Panbo

AmbientNAV Alpha, & a wee rant

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Sep 19, 2007

AmbientNAV_Alpha17_behind

That’s the hind end of an AmbientNAV 17” Alpha monitor, just announced but not yet up at the company site. Check the bigger shot to see the amazing diversity of inputs available, not to mention the sharp engineering.

Yup, that’s a coax connector at right, leading to the built-in HD sat TV tuner. I don’t normally get into pricing, partially because list prices often aren’t reality, and partially because different folks have very different ideas about what value is. But whereas some commenters are aghast over Ray G-Series prices, I’ll note that the Daylight version of this Alpha dog lists at $6,995 and the Sunlight version at $8,495. Hell yeah, that’s big money, but I had the Daylight model down in the Lab for a couple of hours recently and can tell you that it’s about as similar to a conventional monitor as Electra is to Ralph. Ditto for G-Series. One commenter claims that these various high bright monitors are built from inexpensive off-the-shelf components with little value added. I say, “Please, show us where that shelf is!”
   Now, truth be told, I too am the sort of guy who would probably make do with a conventional monitor in my pilothouse, including fooling with gels like Milt. But I could also argue that a first class boat deserves some first class monitors. Why squint and futz, if you can afford not to? At any rate, I didn’t get see the Alpha in real daylight but we did put the the lab in total darkness and compared its dimming to the E-120 and Garmin 5212. The Alpha was excellent, as is the E-120 (the fully dimmed 5212 is kinda bright but does have a night color mode). By the way, do visit AmbientNAV to see its existing monitors and its nifty Stowaway marine computer.


AmbientNAV_17_Alpha_Monitor

Comments

While I also feel that some of these products are ridiculously expense, I also realize that such products are priced according to what the market will bear, and frankly, livaboard low-budget DIY folks like myself are simply not the market. Besides, state-of-the-art drives development, and plenty of technology "trickles down".
What bothers me more is the lack of excellent entry-level products. Take the ST60/ST60+/ST70 progression (with accompanying price increases); just give me a standard package of such quality sailing instruments at the $1000 price point, and I'll be all smiles.

Posted by: yuri at September 19, 2007 6:31 PM | Reply

One commenter claims that these various high bright monitors are built from inexpensive off-the-shelf components with little value added. I say, “Please, show us where that shelf is!”

That shelf is in Japan and Korea. I stand by my assertion that there is no marine electronics company that has any proprietary value add in the flat panel display, they buy them on the merchant market and add electronics and packaging.

For $560 you can get a 22" Samsung with speakers, a built in TV tuner and a similar set of connectors:

Connector Optical
Connector Type DVI
Connector DVI-D (F)
Connector Mini DIN 4-pin (F)
Connector Type Audio
Connector Type Component video
Connector HDDB15 (F)
Connector Type HDMI
Connector HDMI (F)
Connector RCAx3
Connector Type RGB
Connector Type S-Video

And a 3 year warranty!

No, it's not as bright, but do we really believe it cost another $6,000 to make it brighter and keep out the water?

Posted by: Russ at September 19, 2007 6:31 PM | Reply

The high bright CCFL lamps are relatively expensive, as you will find when they burn out. However, there is a problem when a consumer grade 17" monitor is around $200 and a marine grade asks over $7000.

You can get industrial sunlight monitors in the 17" range for around $1,100 (http://www.cdwg.com/shop/products/default.aspx?EDC=1239470) although they probably do not have as tough of a screen as a good marine monitor. The marine monitors do add value, but I'm not sure that they add $6,000 of value. What is really going on here is economy of scale -- the marine market is tiny so the development costs are spread out amongst fewer people.

I would really rather that the marine monitors concentrated on function and reliablity, standardized on DVI-I (DVI + VGA) inputs, and let people who needed multiple inputs buy an extra box to handle it. In my own boat, I am going with ethernet-based cameras fed into an automotive PC -- letting the PC software handle windowing rather than relying on expensive custom chips built into the monitor.

To tell the truth, I have not decided upon a monitor. I have room for a 17" but the frustrating of finding exactly the right one almost made me buy the Raymarine 15" -- which I discovered had been discontinued. The new Raymarines are expensive enough to make me think twice, and the fact that the "Raymarine" logo appears on cheap stuff in West Marine makes the other half of the equation reluctant to shell out that kind of money for their monitors. If they were reasonbably priced, I'd probably have one by now.

Posted by: George at September 20, 2007 3:22 AM | Reply

I agree that the monitors should be very durable for the price they are asking.

I'm not impressed with Raymarine of late. Their E and C series monitors are so fragile that even Raymarine will replace them from damage due to harsh cleaning...

I want something bright and resistant to the environment, but also durable for cleaning and longevity.

So far the 15" Furuno is the front runner for me (It should look really nice above the black box navnet 3)

Posted by: C at September 20, 2007 1:05 PM | Reply

(Revised)
It really resonates with me, that the monitor should have a limited setup of inputs and a separate box to offer the connections, with the benefit of saving lots of weight (less cable) and making installations far easier (ever try to run video cable thru boat conduit, one is hard enough !!).
It also resonates that development costs are split across a tiny market driving up costs ... but for $6000++ my expectation would be something that is really addressing our market as I would argue that these Raymarine and Ambient NAV only pretend to address our market.
(1) Daylight viewable displays – ok, nice to have, but should only add $200 in cost and requires no development costs, the component is available off the shelf.
(2) 12 volt operation - no big deal, noiseless dc-dc step up converters are available for almost any existing display you get at Circuit City / Best Buy
(3) Ruggedness - available cheaper, but also is it rugged the way it counts? How rugged is a monitor that requires installation in which hand splicing of connectors is required when the connector heads are to large to snake thru the vessel. A rugged solution would avoid snaking those cables thru your conduits.
(4) Lots of connectors - come on, if you really have half that many sources, is one monitor enough? If you use a receiver to consolidate your audio/video sources your only going to use one connector.
It would resonate better that development costs are split across a tiny market driving up costs to $6,000++, if the product actually addressed the market rather then just having a marine vendor sticker on it. How about features that are really targeted at our environment such as:
(1) Monitors receives signals wirelessly from external box e.g. within 15-30 feet, and to avoid having multiple remotes, monitor transmits the selected source to the external box so the external box only transmits wirelessly the selected video source.
(2) External Box does two things. First provides the selected video and audio source to the monitor wirelessly (direct), but Second importantly support that the audio for the selected source instead goes out digitally (by wire) to a receiver and optionally excepts audio back from the receiver (running from basic capability to surround sound) to support the monitors speakers being used as either a center channel or a left/right audio channels slave to the receivers surround sound circuitry. The ideal external box would also have a separate audio output for use by a boats stereo speaker system in case that's all that boat has in the saloon, and that could be either wireless (e.g. transmit on an FM channel) or wired.
(3) Keep all those nifty video and audio source channels that today's Raymarine monitors offer, just locate them at the external box.
(4) Allow from the cockpit for the captain to have a separate wireless (not line of site) ability to lower or kill the volume, so he can instantly cutout distractions and get the crews attention to respond to an emergency.
(5) Support component mini-external boxes that broadcast audio/video signals to the main external box wirelessly, enabling same monitors to select for example to display information from chartplotters, laptop PC's, or game consoles without having to run wires to the external box.
(6) As a bonus, operate in a mode where it also controls the boats audio sources when underway without the monitors, again without line of site remote controls.
Now ... maybe that’s worth $6,000, and even if only the components cost $ 600 on the street, that it's been integrated and customized for the marine market the argument that those costs need to be spread over a tiny market place, would carry weight.
.. just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Dan (b393capt) at September 20, 2007 1:36 PM | Reply

For reference, one example of an external box is the Avocent Switch View DVI. I have not used this particular box, but it lets you see video from four devices on one monitor. It is DVI-I, so the sources can be either DVI (digital) or VGA (traditional computer output.) You can switch inputs from the keyboard using hot keys.

Back when I was gainfully employed as a programmer, I had up to eight computers in my office. That many monitors would have microwaved me (joke) so my company provided a switch box. We tried a couple of brands -- two were awful and the third had absolutely no signal loss. I don't recall the brand, and it probably isn't made anymore anyway, but the concept works fine.

Posted by: George at September 20, 2007 3:25 PM | Reply

I thoroughly agree that the best solution is wireless. Cabling is the nemesis of most electronics installations. 802.11n (or even g) has more than enough bandwidth to carry multiple video signals throughout a boat. The technology is cheap and available from multiple sources. Apple's Airport Express and AppleTV prove this stuff works.

OK, maybe in a steel fishing boat the signal could be a problem. But I'd still rather run an Ethernet cable to a wireless repeater than a bundle of audio/video cables.

If not wireless then surely the system could use a centralized "external" box as another commenter has suggested and run only an Ethernet cable around the boat. Gigabit ethernet will carry all the video, radar, etc. you want with a single small cable that is in expensive and proven technology.

Yes, we'd like a monitor below and another at the helm or fly bridge, but do these monitor vendors really think we're going to pull bundle of cables like that through a boat? And do they think that's a reliable solution in a marine environment?

I don't care how much you charge or pay for the monitor, it won't make the cabling behind it any more reliable.

Posted by: Russ at September 20, 2007 3:26 PM | Reply

Right on Russ. It's very reasonable to snake an ethernet cable thru a conduit, in fact I already have some in my sailboat to integrate (2) Raymarine E-series and Sirius weather.

Revision to my proposal of what a monitor that was really designed with marine needs in mind, add:
(7) In addition to (or instead of wireless support), allow for customers to alternatly use wired ethernet to accomplish the same connections.

Maybe we can finish designing the product here on Panbo, and Ben can call attention to it somehow.

Posted by: Dan (b393capt) at September 20, 2007 4:25 PM | Reply

I work in an industrial environment as a network engineer. Our plant environment is not dissimilar from a marine environment; high-pressure wash down, high humidity, corrosive chemicals such as chlorine, etc. I'm also a burgeoning boater with a limited budget so I'm feeling the pain of high cost electronics. I may have a fairly good solution though.

In our plants we use a computer product called a VersaView by Allen Bradley. It is a NEMA rated PC with a touch screen and all of the normal PC inputs. They run from about $3500.00 to $5500.00 new from manufacture but you can find un-used unit's on salvage sites/E-bay etc for as little as $2500.00. Pentium 4 2GHz, 17" display, 512MB Ram, Touch Screen, Windows XP, etc.

Still pricy but at least you get a full computer that you can run all of your apps from instead of just a monitor for basically the same price.

The industrial controls industry is worth a look for you inventive boaters, they have some very adaptable equipment and most all of it is hardened.

PS. Ben, thanks for a Great site, Very Helpful.

Posted by: Hanggliden at September 20, 2007 4:42 PM | Reply

An irony of this thread is that if you look at AmbientNAV's existing monitors, you'll see that they have relatively few inputs, relying on a separate switch or connection to a PC that might be the source of multiple feeds. According to Ambient, all the inputs on the Alpha line are there due to installer/customer demand!

Posted by: Ben at September 21, 2007 3:44 PM | Reply

There are some really pertinent comments above about the outrageous prices of marinized monitors, but one point we've missed in the cost of producing, in very low numbers, water-proof or -resistant cases that can dump the heat from the backlighting required to get 1000 nits or more over a large screen. A welded box might be cheaper but it would look 'cheap' and a custom molded or die cast case would really run the tab up. But not to Six Grand!

Posted by: Sandy at September 24, 2007 11:47 AM | Reply

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