Big-Screen Chartplotters Under $2,000
Standard Horizon is right on target with its highly rated CP1000C. It bests two other value-priced, 10-inch plotters.
Last month, Practical Sailor reviewed four pricey, large-screen chartplotters that touted a long list of options. This month, we take a look at three more big-screen plotters. But these are more affordable—each less than $2,000.
Our test included three 10" color chartplotters, one each from Lowrance, SI-TEX, and Standard Horizon. Lowrance Electronics supplied us with a GlobalMap 7000C equipped with a WAAS GPS module and a 64-megabyte Navionics map card. Si-Tex loaned us its ColorMax 11. Standard Horizon loaned us a demo unit several months ago for testing. We used our own C-Map NT card for south Florida cartography in both the Si-Tex and Standard Horizon units.
How We Tested
The plotters were tested for day and night viewability aboard our 25-foot test boat. As always—and most importantly here since we're reviewing large screens—viewability played a major role in our ratings and recommendations. Displays were rated under a variety of lighting conditions, ranging from bright sunlight to cloud-obscured daylight to nighttime conditions. Each screen was looked at from various angles, with and without polarized sunglasses, and when applicable, we used different background color palettes. After sunset, each unit was given a night-view rating based on the screen's viewability during twilight as well as in total darkness.
The display screens were mounted temporarily on wooden bases using their accompanying brackets. This allowed us to examine the units on our test boat as well as indoors using an AC-to-DC power supply. The Lowrance and SI-TEX units were reviewed at the same time. We reviewed the Standard Horizon plotter in a December 2004 product monitor; its specifications have been updated for this review.
Each chartplotter was evaluated for user interface by performing various operations. Units with intuitive software, alphanumeric keypads, and numerous dedicated function keys were rated higher.
Standard Horizon CP1000C
Standard Horizon's CP1000C is a large screen colorized version of the original monochrome CP150. Measuring just over 13-1/2"wide by 9" high, the CP1000C is equipped with a 10.4" color screen with 640 x 480 resolution. Six brightness levels in conjunction with 21 contrast levels allow for a wide range of backlighting adjustment. We mounted the demo model to our test stand using the metal mounting bracket shipped with the unit. Our preference with a display unit this large would be flush mounting; it's more secure and can be accomplished with the provided hardware.
We rated the screen Good for day viewability; its screen brightness and sunlight color palette helped achieve this rating. Four preset color palettes are available, in addition to the sunlight palette we used for daylight testing. The unit also has a normal, classic, and night palette. When viewed through polarized sunglasses, the screen darkens slightly but is still viewable to angles of more than 45 degrees. Nighttime viewability was rated Good. The CP1000C has a wide range of low-light screen brightness adjustment when its six levels of brightness are used together with its 21 levels of contrast. Panel lights are preset at the factory to one level.
Our previous experience operating the original CP150 proved valuable on the CP1000C as the software, menus, and methods of operation are similar. With 25 pushbutton controls and a joystick, the CP1000C is a breeze to operate and accounts for its Good rating for plotter user interface. The real interface advantage of this unit over the others tested is the addition of its alphanumeric keypad. The telephone-style keypad makes manual data entry far easier than on a unit not so equipped.
The five soft keys are set by factory default in the Home mode to select various pages, like chart, navigation, highway, or video. In other modes, the soft keys change function to suit the mode. Each soft key function is also user customizable. We found chart redraw speed to be fast, normally taking less than a second to fully redraw the chart after a map range change. Minimum range with a C-Map card installed is approximately .1 mile to an inch of screen space. With no card and only the internal map, the minimum range is 2 miles. A celestial page displays tide data from the nearest tide station in both graphical and digital format, moonrise and set, sunrise and set, L/L, and current time.
Standard Horizon is continually upgrading the technology used in the CP1000C. Currently it is being shipped with a pair of video inputs located on the back panel. They allow the display of video information from a camera or VCR. A camera placed in a critical area, like the engine room, can instantly display activity in that area on the screen.
Video input is selected via soft key or menu. No split-screen capability was available on our test unit so each source is displayed full-screen. In the near future, the black box sounder compatible with the CP1000C, designated as the FF520, will be on the market. According to Standard Horizon spokesman Scott Iverson, the sounder was going through last minute on-the-water testing as this article was being written. Of course, adding the sounder will require a user to purchase the sounder black box as well as download and install a firmware upgrade. This new software will be supplied with the sounder, at no extra charge, and will upgrade the CP1000C internal programming to allow it to work with the sounder and display up to 2 split-screen windows.
Bottom Line: Users with less than perfect eyesight will love the large screen's good viewability and large type. Its competitive price and long warranty are a bonus.
Si-Tex ColorMax 11
SI-TEX's ColorMax 11 is a large screen version of its little brother, the ColorMax 6, a unit we tested as part of the Dynamic Duo in March of 2004. Measuring just under 13" wide by nearly 9" high, the ColorMax 11 is equipped with a 10.4" color screen and 640 x 480 pixels of resolution. For testing purposes we mounted the demo unit to our test rig using the metal mounting bracket shipped with unit. Normally in a permanent installation, to improve security, we'd prefer a flush mount for a display this large.
Though not nearly as bright as some of the more expensive screens we tested for last month's review, the ColorMax 11, when viewed using its Sunlight color palette did manage a Fair rating for day viewability. Other selectable color palettes available include Normal, Classic, and Night Vision. The Sunlight mode noticeably lightens the map colors and enhances the screen viewability in direct sunlight. Normal and Classic modes prove most valuable when the display screen is not in direct sunlight. Night Vision mode darkens the screen colors to reduce glare and improves low-light viewing.
While viewing the screen with polarized sunglasses in daylight, it darkened ever so slightly. It is still viewable to about a 45-degree angle, more than enough for normal operations. Nighttime viewing was rated Good. The ColorMax 11 has an adequate range of screen brightness adjustment when its six levels of brightness are used with its 11 levels of contrast adjustment. Panel lights are preset at the factory to one level.
With a total of 14 pushbutton controls and a joystick, we found the ColorMax 11 easy to operate and gave it a Good rating on plotter-user interface. One disadvantage we found was the lack of an alphanumeric keypad. This slows any manual data entry of names or numbers.
Four soft keys add operational flexibility on certain pages where they are functional. Soft key labels (functions) are displayed above the soft key in easy-to-read letters. In the Home mode if the soft key functions are not displayed, pressing any soft key will make the function labels appear onscreen. Soft key functions are user customizable. We found chart redraw speed to be fast, normally taking less than a second to fully redraw the chart after a range change. Minimum range with a C-Map card installed is approximately 1/8 of a mile, not the lowest we’ve seen but certainly adequate and showing plenty of map detail.
The course predictor on the ColorMax 11 is easy to see and totally adjustable. It displays not only your course, but also gives you an indication of your future position via the length of the line. It's adjustable in several settings from 2 minutes to 2 hours.
The number of data blocks shown on the map page can be set to off, 5, or 8; contents are user-selectable. Hitting the enter key followed by another button push or two will yield a waypoint at the current boat position or selected cursor position and bring up a soft key menu allowing editing or navigation to the new waypoint. Other soft keys let you get an instant range and bearing on anything you select with the cursor. Previously input waypoints can be selected for activity via the cursor or main menu and the user waypoint list. ColorMax 11 has two C-Map cartridge slots and can store 3,000 waypoints and 50 routes. Waypoint names can be 8 characters long and use one of 16 symbols in any one of 8 colors.
The backside of the ColorMax 11 has a pair of serial ports for data input. Adding a camera to your system will allow the display of video information. To display the information on the screen, press and hold the enter key. Adding a second camera in another location would allow a second video source available for display. No split screen capability is available for video inputs; each selected source is displayed full-screen.
The unit can also display, in a chart window, depth data from an NMEA- capable sounder. Or a user could add the Si-Tex ES-502 black box sounder—that data can be displayed full-screen or via a split screen. According to Si-Tex spokesman Dave Church, the company plans on adding compatible radar soon.
Bottom Line: Though it lacks an alphanumeric keypad the ColorMax 11 is quite easy to operate and a value pick in its price range.
Lowrance GlobalMap 7000C
Our test version of the Lowrance 10" display was supplied as a stand-alone chartplotter. The GlobalMap 7000C's display screen is also available as the LCX-104C sounder. When the GPS module is added to the sounder unit, it functions as a complete chartplotter/sounder combo unit. The mapping package (standard with the GlobalMap and optional with the LCX) includes a GPS antenna, Windows-based MapCreate 6 software, a blank 16MB multimedia card, and a USB card reader.
For our testing, Lowrance included a Navionics 64MB Gold card covering the Florida Keys and Bahamas. To our dismay, however, we were unable to get the 7000C to recognize the card. We called the company and Lowrance tech guru Luke Morris solved the problem:
"We have determined that the manufacturer that makes the cards used by Navionics to distribute their latest Gold chart format electronic charts, can have a hardware incompatibility, which may cause them to fail initialization when the unit is turned on. The long-term solution is a change in the firmware or operating software of your product model. These updates are offered for free download from the 'Software' area of the Lowrance website. In the short term, until the update becomes available and is released, you may cycle the card in the reader slot, with the unit turned on. This will re-initialize the card and allow the unit to read the electronic chart information from the card."
The Lowrance 7000C display unit measures 12" wide by 9" high. Screen resolution is 640 x 480. We used the supplied bracket to mount the unit for testing but it can be easily flush mounted with the supplied hardware.
We rated the 7000C Good for day viewability because it was not as bright as some of the pricier screens tested last month. It was also susceptible to screen darkening when viewed through polarized sunglasses. When viewed from straight on with glasses, the information on the screen was quite readable, but at about 45 degrees, the screen became almost black. We used both the normal and high contrast modes during daylight testing and found menus a bit easier to read in bright sunlight in high contrast mode. Map colors remained the same in either mode.
Obtaining the best results in night view testing required setting the Lowrance display mode to night viewing. This darkened the menu background and the map colors and improved night viewing somewhat, but the screen brightness levels do not go low enough, in our view. Pushbutton lighting is factory set at one level. We rated the 7000C Fair for night viewability.
Making a change to an item displayed on the screen requires the user to first select that item on a menu and then execute that selection or go to another menu level and make further selections. Only zoom and waypoint have their own dedicated pushbuttons. Though it is not difficult to operate a unit in this manner, it takes longer to do things via a series of menus than with dedicated pushbuttons.
The menu orientated nature of the Lowrance software, plus its limited number of dedicated function keys and lack of soft keys, accounts for its Fair plotter-interface rating.
The 7000C displays map data via four configurations: full screen map, a map with a single row of data boxes, a map with two rows of data boxes, or a split screen showing two maps. Pressing the Pages key twice toggles the active window between the two maps. The user can customize data boxes.
We found the unit required at least a full second to update the display when the range or some other change was made to the map. Lowrance's Morris advised us that the update speed of the map is directly related to the Navionics cartography. With Lowrance mapping, he claims screen updates are faster.
We thought it only fair to have someone from Navionics address this issue. "The speed at which Navionics charts are displayed on a plotter screen are a function of how the manufacturer implements Navionics' chart data software libraries, the speed of the manufacturer's plotter processor, and the management of the manufacturer's application software in the plotter," said Navionics' Bruce Angus.
Other display pages include a navigation page and a status page. The navigation page consists of a large compass rose on the right side of the screen and two rows of data boxes on the left side of the screen. This page is automatically selected and displayed by pressing both the zoom out and zoom in buttons simultaneously to execute the MOB function. Navigation data is supplied to direct the user back to the man overboard position.
Bottom Line: The Lowrance has a decent day light display, but lacks many of the dedicated controls used on the other units.
Standard Horizon made it easy for us this time. Their CP1000C has an alphanumeric keypad to quicken the pace of manual data entry, easy-to-use software, and a bright and crisp display screen. All this combined with its longer warranty and very competitive price make the Standard Horizon CP1000C our top pick. The Si-Tex is our runner-up because it is also easy to use and racked up respectable scores for viewability.
Also With This Article
"Value Guide: Big-Screen Chartplotters"