Who the HDS is good for
If you are a serious angler that has a tricked-out boat that you’d like to control from one single screen, there’s no better way to do it than using what’s called a multi-function display. As far as MFDs are concerned, few are as popular and as widely used as the HDS series by Lowrance.
Combining fish finder, chartplotter, and a whole lot more, you can control your boat’s audio system, VHF radio, monitor fuel, and even network multiple displays together(if you’ve got units on the bow and stern, for example).
That being said, the only time you are going to have two units, or even the need to control so much is if a) you are a tournament/professional angler, or b) you have a large boat.
If you’ve got a large boat to start, you probably won’t mind the heftier price tag that comes with the HDS either. However, if you are a more casual angler, or perhaps have a smaller boat (or budget), there are still plenty of alternatives that have both the power and similar functionality to the HDS series.
Note: To really get the most out of your HDS, I recommend you check out The Fisherman’s Guide To SONAR – it’s a $5 ebook that is incredibly helpful. Lowrance has some decent offerings to this extent, as does Humminbird.
There are a lot of good models that you could go for as alternatives to the HDS, but I have three favorite ones that I’ve heard tons of good things about, and I always recommend these to my customers, too.
Lowrance Elite-4,5,7 HDI – I had the honor of introducing the Elite-5 HDI to you guys when it came out last year, and now Lowrance has upgraded their HDI line to include the Elite-4 series as well. The Elite-7(with a 7 inch screen) came out with the Elite-5.
I really like this series because it’s Lowrance’s first offering of both broadband and DownScan SONAR combined in a single unit. You also have the option of going for a GPS model, or opting out of the GPS, too – the 4x, 5x, and 7x models all don’t have GPS. There is a significant price difference between the GPS and without GPS model.
With the Elite-4 series now also having HDI technology, even if you have a really tight budget, you could still have a color screen with broadband and DownScan – the Elite-4x HDI is set to retail at just $200.
Humminbird 597ci HD DI – This is Humminbird’s version of the HDI series. It’s got GPS, broadband SONAR as well as Down Imaging (this is what Humminbird calls it). Sporting a 5 inch screen, it’s nice and compact, and the sonar quality is stellar. The pre-loaded maps are okay, though. They aren’t the most detailed in the world, but you can expand using the memory card slot.
The 597ci HD DI has 500 watts of power, which is twice what the HDI series has, so you will be able to see a lot deeper with the Humminbird rather than the Lowrance. If you don’t fish that deep, though, it’s a toss-up between the two. Usually, fishermen tend to buy whichever brand they are biased for! Both the HDI and the 597ci HD DI are solid fish finders, when it comes to the bottom line.
Raymarine Dragonfly – I can’t sing enough praises for the Dragonfly. With GPS, broadband SONAR and CHIRP SONAR all for under $700, you can’t go wrong with it. CHIRP SONAR is basically like DownScan SONAR (Raymarine calls it DownVision), except it uses multiple high-frequency beams that go out in a fan-like manner. This gets you even more detail, and I’ve seen screenshots of schools of baitfish where you can almost make out the scales on their body!
The Dragonfly is also really easy to use – there are just 3 buttons to operate the whole fish finder. Its ease of use is also its only flaw – more experienced anglers may want to fiddle around with the settings, and the Dragonfly is fairly limited in terms of fiddling.
Obviously, if you opt for a much cheaper fish finder, you have to be willing to forgo some functionality. For example, most of the units I talked about above don’t have the ability to hook up an audio system, engine, VHF radio, weather, or radar.
Those trade-offs may not mean too much to you unless you are a professional charter captain or something on those lines.
The one thing you will miss in your fishing, however, is the LSS-2 StructureScan. LSS-2 StructureScan is an extra module and transducer you can hook up to your HDS that will show you both DownScan and SideScan – a combination rarely found. So now, you will have all three types of SONAR on your unit that, if you have a large 8 or 10 inch screen, you can comfortably view in split screen.
Another advantage of the LSS-2 is StructureMap HD – which lets you overlay SideScan data on to a map so you can see your position as well as the underlying structure all on one screen.
If you opt against the HDS and go for one of the units I showed you above (or even something similar), the biggest advantage you have is you are keeping more cash in your pocket!
Another cash related advantage is that the HDS units require many accessories for each extra function – the other units are pretty much all-in-one, requiring no more installation than the head unit and the transducer.
By getting an HDS alone, you are just getting a glorified SONAR – with pretty much the same capability (there may be some quality difference depending on the transducer, of course) – and a GPS unit, too; something you could get from a Garmin GPSMAP “S” series.
The combo units listed above have it all – SONAR, GPS, and DownScan SONAR, too – something you would need to spend an extra $500 if you are using an HDS.
You are also going to save lots of space – the 5 inch units are really good, and still compact enough to fit comfortably in a tight space like a small console or even a kayak’s tackle box section.
Casual and recreational anglers would benefit most from opting for the alternative units – if you are a professional, or fishing is your living, you could make do with the smaller units but the HDS will leave lots of doors open for add-ons and functionality.
By Shabbir – aka the Fish Finder Guy
find him over at his website, FishFinderSource.com