigation-critical displays and entertainment. If the issue is the extent to which your music player (of whatever persuasion) is taking up real estate on your primary navigation display, then that is a real no-brainer!
Sam, there is only one Broadband Radar now — the Navico BR24 that is sold with Lowrance, Simrad, and Northstar labels — and there is no way at the moment to use it with anything but MFDs from those companies. However, we know that it’s quite possible to adapt a BR24 to PC charting, if and when Navico lets it happen:
Michael, Isn’t your critical navigation on a PC? I don’t understand how that’s safer than an MFD, no matter how many optional apps are made for the latter.
Michael wrote “there is no way to justify connecting navigation-critical displays and entertainment”.
Most of the time when I am at the helm I feel like I am less the captain or navigator, and more the chief entertainment officer. I am in favor of some MFD capability that aligns with my work behind the helm.
My racing crew was asking me just the other day why my electronics have not evolved to the point of selecting a youtube video to play on one of the auxillary displays, to play multi minute instructional videos on how to trim the sails, the meanings of various navigation rules, etc. either after we make a mistake or on the ride to the race course, and then recaps from our navigation software of our track on the way back to the dock.
Ben, I have never made the argument that a PC is safer than a MFD, just more capable and cheaper. I watch DVDs on my nav computer, but only after the hook is down. The problem is not the availability of apps, but their concurrent presence on the screen (and maybe eating cycles).
Dan, my concern is with the little taskbars, buttons, etc, that eat up screen space. When you’re relaxing and heading back to the dock under VFR, the nav computer, as such, is pretty redundant and might as well be used for something else.
Will the video output from the iPhone only work on the Simrad or HDS as well?
John, I’m nearly positive that the iPod video you can see in that last screen above could be going to any display with an RCA video input, and that seems confirmed by the installation manual now up at the SonicHub site:
Thanks Ben, but the HDS only has the NMEA2k network, no RCA.
Sorry, I forgot that. I’d guess that you can control iPod video with an HDS and SonicHub but the video output would have to go to another screen.
I got to try the SonicHub interface on an NSE in Newport last week, and was impressed by how fast it is. And of course the big, bright screen is great for looking through a long list of iPod content. But neither video nor the Fusion remote control were set up. Has anyone out there tried those?
I have got my eye on an NSE for this very application. Any idea what the brightness (nits) are of the NSE8 and 12. I can’t seem to find it anywhere.
I don’t know about NSE nits values, John, and that measurement is only vaguely related to what you actually see. I do know that the NSE 12 seems as bright or brighter as the other premium MFDs. It’s worth noting though that while its brightness stays fairly consistent when viewed from the sides or from above, it falls off steeply when viewed from below the screen.
NSE12 and 8 are rated 1500 nits,this is the highest I have seen,the Geonavs are rated at 1000 nits.
The NSE’s are also the only ones with LED backlighting.
I have powered up my NSE12 and it does seem very bright to me.
1500 nits is very good. I will certainly start the ball rolling on acquiring an NSE. Thanks to you and Peter.