Panbo

Simrad SonicHub, hand's on #1

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Dec 13, 2010
Simrad_SonicHub_video_testing_cPanbo.JPG

An interesting gadget I tested a bit on Gizmo before her late haul out (tomorrow, actually) is the Simrad (and Lowrance) SonicHub "Marine Audio Server" discussed here in May.  I'm pretty impressed so far.  The screen above may be a bit disconcerting because the NSE had a little trouble displaying the (difficult) title of the iTunes TV show I'd selected (which should read, "El espectáculo ¡Seamos saludables ahora! (The Get Healthy Now Show)") and Elmo seems disjointed in the particular frame captured (though the video looked fine in motion), but I'm now confident about the concept.  That is to say, I can arrive at the boat with all sorts of music and video on an iPod or iPhone, stick the device safely away in the SonicHub dock, and then manage it all from any NSE (or NSO) on the boat's SimNet/N2K network. And of course there's more...

I also listened to FM radio via the SonicHub, and it was notable that this receiver brought in more stations than the Fusion MS-IP500 that normally uses the same antenna.  You may already know that Fusion builds the SonicHub, and also seems to be constantly outdoing itself, even though it's already carved itself a pretty distinctive spot in marine stereo.  I tried the dock's front and back USB ports too.  You can only play MP3 files through them, no video; there's a 16 gig max to the media; and there are some styles of memory stick that aren't going to fit in that front port, but otherwise they work fine.  I don't have a black box Sirius Satellite Radio, or the Simrad WM-2 Weather/Audio module, either of which can plug right into the SonicHub and be controlled by an NSE, but I was pleased to see that the port can be used as a second auxiliary line level input...

SonicHub_iThing_Dock_cPanbo.JPGThe diagram below, from the install manual you can download here, says a lot about the versatility of the SonicHub.  You can even plug a regular iPod/iPhone USB cable into the hub, instead of the dock (but you won't get video as that RCA port is on the dock, as seen above).  A note on the diagram also confirms that you can use a Fusion remote -- the MS-WR600 model -- to control the SonicHub from elsewhere in the boat, or if the NSE(s) are shut down.  (When I've asked Simrad sales people about this at shows, they seemed unsure.)

SonicHub_wiring_diagram.JPGSo what's it like to run your stereo from your MFD?  Well, it's true that if you're running four other function windows, as in the opening screen shot, you might have to tap the "Win" (for Window) button five times in order to highlight the little SonicHub window at the bottom.  But then the Menu key will get you the SonicHub choices seen on the lower right below, the knob will control volumn, and the cursor keys will let you advance tunes or AM/FM favorite stations (easy to set).  In the collage below, I've included the Zone controls (I was using Zone 3 with a separate amp in my temporary setup) and hint of how the NSE displays iPod/iPhone menus.  Climbing around through the menu layers is a little awkward, but it's fast, and very legible on that big screen.  I'd say the SonicHub is all that was promised, if not lots more (since they didn't really promote the iTunes video possibilities, which I think some boaters will like a lot).  It also bodes well for Fusion's latest, the MS-RA200, which can USB connect to the same dock and has some other features like VHF scanning.
Simrad_SonicHub_screens_cPanbo.JPG

Comments

I forgot to mention that if an iPhone in the SonicHub dock gets a call, the system does not fade the music and ring so you can take it on a Bluetooth headset, but some other Fusion systems will.

Posted by: Ben at December 13, 2010 9:19 PM | Reply

Hmm, not sure about this one Ben, I'm not convinced that watching video on a Primary Nav Device enhances safety that much. I'm all for technology and spend most of my time dealing with it, but sometimes it takes a wrong turn, and this looks like one to me.
It seems a bit like having a DVD player in the drivers seat of the car, which is definitely illegal in the UK, in fact I think they'd lock you up for it most places. I see a definite place for video when shunting in and out of your berth, but other than that well....
Anyway what's really wrong with a decent car stereo with a mini USB and audio socket on the front, probably a much cheaper and more versatile option and if you want to watch vids, then do it in the cabin on the boat PC, which to me seems the right place.

Merry Xmas to all

Steve

Posted by: steverow at December 13, 2010 11:26 PM | Reply

Ben, this looks like a powerful unit indeed...I'm especially excited by the potential such a system shows in terms of bringing together so many components into one integrated interface. But a couple of questions pop to mind...is there a capability planned to connect over ethernet to any of the commonly used PC-based nav consoles like Nobeltec or Rose? From here it could be further streamed over the growing number of media controllers and audio/video devices that are starting to appear on more moderately-priced boats. Indeed, I am not as excited to see it share precious space with my nav apps, but would appreciate the ability to do the streaming and controlling (as I described above)to an array of networked devices throughout the boat.

I know Simrad sells more traditional MFDs, but in my experience, boat systems are becoming increasingly (a) heterogeneous, multi-vendor; and (b) black box and computer driven (in addition to MFD). This is not a new thought at all, as this open systems theme emerges regularly in this space. I hope Simrad and other marine electronics manufacturers will soon see the wisdom of such an open approach to marine systems integration.

Drew

Posted by: Drew Clark at December 13, 2010 11:37 PM | Reply

Gracious, Steve, since when are boats analogous to cars? The average cruiser spends only a fraction of their onboard time underway; why not use that bright, expensive MFD screen for another function? And some boats do what might be sort of analogous to crossing hundreds of miles of wide open parking lot at 8 mph ;-)

Drew, the SonicHub is controlled over SimNet/N2K, as is XM audio by Garmin MFDs. I haven't heard that either company is thinking of moving control or audio/video content to Ethernet. If someone is, it might be Fusion.

Posted by: Ben at December 14, 2010 8:45 AM | Reply

Steve/Ben:

Usually if a customer has a KVH or other Sat TV onboard, I'll connect it's video to the input on a new MFD, and audio to the cockpit speakers.

Although watching while running at full throttle in a crowded area can be dangerous, a long, slow passage or hanging out in the cockpit, watching TV at the dock, is a great use of a very nice, waterproof LCD screen.

I'm consistently impressed with Fusion products, just recently had the pleasure of setting up an RA200 and the customer is loving having a second "Receive-only" VHF, and the big buttons mean he can operate the stereo with gloves on.

Posted by: AaronH at December 14, 2010 10:01 AM | Reply

OK Guys, I'll wind my rather conservative neck in then.

Kind Regards

Steve

Posted by: steverow at December 14, 2010 10:09 AM | Reply

I'm with Steve -- I see this type of unit appealing far more to the gadget-happy powerboater than to the slower sailing crowd; and the powerboater that's at full cruising speed, watching a video on his MFD at the helm, can do FAR more damage to others.

Besides, who wants to go up to the flybridge to watch a video on their MFD when they could sit below on a comfy couch in air-conditioned comfort?

Fred

Posted by: Frederick G Street at December 14, 2010 10:51 AM | Reply

Ben . Simrad really are doing great things 're integration and NSE

Did I understand it right that the video out is only available over simnet or it's there an external video output that could drive a standard monitor etc

Dave

Posted by: Dave at December 14, 2010 11:06 AM | Reply

SonicHub video output is via that yellow RCA plug on the dock. It can be plugged into one of the two video inputs on the NSE or most any other display/monitor. SimNet/NMEA 2000 doesn't have the bandwidth for video or audio. Ethernet does, especially the gigabit flavor.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Dave at December 14, 2010 11:16 AM | Reply

Hi Guys
I guess everybody has an opinion on what they like and don’t like I think the Simrad SonicHub is a very nice toy for my boat.
I'm just curious if any body knows if I can hookup an underwater camera to the device.
John

Posted by: John at December 14, 2010 2:31 PM | Reply

John, You can plug an underwater camera directly into one of the Simrad NSE video inputs. Many Raymarine, Garmin, and Furuno MFDs too. You don't need a SonicHub for that. The only thing the Hub does with video -- its Dock, actually -- is to get video out of an iPhone or iPod, though that's pretty neat.

Posted by: Ben in reply to John at December 15, 2010 10:06 AM | Reply

I just installed the SonicHub for my center console and love it. I was tired of replacing so-called “marine stereos” every other season. The SonicHub sits protected behind the console away from salt-spray and moisture. Also, if there’s a guy that wants to watch movies instead of keeping watch, the SonicHub is not really the problem, it's better than getting nagged to go in! It's great for my young Boys too, if fishing is slow they get antsy at the 4 hour mark, but not anymore.
The video is just a bonus, as is the priceless feature of having a waterproof, secure place to charge my iPhone!

Thanks-
Mike
Captain Team Old School

Posted by: Team Old School at December 16, 2010 12:16 AM | Reply

Ben,
I liked your articles on the Sonichub.
I have been using mine to play MP3 files on a 8GB flash drive.
If I have any more than a 100 songs on the stick the first few seconds of the song are garbled.
The more songs I put on the stick 200, 300, 400,ect. The worse it gets.
Have tried different brands and sizes of flash drives and even plugged the drives directly into the back of the Sonichub.
I have even replaced the unit through Lowrance support.
Are you having the same kind of issues? Or willing to test?
I am using it with a HDS-10 Gen2

Thanks,

Posted by: Mike Steffens at September 24, 2012 2:17 PM | Reply

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