Panbo

New Raymarine a-Series, all touch and highly connected

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jul 16, 2012

Raymarine_a-Series_a65_or_a67.jpg

No knobs, no buttons, no "hybrid touch"?  Is anyone else surprised by the pure touchscreen interface on the just announced Raymarine "a-Series" multifunction displays?  We can discuss usability issues after the break, but one thing about pure touch is obvious: It let Ray design for maximum screen in minimum helm space. These new MFDs use an area only 6.5 x 5.7 inches to encase that "Super Bright LED" 5.7-inch (diagonal) 640 x 480 pixel screen, which is quite a contrast to the previous A-Series (at 8.9 x 6.3 inches and a lot thicker). But the little a-Series is not at all small in terms of horsepower or connectivity...

Besides for size, the new "a" is also a far cry from the old "A" because the displays can network with up to six c- or e-Series MFDs via SeaTalkHS (Ethernet) and SeaTalkNG (NMEA 2000), including about every sensor those systems support. Thus the little "a" displays can run Ray's digital radars, CHIRP fishfinder, and Sirius Satellite Weather, and though they don't have an analog camera input they do offer "video over IP" which is a feature that even their larger siblings don't have (yet). The a-Series can also handle the complexity of Navionics Platinum+ charts -- like photo maps and 3-D -- if you want to use them; in fact, I'm told that "the processor, graphics co-processor and software base is the same as is on c-Series and e-Series so they are extremely fast."
   Raymarine hasn't put prices on the a-Series yet but presumably they will be "entry level" and what's nice is that someone can start with one of these and know that he or she can add MFDs, radar, etc. at will. Or someone already equipped with, say, an e-125 and e-7 can add an a65 (the a67 is the same but with sonar) to get another do-anything screen onboard, as suggested below. I think this sets a new bar for the range of MFD sizes you can use in one network, with Lowrance being the closest competitor...

Raymarine_a-Series_networked_with_e-Series.jpg

What's missing from the a-Series is the WiFi connection and control apps that have gotten so much attention for the c- and e-Series. But they do have Bluetooth built-in, which means you can run one with an RCU-3 remote control or use the a65 or a67 display to control track selections on a Bluetooth music player, or both. Plus, I notice on the a-Series web page that another "Ready to Rock" feature is: "Fusion Marine Stereo home screen access. Full control of the Fusion 700 Series." It's odd that there's nothing else about this elsewhere, but it sure sounds like the first example of FusionLink enabled in an MFD. That concept goes way beyond simple Bluetooth track control to complete access to all controls and content -- maybe even cover art -- via the Fusion 700's Ethernet connection. We recently discussed when FusionLink MFD might show up, and if it's in the a-Series it seems a good guess that it will soon come to the c- and e-Series as well. (But, no worries, I think it will show up elsewhere too.)

Raymarine_a-Series_Fusion_Link.jpg

Another sophisticated feature the a-Series sports is a fuel management system. It will even overlay range rings on your chart that show live how far you can get at the present fuel burn (which reminds me of a software product Ray developed with Yanmar that never got to market). And I'm told that this feature is definitely slated to become available on the c- and e-Series in a future software update...

Raymarine_a-Series_fuel_manager.jpg

And yet another aspect of the a-Series that will move up the line is those on-screen "hero" controls for range in/out, gain, rain, and sea clutter seen on the radar screen below (and similar for sonar). It will be interesting to see how well they work on this small a screen. After all, the latest MFDs from Furuno, Simrad, and Raymarine (up to now) all feature touch screens combined with at least a knob to speed up certain operations like gain control and often button, knob, or joystick redundancy for all touch commands. Heck, I've been wondering if Garmin might add a knob or something to its pure touch MFDs when they refresh the hardware. And note that Garmin's smallest marine touch screen is the 640 model and it's semi-portable.
   So Raymarine is breaking new ground with a 5.7-inch pure touch MFD, but let's reserve judgement on how well it works. Touch itself does not determine what an interface is like. That's because the actual interface is a combination of a particular touchscreen technology -- including how fast it responds -- plus all the software nuance the designers put into the controls and menus. Maybe the a-Series will turn out to be a winner, and the first of many small pure touch MFDs?

Raymarine_a-Series.jpg

PS "The new a‐Series will be available to consumers in late October 2012. Official retail pricing will be released in September 2012."

Comments

Wow, I have to imagine that means we will get the Fusion control on the e series too! I am just about to install the Fusion remote on my bridge (radio is in the salon), would love to not have to!

Time to start checking out all of Raymarines europe websites, they seem to know first!

Posted by: Curt at July 16, 2012 2:29 PM | Reply

"Stodgy Old" Raymarine and "Brash New" Garmin have swapped roles.

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at July 16, 2012 2:41 PM | Reply

Curt, judging from how little Raymarine made of "Full control of the Fusion 700 Series", I think it's going to be a while. Also the a-Series won't be available until October, as I just added in a PS.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Curt at July 16, 2012 2:42 PM | Reply

I want to note that not everyone is happy with how fast Raymarine is reinventing its systems. Ace marine electronics installer RC of Compass Marine put up quite a strong post on the forum about this:

http://www.panbo.com/forum/2012/07/arghhhhh-radar-overlay.html

I'm exploring his specific gripe about how Ray gear will no longer do radar overlay without heading input, but note also his displeasure with the extras required as Ray's new gear drops plain old SeaTalk in favor of STng/N2K. I think the transition makes sense, but also sympathize particularly with folks who bought C- and E-Wides. Those MFDs did not have a long run.

Posted by: Ben at July 16, 2012 2:52 PM | Reply

What is interesting about this announcement is the potential for a high end bigger screen version of the i70 instrument, which shares the same software as the i70 and the e70. My bridge helm currently, has one large MFD and two ST70’s.

I would love to upgrade it with a large screen e-70, and two small instrument i70 sized MFDs which can display network radar, AIS, fishfinder an also windspeed/depth as good as the st70/i70 instruments.

Posted by: richardb at July 16, 2012 2:56 PM | Reply

I was thinking the same thing, Richard. The e7 instrument page is already designed so that you can swipe up and down to get different (customizable) data displays...so I'd expect we'll see that on the a-Series as well.

So if Ray can add some code that would disappear the top home/data/menu bar until the screen is touched again (Windows toolbar style), the a-Series, or even the bigger guys, could look quite like a super-size i70 (with many extra benefits). And whereas all-in-one instrument displays seem to cost more per square screen inch than small MFDs, it could be a good deal too.

Posted by: Ben in reply to richardb at July 16, 2012 5:08 PM | Reply

>they do offer "video over IP"

About freaking damn time this starts hitting marine MFDs!!!

Still having to rely so much upon analog cameras is a pure shame.

Posted by: Whynot at July 16, 2012 11:40 PM | Reply

Wow, this is great, amazing size and really love the look of it, small but strong looking - Well done Raymarine, a real transformation from were you where a few years ago.

Been thinking about a small repeater screen below deck. I think this will be added to the shopping list when we get the new Ray E95 fitted over winter.
Roll on winter!

Posted by: graham at July 18, 2012 7:51 AM | Reply

I read the post by the Compass Marine technician, as well as all responses. I would place this in the forum, but lost my password and forgot my username ten minutes after I signed up when it first was launched...

{comment moved to forum: http://www.panbo.com/forum/2012/07/arghhhhh-radar-overlay.html }

...Thank you Raymarine for requiring heading for overlay, people will be safer now. Back on topic, very nice new display, especially considering the full networking capability and processing power, but wary of the all-touch interface. Looking forward to maybe getting a peak at NMEA-Con.

Posted by: Labozza in reply to Ben at July 19, 2012 7:42 PM | Reply

I've been selling Raymarine for a long time. They make awesome products. How come they don't have the fortitude to announce pricing? How am I supposed to sell it? Any Idea when they'll figure it out? Whiskey tango foxtrot?

Posted by: Steve Johnson at July 24, 2012 4:13 PM | Reply

Has anyone seen the pricing yet? End of October seems like they expect these to be under the XMas tree.

Posted by: Don Joyce at October 7, 2012 11:23 AM | Reply

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