One of the most-difficult aspects of teaching fishermen and boaters to interpret conventional sonar screens has been getting them to understand how a screen picture is made.

It has long been a universal truth that what’s happening right now under the boat appears in the single column of pixels at the left edge of the screen. It displays echoes from the most-recently processed ping or pings.

As a new column representing each subsequent ping appears at that edge, the rest of the columns are shoved over one pixel column to the right. The consecutive columns of displayed echoes blend together into a history of soundings that forms the screen picture.

Many (if not most) students start out with the impression that a conventional sonar display works like a television screen.

In fact, veteran sonar instructor Wilson Frazier is noted for his signature phrase, “It ain’t TV.”

Now Garmin has just thrown a monkey wrench labeled “Panoptix” into all our hard work along that line of thinking.

Don’t get me wrong: This is a good thing, and we haven’t lost the ability to show screen history, but Panoptix delivers a video-like moving picture that actually is close to TV.

For instance, the Panoptix LiveVü Forward (forward-looking) mode provides a near-live video look that shows fish swimming while moving toward or away from the boat. There is no one-column-at-a-time screen picture construction going on here; the whole screen updates with each ping, much like a TV picture does.

Videos on (or linked from) the Garmin website show lures being retrieved and fish reacting to them in such close to real time that you aren’t likely to miss a hook set.

Garmin has turned an important corner in sonar development, and I won’t be surprised to see similar technology appear on other manufacturers’ recreational and commercial sonar units.

LiveVü Forward doesn’t show objects or the bottom in the photo-like detail that today’s thin-slice, side- and down-scanning technologies can show in their screen histories; Panoptix LiveVü screen details resemble the older, conventional sonar display format, where colors and target thickness indicate echo strength.

And, fish and lures leave a “vapor trail” of color behind them, making their motion easier to follow and interpret.

Both transom and trolling motor mounts are available for this transducer, and the trolling motor mount lets you turn the motor to look in any direction.

Panoptix LiveVü Down mode is just as impressive, but rather than looking out ahead of your boat (or in the direction your trolling motor is aimed) this feature provides moving sonar images of fish, baitfish and lures directly under and to the right and left of your hull. On-screen range scales help you pinpoint depth and distance to the left or right.

The LiveVü Down display can also include a separate window displaying a conventional screen-history view that shows the bottom contour, weeds and other structure in greater detail.

Panoptix also includes RealVü 3D Forward and Down modes, which present realistic 3D views of a wide “map” of bottom contours ahead of, under, to either side of and behind the boat, along with the depths of detected fish and baitfish and their distance from the transducer.

The display can be oriented to a birds-eye view from above or a submerged side view, letting you choose the look that’s easiest for you to interpret.

RealVü 3D Forward mode digitally scans 30 degrees left and right ahead of the boat, presenting a 60-degree-wide picture of the water you are approaching. The Panoptix transducer doesn’t physically move back and forth 60 degrees; it contains a series of elements arranged in sort of a fan pattern (called a phased array), and it fires the elements consecutively from one end of the “fan” to the other and back.

You can see bottom contour detail in shaded 3D, and you can see fish and baitfish ahead.

A series of degree lines can show you how many degrees to port or starboard each target lies. And you can control how quickly the forward area is scanned to provide more or less detail making it easier to identify where the fish really are. 

Panoptix makes full use of its color display. Screen pictures can have a black, blue or white background, and a vertical on-screen color bar synchronizes certain colors with certain depths. This allows you to look at a spot on the bottom or at a suspended fish and tell its depth by its color rather than having to look at a screen cluttered with a confusing web of wire-frame depth lines and trying to associate the fish with the closest line and then tracing that line to an on-screen depth scale.

RealVü Down mode constantly scans a 60-degree wide (side-to-side) area from ahead of your boat to behind it. It shows the bottom in the same kind of color-shaded 3D contour used by the Forward mode, and it uses the same vertical color bar depth indication system.

The depth of suspended fish and baitfish, and their direction and distance from the boat are clearly shown.

Since the digital scanning is near real-time and not dependent on boat movement forming a screen history, both the LiveVü and RealVü 3D Forward and Down modes work perfectly while the boat is stationary.

Both the Forward and Down system transducers are even equipped with internal Attitude Heading Reference System sensors that constantly adjust the sonar beams to compensate for boat motion. You can sit there, cast a lure and watch it fall, and see the fish reject it and move away or follow it and even grab it as you retrieve it back to the boat.

Panoptix-compatible products include Garmin’s 741/721, 1000/800, 7600 and 8000 series units, and the Forward and Down transducers are expected to be available in the spring of 2015 at a suggested retail price of $1,499.99 each.

The Forward transducer is available with both an included trolling motor mounting kit and a transom mounting kit. The Down transducer comes with a transom mounting kit.

Visit www.garmin.com/panoptix for more information.