|E Is For?|
Raymarine takes giant step number two in its E-normous product overhaul.
By Ben Ellison — March 2005
When Raymarine’s managers, backed by British investors, purchased Raytheon’s recreational marine electronics division in early 2001, the negative chatter in the industry was that the new, much smaller company would sorely miss daddy’s deep research and development pockets. Wrong! During the company’s IPO last fall (in the United Kingdom), it was revealed that post-independence R&D had actually increased nearly 60 percent. But you don’t need financials to know that Raymarine’s on a new-product roll. The C Series multifunction displays, introduced at about this time last year, won all sorts of innovation awards and are selling like hotcakes. Now I’ve had a look at the new E Series and can tell you that it’s E-xciting.
Aside from giving writers a chance to goof around, the “E” and the “C”—there’s an “A” Series, too—don’t actually stand for anything except Raymarine’s effort to clarify product levels. The further you get down the alphabet, the more fully featured and expensive the electronics are, and the larger the boat they’re likely appropriate for. The lettering technique is particularly useful for the E Series because the displays look exactly like C’s—same horizontal screen orientation, same sleek bezel and flush inset design, even the same buttons. In fact, the C’s entire friendly user interface and do-it-all plotter/radar/fishfinder navigation functionality is all in the E. What’s new is what we might call E-xtras.
For instance, the E screens are extra-bright. The two models—an eight-inch VGA (640x480-pixel resolution) E80 and a 12-inch SVGA (800x600) E120, retailing at $3,200 and $4,600, respectively—have the same brighter-in-direct-sun transflective properties as the C’s, but with even more backlighting. This generates more heat, and hence Raymarine exchanged the C’s plastic back casings for heat-dissipating and extra-strong cast-aluminum ones. The engineers also added a graphic coprocessor for extra-quick and dexterous control of all those brilliant pixels. Taken altogether the E’s display improvements make for richly colored charts that zoom and pan with snap, but they’re particularly noticeable in the E’s major extra function: video.
Product manager Louis Chemi argues persuasively that Raymarine’s first stab at video display is the best in the business. First of all, each E can handle up to four NTSC/PAL (or two S-Video) input streams from cameras, DVD players, TVs, etc. Each can be given a custom name for its source and shown full-screen or windowed, or a selection of the four can be set up to cycle at a user-defined time period. What’s more, each stream can be adjusted for aspect ratio, contrast, brightness, and color saturation, which is more video control than I’ve ever seen on a marine display. But, perhaps more important, the processing of video input—scaling, interlacing, etc.—seems to be one of those technologies that can be done well or not so well. Chemi claims, “side-by-side, our processing is clearly superior.” We didn’t get a side-by-side comparison when Raymarine demo’d the E Series aboard a 45-foot Cabo Express in Florida, but the video imagery we saw was unquestionably crisp and vivid.
There’s much more that’s notable about the E’s I/O (input/output) capabilities (beside the temptation toward lame “Old MacDonald…E-I-E-I-O” word play). Unlike the standalone C display, the E can be networked using Raymarine’s new SeaTalk High Speed protocol, which is based on the 100 Megabit Ethernet that’s nearly omnipresent in PCs these days. Raymarine is certainly not the first marine electronics company to use Ethernet so that multiple displays could speedily share charts, waypoints, radar scanners, etc., but SeaTalkhs appears to be a thoroughly thought-out implementation. The company is making its own marine-quality cables and eight-port switch, and installation is supposedly plug and play (some marine Ethernet installs require complex address configuration). SeaTalk also has a feature called “Smart Data Bridging,” which simply means that any regular SeaTalk or NMEA data collected in a display gets elevated to the high-speed output. Hence you can install a second, or eighth, display with just a single SeaTalkhs cable and a power line. (Note that while video does not go out over SeaTalkhs, or any marine network, video outputs can be easily split to two or more displays.)
This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.