Let me introduce myself: I am the lucky bastard that won a sexy X1 divecomputer at the EuroTek 2010 diving conference in Birmingham. YYESSS!The folks at Liquivision asked me to write a bit about my first impressions with it, so here goes.
Maybe first some background about me, so you can put my comments and observations in context. I live in Holland, am 54 years old, dive since I am 16 years, so a looooong time.
I switched to diving CCR rebreathers in 1998, diving (and still diving!) Inspiration rebreathers, which to rebreather diving standards is also a long time (in fact, if I am to believe some cynical statistics from an infamous observer, I should have been dead by now….). I hold several instructor qualifications with CMAS and IANTD, which I will not bore you with here.
My first computer was a Suunto SME-ML, I guess some 20 years ago or so. It was a revolution at that time. Later on I switched to Uwatec’s when I started with Nitrox. I still have my good old blue Uwatec Nitrox computer around, as I can’t get myself to sell it: it served me too well. (See…? I’m an emotional idiot!). I doubt it will raise more than 50 euro anyway…
When I started with rebreathers, I first had an APD Nexus computer. It was one of the first to support a CCR, i.e. allowing the use of an O2 setpoint instead of an O2 percentage. When I embarked on Trimix CCR diving (around 1999), I switched to the almost only contender at that time in the market, the VR3. I still have one, although it might start collecting dust when I switch to the X1.
I also sit in a working party in Holland, together with some medical specialists, to assess the developments in the market around deco models (Buhlmann, DCIEM, VPM, RGBM, etc.), so have a keen interest and probably slightly larger than average knowledge in deco-computers and deco models.
My computer hardware interest is also triggered by my daytime job: I am an IT infrastructure architect for a very big online bank. So I also look at all of these developments with an IT interest.
Enough about me.
Soooooo…… the X1. I saw one for the first time when my friend Kees Hofwegen (author of the GAP decoprogram) showed me one of the early prototypes some 2 years ago. I was immediately impressed, especially with the quality of the display. I have a serious love/hate relationship with my VR3 in that area, as the monochrome display is quite hard to read, and the color display (my wife has one) eats batteries, as it is really only readable with the backlight constantly on.
Add to that my 54-year old eyes (yes, I have reading-glass inserts in my diving mask), and reading info from a small low-contrast can become a serious challenge. And what is info worth in a stress situation if you cannot easily read it..? So to me the display, combined with the small size, is THE key differentiator of the X1 compared with other, older dive computers (I realize there are more OLED-driven computers around now that also look good; I have no personal experience with them, so no comments on them here).
As to the tap-interface: my APD Nexus also had one, and it didn’t work very good, so initially I had my reservations. But at least on the surface it works as planned on the X1: fast and reliable. I haven’t dive it yet, so will report back on that later. I am very curious to the handling with cold hands and thick gloves. Holland is a cold water country.
Next choice to be made was the software to load onto it. I opted for Ross Hemingway’s Multideco-X1, for various reasons:
- it supports both Bulhmann-GF and VPM, and also “sliding ceilings” (or, in X1 “speak”: direct ceilings). This is the same system my Inspiration Vision has, so should fit & match it fine.
- It allows me to play around with VPM, as I have little experience with that model in practice. In fact it will allow me to monitor the difference between the two models side-by-side live during the dive, which is quite cool.
- I know Kees Hofwegen and love & use his GAP desktop software (although I use Vplanner as well, and consider that very solid software too), but the GAP-X1 version so far only has the Buhlmann-GF model, and also only supports the X1 up to the version 4 hardware. As soon as Kees will incorporate RGBM as well, and starts supporting the latest X1 hardware, I will probably test-drive both, and then make up my mind.
o This, by the way, is the beauty of an “Open Hardware Platform” model like the X1: if you don’t like your software, and/or want another deco model: just switch to another vendor, and you’re done! I like it!
- Ross also offers Vplanner Live, but the price difference between that package and MultiDeco-X1 is only small, and for that price difference I get my Bulhmann-GF model as well, so that to me is a no-brainer.
I was a bit hesitant and fearful of having to install drivers, upload the firmware, etc. Even though I am an experienced IT guy, I have seen “driver install hell” from close up. To complicate things further, I run an Apple Mac, so I had to install the installer package for MultiDeco on a Windows XP virtual machine, running under VMware Fusion for the Mac. But: all my fears were unneeded: the install went without a single glitch. Much kudos to Ross for documenting every step in the process very well, and a beautiful no-nonsense all-in-one wizard-like installer program. It even installs the needed USB drivers from within the installer program: a first that I have never seen done before. Quite clever, and avoiding problems for the less computer native people.
The log download software also works without a glitch (although there was nothing to download yet, other than the serial number).
Due to a very busy period in my working life, I haven’t dived my X1 yet, but played many hours with it instead, and a.o. used the very nice built-in simulator to see how things would look like and act during a dive. So far I am impressed.
What I especially like is the easiness to switch to bailout settings. After all, for me that is one of the most important features of a 2nd computer. Let me explain. My Inspiration Vision has built-in Bulhmann-GF deco software as well, so will probably still act as my main computer, a.o. because it uses the real measured PO2 (coming from the onboard cells) instead of a fixed pre-set PO2. Personally I am not a fan of hardwired hooking up my 2nd computer to my Inspo for various reasons I will not go into here now. Let’s sum it up as: in case of shit, I want a TOTALLY independent system, not semi-independent, and I do not want to complicate and guarantee-violate the HW configuration of my Inspo. Personal preference, I know, and very much up to debate, but this is my personal choice. (Also, I didn’t win also the PO2 interface anyway…. J).
So my emergency scenario is as follows:
- I will dive my Inspo Vision, and follow its deco, and crosscheck it regularly with my X1, as both should be very, very close (both Bulhmann-GF, both sliding/direct ceilings).
This crosscheck feature is already an advantage. With my VR3 the difference between the Inspiration and the VR3 is too big to be useful for this purpose, as the algorithms used are too different (and, in the case of the VR3, undocumented as to the details used).
- If the sh*t ever hits the fan, I also assume the bailout-config of my Inspo Vision might or will be compromised, so my X1 will become the primary computer to support my OC bailout. This of course depends on the nature of the problem encountered, but let’s assume a worst-case full flood, also damaging the head with its electronics.
- This is a stress situation, so you want to be able to no-nonsense witch to OC bailout settings as easy and quickly as possible: gasses to use, model to use, gradient factors to use. The Vision is also user-friendly in its switching to bailout, but my (admittedly older version) VR3 requires quite some button presses to get there, and has no independent gassets for CCR and OC bailout use (the newer versions might very well have: I don’t know).
o I like the fact that the X1 allows for separate GF settings for dive and bailout. If you are in deep sh*t, you might very well decide to leave the water a.s.a.p., and as such accept more aggressive GF (or VPM conservatism) settings, as such accepting a higher chance of DCS. But I’m a firm believer of the “deco is treatable, drowning is not” mantra. I’d rather take my slightly higher chances on a tank treatment than having to stay in the water too long in e.g. strong currents and cold. So I will opt for GF settings in the range of 80/95 or so for bailout. Again: personal choice, personal risk assessment.
The X1 seems to do this all very well, as you enter all these settings upfront, with nice overview screens of all settings for both dive and bailout for a last check before you enter the water. All in all: so far, so good. First impressions are important, and I like what I see so far.
As soon As I have dived my new toy, I will report back!
Tino de Rijk.