I spent the past week down in Florida with the folks from Navico, testing their latest and greatest electronics, and one of the most interesting things I saw was the application of new fishfinder and chartplotter screen technology incorporating IPS screens. First, a disclaimer: IPS isn’t really “new,” but it is new to the marine market. Previously the tech was difficult for marine manufacturers to harness, and only made its way to large, expensive units. But as is often the case with electronics, as the tech ages it becomes both more adaptable and less expensive. Hence, it’s been incorporated into the latest line of Simrad chartplotter/fishfinders and can be reasonably expected to expand into Navico’s other lines, including Lowrance.
So, what exactly is IPS? It stands for in-plane switching, and with IPS displays, the pixels are oriented parallel to the panels when they’re energized. With other marine LCD displays, usually called “TN” for twisted nematic, they’re oriented perpendicular to the display panel. What’s the difference? Historically TN displays have been faster, require less energy, and have better contrast. IPS displays offer much, much wider viewing angles.
Hopefully, you caught the qualifier in that last sentence: historically. IPS displays have pretty much caught up to TN displays in these regards. And they still hold that one big advantage in that they offer wider viewing angles. What this means to you and I, standing at the helm of our fishing boat, is pretty nifty. You know how the fishfinder screen blacks-out when you’re trying to view it from an angle? Not any more. In fact, I could still see the screen on the Simrad until I was looking at it from 170 or maybe even 175 degrees. You lose sight of it long before it turns black. Speed is not at all an issue, thanks to improving technology. And as far as cost goes, the folks at Simrad told me that the difference in price is extremely low, to the point that when someone buys a unit like the NSS evo3 they probably own’t even really notice the difference.
The bottom line? The IPS display makes a significant real-world difference, and at this point, the disadvantages that used to go along with it have been pretty much overcome. We should expect to see more and more of them in the marine marketplace, and that’s a good thing. So when you go looking for your next fishfinder/chartplotter, be sure to investigate the LCD. If it’s an IPS screen, chances are that in the long run, you’ll be happier with the unit.