|Digital Charts Bonanza|
Part 2: Big Changes are Underway
By Ben Ellison — March 2002
Why would you want both a vector and raster version of the same area? I, for one, find the clean presentation of vector is sometimes nicely complemented by the original detail of raster, though I admit speaking as one who was data-deprived in his youth. In truth, having either Maptech’s or Nobeltec’s massive information libraries running on a good PC feels like you came back from a proper chandlery with a wheelbarrow of printed goods.
Not everyone wants to wrestle with a PC on his or her bridge, regardless of the wealth of information contained therein. The majority of digital charts in use are on simple memory cards in dedicated chartplotters. Traditionally, two big manufacturers produced somewhat pricey cards that covered smallish areas and worked in a variety of other manufacturers’ hardware. Big changes are underway. For one thing, Garmin stepped into this market in a huge way. Already the dominant maker of handheld GPSs and prone to offering its own proprietary cartography, Garmin came out in 2001 with a series of large chartplotters that directly compete with the likes of Raymarine and Furuno and full detail BlueCharts that look a lot like Navionics and C-Map products, only less expensive… for a while.
Navionics just announced its new XL series of chart cards. Until now, the company’s best offering was L-size cards that could hold up to 32 megabytes of charts (like West Palm through the Florida Keys) and sold for $299. A 128-meg XL card covers three to four L-size regions (all of Florida) and retails at $199. Three times the data for two-thirds the price–that’s price cutting! If you just need the smaller L area, they are now reduced more than 50 percent to $129. Similarly, C-Map has doubled the coverage of its Wide series and introduced SuperWide cards (all of Florida plus Georgia and South Carolina), both at astonishingly reduced dollars per chart.
Chart-card makers are also competing on looks and other features. Garmin managed to give BlueCharts, which are actually based on the same Transas database as Passport charts, a notably readable presentation and rich search features. Simultaneous with reduced pricing, C-Map is introducing an upgraded data format, dubbed NT+, which includes numerous presentation improvements such as user-selectable color schemes and fonts and more customizable layering. Use of the added options is smartly simplified with a series of display control modes, like "full," "simple," and "fishing." NT+ also includes "Guardian Technology," whereby the plotter minds your heading line for charted shoals; it’s much like the "look ahead" function on the Sea Ray Navigator profiled elsewhere in this issue (see "Building a Better Brain") but otherwise a completely unique feature for plotters and one which could save a distracted navigator’s butt.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.