Onboard Entertainment: The Digital Files Converge
Marine entertainment systems can accommodate pretty near any content you care to cart--or stream--aboard. "Electronics Review" from our November 2011 issue.
Sony, too, has an iPod-friendly marine stereo, the CDX-H910UI ($300), but let’s note that there are several ways to integrate digital audio without replacing your boat’s existing stereo.
Belkin's Bluetooth Music Receiver
Of course, you can simply plug a cable with headset jacks at both ends into the auxiliary input that’s common on most marine stereos, but there are some less awkward possibilities because some iPods, such as the Touch, and almost all smartphones support Bluetooth stereo streaming. It’s meant for headsets but can be used in other ways. For instance, I know sailors who are happily using little devices like the Belkin Bluetooth Music Receiver ($50), which plugs into that same auxiliary port but lets you wirelessly stream music to your stereo from up to about 30 feet away. And since the Bluetooth protocols also include such simple audio commands as Pause and Next Track, it’s also possible to control your tunes without having the player out in the cockpit. Thus, the new Bluetooth-equipped e7 multifunction display from Raymarine can control a Bluetooth player plugged into your stereo, and the company has also introduced a wireless marine remote, the RCU-3, that lets you send basic commands to both an e7 and a tucked-away player.
Raymarine e7 plotter
This same concept takes quite a different form in the MR F300 BT marine microphone from Cobra, which I found impressive in testing. While primarily designed to provide a noise-canceling and waterproof handset for a Bluetooth phone safely stowed below, the latest edition includes control of music that you can listen to either on the microphone’s small but able speaker or on your stereo, sent via the microphone’s base cable along with a caller’s voice.
These days, digital audio and video files are so versatile and portable that they can play on devices you might not expect, and they don’t even have to be physically brought from home. The new CPN multifunction displays from Standard Horizon, for example, are designed to play files on memory sticks when the displays aren’t in use for navigation, and they can even stream audio and video if their built-in WiFi radio is connected to a fast access point. Speaking of which, consider the L.E.D.-backlit M261VP 26-inch flat screen TV from Vizio that I installed aboard Gizmo this summer primarily as a computer monitor for work and navigation. Its built-in WiFi and apps for Hulu, Yahoo, and the like make it even more power efficient, and enjoyable, as an entertainment screen; in fact, I spent part of Tropical Storm Irene watching Mad Men episodes streaming on Netflix while anchored in a snug Maine island harbor.
Obviously, the wildly changing world of consumer electronics is making itself useful to the cruising world, and I’m hoping that Fusion will again show us how to smartly fuse the two. I understand that the new MS-IP700 ($450) coming out this winter not only has the VHF, USB, and iTunes video abilities of the RA200 but also a bright color screen capable of flipping through cover art and optional large-screen remotes that easily install on a NMEA 2000 network. The IP700 and its DVD-playing sibling, the AV700, will also have an Ethernet port that can be used in two interesting ways. If it’s plugged into a boat’s WiFi router, then an Apple device that isn’t living in the Fusion dock—many boats have more than one these days—can be used as a wireless remote. But it might also be plugged into a boat’s M.F.D. network, since Fusion is offering licenses to all the major manufacturers that permit them to integrate full AV control onto their screens, and several are purportedly working on it. Sounds good!
Marine entertainment is undergoing a revolution mainly because portable players capable of holding immense libraries of digital content have become inexpensive, easy-to-use, and, thus, nearly ubiquitous. But I’ll close with a twist on a personal audio option that you likely don’t know about yet. I’m so old now that I wear a pair of tiny Phonak hearing aids that not only let me enjoy the sounds of seabirds and boat stereos better than I have for years but can also be connected via Bluetooth to my smartphone. I can be puttering away anywhere on my boat and still take hand’s-free calls or listen to whatever I’ve stored on the phone or can stream over cellular—which means just about anything. I like to say that I’m not just aided; I’m abetted.
Ben Ellison is CW’s electronics editor.