Written by Ben Ellison on Dec 7, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
It's not on the Fusion website yet, but the MS-BB300 black box marine stereo was introduced in Fort Lauderdale -- press release here -- and is scheduled to ship this month. In a way it's Fusion's first black box unit, but then again they built the trailblazing Simrad SonicHub in 2010 and then the Garmin Meteor 300 last year. In fact, the BB300 is very similar to the Meteor 300 and whereas Garmin acquired Fusion in May, the BB300 can be viewed as a statement about Fusion's continuing independence. The Meteor may integrate with non-Garmin displays over NMEA 2000, but the BB300 promises N2K Fusion-Link integration with many current MFDs from Humminbird, Murphy, B&G, Lowrance, Simrad and Garmin. A further indication that Fusion is going to keep on innovating in concert with multiple partners was a preview look at four new marine stereo heads that will be formally introduced early next year.
Check out this Humminbird ONIX10 screen for a reminder of how good Fusion-Link audio control can be on a color touchscreen display. I've written about the excellent Garmin implementation and will have high expectations when I try the Simrad version next spring. This is what makes black box stereo possible and even attractive, though many boaters will also want a remote control for those times when they don't want to run their MFD system and/or because no MFD or wireless interface can beat a good old dedicated volume knob. (Note that I've also tried Raymarine Fusion-Link, but it won't work with the BB300 because it's done over Ethernet, and that's the same story for the Furuno TZT series.)
So while the new Fusion black box seen above looks identical to this Garmin Meteor 300 photo, the $479 package includes a MS-NRX200i wired remote while the the slightly restyled Meteor Remote is a $190 accessory to the $350 Meteor box. Another difference is that the Meteor comes with an adaptor cable for that non-standard NMEA 2000 port which will tee into an existing N2K network, but if you want to do that with a BB300, you'll also need to purchase a CAB000863 cable. That's because the orange adaptor cable above is designed to power the network and remote on a boat that doesn't already have an N2K network (yes, the NRX200i can serve as a complete, though not ideal, control head).
I detailed Fusion's current N2K cabling scheme in 2013, and that entry also discusses the versatile Uni-Dock that can cable to the BB300's USB port instead of that nice panel-mount USB extension cable seen above (note the panel-mount 3.5mm accessory input too). The dock -- Garmin also offers one -- is useful if you want waterproof protection for your smartphone or iPod instead of just using your own USB cable or streaming music over Bluetooth. And isn't it nice that Fusion's accessory Bluetooth modules are not needed with either black box as audio streaming is built right in?
Now here's a peek at the back end of the Fusion MS-UD750 that will become a flagship control head unit sometime in 2015. Installers will appreciate how all the connectors are on pigtails, and I think everyone concerned will be glad to see the standard NMEA 2000 connector. The unit will still be able to join a network or create one, but no confusing adaptor cables will be needed because power to the network will be turned on and off from the setup menu. One of the very last non-standard N2K connectors bites the dust. Hurray!
As the model name suggests and as seen above, the UD750 has a Uni-Dock built in. The AV750 will have a CD/DVD deck instead -- though you can still hang a separate Uni-Dock on its USB port -- and it features an HDMI port that will make it easy to get quality TV audio to the Fusion system or Fusion-based DVD video to your boat's best screen. Of course, Bluetooth is built in, but in the 750 series it can handle both audio streaming and the Fusion-Link remote control app that used to work only if you attached a Fusion's Ethernet port to a WiFi router. Cool!
The UD750 and AV750 don't look much different from the current IP700i and AV700i control heads, but now the daylight readable color LCD screen is optically bonded to improve durability and eliminate the possibility of fogging. And note the "thumb's up" and down icons under the Mute and screen Brightness buttons. They are there because the Fusion Bluetooth audio streaming -- already able to display track and artist data flowing from many phone models -- will also be able to send back Pandora listener preferences on the new models.
I think it's reasonable to assume that the new Fusion 750 control heads will not be inexpensive, and that's why there will also be a 650 series with grayscale screens (though still bonded and daylight-viewable). I understand that the UD650 and AV650 will only support three independent audio zones (two powered) instead of the 750's four zones, but I don't know of more differences yet. And I'll add that I'm still quite impressed with the Fusion MS-IP700 I installed in early 2012. When onboard I use it almost constantly, sourcing audio from USB stick, ancient iPod Touch, FM bands, Android phone or Gizmo'sChart Table 21 PC/TV. I would have been reluctant to remove the NXR200 remote on the flybridge during the "glass bridge" makeover if I hadn't found that Fusion-Link on an MFD or via the WiFi app -- I use both regularly -- to be powerful and reliable.
The new 750 and 650 control heads look good -- especially the Fusion-Link app (below) simplification with Bluetooth and the HDMI soundtrack improvement, I think -- but Fusion has already blazed marine stereo trails far beyond any other manufacturer I know of (even if the NMEA 2000 part was quite zig-zagged :-). What's next, besides perhaps the ability to play multiple sources simultaneously to different zones? It's possible, though, that Fusion may be more vulnerable to competition than ever. Some big time marine electronics executives, for instance, may not see the BB300 as a sign of Fusion independence, but rather as a clever way for Garmin to sell its own products onto "their" boats. A quality audio company willing to do the hard work Fusion did to integrate their gear with whole boat systems may get their partnership proposal calls returned.