Written by Ben Ellison on Sep 24, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
While Simrad may be the last of the Big Four to introduce a high-performance, multi-touch, glass bridge system, it seems like they've added at least one significant twist to the concept. The new NSO evo2 black box contains two independent main processors, which can drive two independent displays. The brochure claims that this architecture gives you "the freedom to view and control your onboard systems more easily while making every dual station installation or larger networked system simple and much more cost effective." It's a claim that I tentatively buy...
The Furuno NavNet TZTouch (some Panbo love here) was arguably the first of the new glass helm breed, but I was disappointed to learn that the more recent TZT black box model does not support dual independent displays like the original NavNet 3D box does. "It's not possible with touchscreen," I was told, and I believe that's true, unless you take the quite unusual step of essentially putting two computers into one box. The only other true dual processor marine computer I can think of is the RAPC Nautilas I once wrote about, and the main goal for that design is redundancy.
The NSO evo2 also offers some redundancy, at least to the extent that there are two processors each running independent instances of NOS (the Navico Operating System version of Linux). This was demonstrated to me at IBEX when a tech pulled out an iPad and showed me how the Simrad GoFree app (running through WiFi1) saw the evo2 as two separate MFDs and could thus either mirror the single touchscreen I was looking at or function as a completely independent screen with access to radar, sonar, etc. etc...
I can't find a product page for the new NSO yet, but you can download an evo2 brochure PDF here and you'll see that each processor can drive a wide variety of screen resolutions right up to 1080p. I understand that the box even comes loaded with drivers that will work with several third party multi-touch monitors, and I think the touch commands travel on the HDMI cable unlike older implementations where a USB cable is required (the Furuno TZT BB, for instance, has dual DVI and multiple USB ports so it can drive a second mirror monitor at a second helm). I hope to check on that detail tomorrow at the NMEA Conference in San Diego (I'm writing in an airport again ;-). Another plus visible in the evo2 booty shot above is the full-size SD card slot, which means that some installations will be able to do without a remote card reader.
The NOS evo2 will function like a souped-up NSS MFD, but make that the NSS 3.0 which came out last week packing multifunction goodies like support of FLIR thermal cameras and FusionLink audio (over NMEA 2000), not to mention the chart choices seen below. I really appreciate the new support for the OP-40 keyboard, which means that NSS (and evo2) now has the two interface attributes I so miss from the NSE series -- the instant function keys (which can actually call up any screen or even a list of screens if you hold instead of tap) and the Win button (which can instantly make a screen window full screen).
The NOS evo2 does not have the multi-screen SmartMode I admire on the Garmin 8000 Glass Helm series (also seen at IBEX), but then again even the black box 8000 apparently can only drive one screen (and maybe a mirror) and I believe that it has to be Garmin's if you want to use touch. Raymarine remains a little mysterious, as they have yet to announce a black box version of their multi-touch gS-Series. Glass bridge competition and innovation is heating up, Simrad is now definitely a player, and I hope that the style and functionality will start working its way down to less expensive gear. Your thoughts?