Most an­glers would agree that to­day’s on­board fish find­ers look pretty amaz­ing. But why can’t they look as per­fect as the HD TV in your liv­ing room?

Oh, where do we be­gin? • Sun­light and glare • Po­lar­ized sun­glasses • Damp, salty con­di­tions • Ex­treme heat and cold • Heavy shock and


The en­vi­ron­ment for the av­er­age mul­ti­func­tion dis­play as well as the small size of the marine re­tail mar­ket cre­ate chal­lenges for elec­tron­ics en­gi­neers. But know this: The com­pa­nies that make our fish find­ers have per­formed mir­a­cles, tak­ing in­dus­trial-grade LCD screens and cre­at­ing su­perb wa­ter­proof dis­plays.

Though slightly be­hind the trends in con­sumer elec­tron­ics such as TVs, tablets and smart­phones, our on­board elec­tron­ics con­tinue to morph and im­prove. In re­cent months, the tech­nol­ogy touted sev­eral years ago by Ap­ple and oth­ers for tablets — in-plane switch­ing, or IPS — has been marinized and gained a foothold in our harsh realm.

In ad­di­tion, dis­play bright­ness, glare re­duc­tion and screen engi­neer­ing have im­proved, all to pro­vide crisp sonar, radar, and chart views to se­lec­tive and as­tute boat­ing an­glers.


IPS-dis­play tech­nol­ogy first ap­peared in 1996, when it was de­vel­oped by Hi­tachi to solve the prob­lems in­her­ent in most com­mon LCDs that use a twisted-ne­matic, or TN, de­sign. Those prob­lems in­cluded the TN’s re­duced view­ing an­gles — dif­fi­culty

see­ing the screen from ei­ther side, above or be­low — and color re­pro­duc­tion.

(By the way, ask any­one ex­actly what “twisted ne­matic” means or what “in-plane switch­ing” means, and the engi­neer­ing jar­gon thick­ens. So we’ll skip the jib­ber-jab­ber.)

“Once you start look­ing more than 50 de­grees of­f­cen­ter on a twisted-ne­matic dis­play, you start see­ing color in­ver­sion,” says Steve Thomas, Sim­rad prod­uct line direc­tor. Color in­ver­sion sim­ply means the col­ors swap, al­most like a photo neg­a­tive. “It is also harder to main­tain color con­sis­tency from dis­play to dis­play.”

Sim­rad re­cently de­buted a new line of mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays, called evo3, that em­ploys IPS screens. Its sis­ter com­pany, Lowrance, de­buted HDS Car­bon with IPS. Garmin of­fers its 8600 mod­els with IPS, and Ray­ma­rine’s new 12-inch Ax­iom also fea­tures the new-to-marine tech­nol­ogy.

Fu­runo uses IPS in marine mon­i­tors and for its NavPilot 711C au­topi­lot and FI70 in­stru­ment se­ries.

The al­low­able view­ing an­gle for IPS is stated by sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ers at 88 de­grees from cen­ter. The con­trast ra­tio is also bet­ter, “so the color looks not only brighter but more sat­u­rated as well,” Thomas says. “Peo­ple are see­ing de­tails in the bot­tom struc­ture, see­ing more de­tail in the fish arches and on the charts.”

But while ev­ery­one agrees that the pop­u­lar­ity of IPS will grow be­cause it does of­fer some ben­e­fits, not ev­ery­one be­lieves that the vis­i­ble dif­fer­ence — from the viewer’s per­spec­tive — is overly com­pelling, par­tic­u­larly since it still costs more than TN.

In fact, Ray­ma­rine’s smaller 7- and 9-inch Ax­iom MFDs fea­ture a TN panel but still af­firm 70-de­gree view­ing an­gles from the bot­tom, right and left, and a 60-de­gree view­ing an­gle from the top. At some point along the view­ing arc, the an­gler can’t in­ter­pret or read the screen.

Hum­min­bird’s new Solix MFDs use twisted-ne­matic LCDs. “It’s a value propo­si­tion,” says Hum­min­bird brand man­ager Ray Schaf­fart. “We could de­cide to go that route when we think the value is there. We haven’t heard any­thing that made us want to switch over to that. We’ve fo­cused our tech­nol­ogy on meet­ing the needs of an­glers.”


Hum­min­bird also puts more of a stake in bright­ness; the com­pany’s new­est mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays are rated at 1,500 nits. The in­dus­try stan­dard is 1,200 to 1,500. “Screen bright­ness is the one fac­tor that can fight po­lar­iza­tion the best. If the screen is so bright, it doesn’t mat­ter how po­lar­ized the glasses are,” says Justin Free­man, Hum­min­bird prod­uct de­signer.

Po­lar­iza­tion re­mains a buga­boo with any sort of dis­play screen, whether it’s IPS or TN, says Ray­ma­rine mar­ket­ing man­ager Jim McGowan. Mul­ti­func­tion-dis­play mak­ers use po­lar­iz­ing film as a layer within the dis­play screen to re­duce glare. But when an­glers wear po­lar­ized sun­glasses and look at a dis­play, the screen some­times blacks out at dif­fer­ent an­gles.

Some say IPS main­tains an ad­van­tage in that sce­nario: Where you might tilt your head at only a slight an­gle to ex­pe­ri­ence black­out us­ing sun­glasses to view a TN screen, Thomas says, you’ll have to tilt your head far­ther to see the same ef­fect from an IPS dis­play.

“Po­lar­iza­tion re­ally is a very com­pli­cated game of bil­liards, only played with light,” McGowan says. “The


game is to throw un­wanted light away from the eye.”

Sun­glasses mak­ers de­sign lenses to be ver­ti­cally po­lar­ized to cut the glare from the wa­ter’s sur­face, McGowan says. “We make sure the im­age com­ing out of the MFD is any­thing other than ver­ti­cally po­lar­ized.” All LCD pan­els must be lit from be­hind to dis­play data. To­day’s units use LED back­light­ing; pre­vi­ously they used flu­o­res­cent light. LEDs of­fer im­proved en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and gen­er­ate less heat.

To­day’s dis­plays also fea­ture op­ti­cal bond­ing. “We take the LCD panel and glue it to the front glass win­dow us­ing op­ti­cal-grade clear epoxy,” McGowan says. “The air gap be­tween LCD and win­dow is com­pletely filled . ... Without the epoxy, there is tech­ni­cally a re­frac­tion of the light ev­ery time it passes through a dif­fer­ent medium,” such as LCD glass, air gap, po­lar­iz­ing film, front win­dow glass. “Bonded dis­plays have col­ors that look re­ally, re­ally vi­brant. The over­all look is ex­cep­tion­ally crisp.”

With all of th­ese ad­vances in marine dis­plays, as well as stun­ning tech­no­log­i­cal changes in sonar and radar tech­nol­ogy, an­glers def­i­nitely see an im­proved pic­ture at the helm.

“If a prod­uct is prop­erly en­gi­neered, de­signed and planned out, the dis­play tech­nol­ogy used re­ally should not be a thought or con­cern of the end user,” says Jeff Kau­zlaric, Fu­runo ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager.

Kau­zlaric says there’s a place for both IPS and twisted-ne­matic de­signs go­ing for­ward; Fu­runo de­ter­mines the best tech­nol­ogy for the ap­pli­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, ex­pect to see an en­hance­ment in Fu­runo’s next ver­sion of TZ­touch2 soft­ware that cre­ates a view­ing-an­gle menu se­lec­tion. An­glers will be able to ad­just the color tem­per­a­ture of the LCD to make it eas­ier to see the dis­play from any an­gle.

And the race to­ward elec­tron­ics progress con­tin­ues.

Sim­rad’s evo3 mul­ti­func­tion dis­play unit (left screen) uses IPS tech­nol­ogy to im­prove the view­ing an­gle, con­trast and color re­pro­duc­tion.

Garmin in­cluded IPS pan­els in its pre­mium GPSMAP 8600 se­ries. But with the prices drop­ping for that new tech­nol­ogy, there’s a strong pos­si­bil­ity that more mod­els will use it, the com­pany says.

Among Ray­ma­rine’s new Ax­iom se­ries, the 12inch ver­sion (far right) fea­tures an IPS panel. The 7- and 9-inch Ax­ioms use a TN dis­play. The smaller units still of­fer 60- and 70-de­gree view­ing an­gles.

Fu­runo’s NavPilot 711C au­topi­lot (left) and

FI70 in­stru­ment se­ries em­ploy IPS dis­plays. The com­pany says there’s a place for both types of pan­els based on use.

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