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What is the difference between HDS Carbon and HDS Live?

Here we go again, a new generation of the Lowrance HDS. And with that Facebook and the different forums are flooded with questions referring to the difference between the new and the old. So what is the difference between Lowrance HDS Live and HDS Carbon?
Lowrance HDS Carbon (left) VS Lowrance HDS Live (right)

What is the difference between HDS Live and HDS Carbon? What is new with HDS Live? Can I use my old stuff with HDS Live? In this article we will look at those questions, first from a technical aspect (we are a bit nerdy here in Team Colibri) and try to show what those technical differences will mean out on the water. We will also give a few hints on what will, and what will not, work well of older electronics together with HDS Live.

Hardware: Screen, housing and internal components.

The screen itself is the same as on HDS Carbon, IPS-type screen that is readable with polaroids on and from the side so you don`t have to stand right in front of the unit to see what`s going on. It has the same screen-resolution as Carbon, and that was (and is) very good compared to the competition, especially for the 7 and 9 inch models, and the same NITS. So no change here, Lowrance is sticking with a winning-concept.

The outer layer is different though, with a sleek glass-front on HDS Live that covers the front, leaving only the buttons out on the side. This change of design is both related to the "glass bridge"-look that we have seen becoming popular, and to a very practical difference. With no corners and no edge at the bottom of the screen, there is nothing stopping rain from draining off and away from the screen. This is a big thing for us that fish regardless of weather, and especially up front where we like to tilt the screen almost flat to see it well while casting. With previous generations, tilting the screen flat in rain would lead to the screen looking more like a mini-pool than high-end sonar, and all the water on the screen would impact the touch-functionality.

The housing is however brand new on all four sizes of HDS Live. On 12 and 16 we get four new buttons as well, programmable for whatever feature or function you want to have extra handy at the press of just that one button. But all sizes (7,9,12,16) feature a more sleek housing, that is both more shallow (can be flush-mounted in a dash with litle depth) and where the screen is more forward in the housing making it more "true flush mount"-capable than older models that stand out more if flush mounted. The housing is also slightly larger on HDS Live, than on HDS Carbon and HDS Gen 3 so if you already have a flush-mounted HDS you will have to cut out a bit more to fit the same size screen HDS Live.

HDS Live can be "true" flushmounted.

The internal GPS-antenna is in a new position on HDS Live versus older generations. For HDS Live it is now placed along the top of the screen (horizontally), as opposed to earlier generations where it is places alongside the screen (vertically).

The connections at the back have changed from HDS Carbon to HDS Live for 12 and 16. For the 12 and 16 ports for connecting your mobile phone are added on HDS Live:

Backside of HDS Live 12 and 16 - brand new connectors for your mobile.

Note that all sizes of HDS Live only has 9-pin connections for transducers, the 7-pin connector is discontinued and you will need an adapter to use a ducer with the old blue connector on HDS Live. (Most likely adapter 000-13313-001)

HDS Live on top - older unit below.

For HDS Live 7 and 9 the connections at the back are almost the same as on HDS Carbon (and Gen 3 as well as Gen 2 Touch), the only difference is that with HDS Live both sonarports are 9-pin. If you want two 7s at the dash, and one 7 up front, that is still not possible without additional cost for the ethernethub, which pretty much means you can replace one of the 7s with a 9 instead.

Backside of HDS Live 9, not the 7.
The units are still waterproof to IPX7, just like HDS Carbon. So no need to worry about hard rain. 

Lowrance as always kept info on what internal components they use close to their chest, and HDS Live is no different. They do boast about quad processors, but that is only on 12 and 16, but the Live has a separate chip to handle the coming LiveSight-ducer (no module needed for LiveSight on HDS Live, while a module is needed for HDS Carbon) and by looking in the "About"-menu you can see that HDS Live has better RAM then HDS Carbon so there are changes done on the 7 and 9 as well for processing capabilities. They might be subtle, but they are there.

Hardware-info, twice the memory on Live.

There are rumours of an upcoming change to todays StructureScan 3D as well where the module is no longer required with HDS Live and where the SS 3D uses Active Imaging. We do not expect to see StructureScan 3D without a module for quite some time though. (And Team Colibri is a fan of modules so we don`t really care either....). But that leads us on to the next point on our list of hardware-changes:

Hardware: transducers.

You could argue that this is where the really big changes are done this time, with Active Imaging and LiveSight entering the game for the first time. There are three new ducers, two that simply replace present models and one brand new:
  • "3 in 1" is the new Totalscan.
  • "2 in1 " is the new LSS-2 (StructureScan HD)
  • Livesight is, let`s be honest, a reply to Garmin Panoptix.
Like with TotalScan the 3 in 1 is the "do it all" ducer for users that do not want to fidle with two (or more) ducers. It is ideal for small boats and users who do not want or need the better 2D-quality by using a separate ducer from Airmar for 2D. The only difference between the new 3 in 1 and TotalScan is the Active Imaging which effects StructureScan (DownScan and SideScan). The 2D is the same in 3 in 1 and TotalScan and the 3 in 1 supports the same frequenzies. For StructureScan that means 455 and 800 kHz, for 2D it means 200/83 kHz fixed frequency and high/ medium chirp. 3 in 1 is compatible with both the HDS Live and Elite Ti2 out of the box, and will be compatible with HDS Carbon after a softwareupdate. 

TotalScan (left) and 3 in 1 (right) (Photo; Dag Røberg

2 in 1 is the new LSS-2, and provides StructureScan (DownScan and SideScan) but no 2D. Like with LSS-2 the new 2 in 1 is to be used with a separate 2D-ducer. The difference between 2 in 1 and LSS-2 is support for Active Imaging, like LSS-2 the 2 in 1 supports 455 and 800 kHz. 2 in 1 is compatible with both the HDS Live and Elite Ti2 (Elite Ti2 requires a Y-cable) out of the box, and will be compatible with HDS Carbon after a softwareupdate.  

LiveSight is not available at the time of writing this article, but what little details we do have tells us that this is a scanning ducer delivering real-time images through the HDS Live.

LiveSight - available sometime 2019.

As the documentation above states, LiveSight gives two options for view, down or forward. (The "Forward" can probably be used "Backward" when trolling as well, time will tell but this could be really cool when using downriggers). HDS Carbon requires a module for LiveSight, HDS Live does not. Apart from that the functionality and images seen with LiveSight is the same on both. 

It is worth mentioning that the hardware of StructureScan 3D goes on unchanged for now. It will recive a softwareupdate bringing it to (more or less) the same level of detail as Active Imaging, but will still only work with 455 kHz and not 800 kHz and for now you still require the module to use StructureScan 3D on HDS Live.

For more information on the older Lowrance-ducers capable of scanning sonar, LSS/ TotalScan/ HDI/StructureScan 3D, please read THIS article that we wrote back in 2017.

Both HDS Live and HDS Carbon will be compatible with ActiveTarget after a softwareupdate.

Softwear and new features.

The interface is slightly different from previous HDS-generations. The first sign are the new symbols on the main menu-screen seen after pushing the Pages-button. 

Home-screen with new symbols and layout.

But once you start using the sub-menus you soon realize there are several small changes and that functionality has been moved around. One example is the sonarlog-functionality. When in the sonar-menu, you used to start and stop your sonarlog by clicking "Advanced" and then "Sonarlog". This is now done by the Power-button in stead:

Subtle changes in the menus.

Of course there are changes in the software to achieve Active Imaging and support the future LiveSight, but there are no apparent changes in software regarding charts or 2D-sonar. And in all honesty. we do suspect Active Imaging is at least as much about software as hardware.

A sidenote for most of the world, but of value for users in the USA, is that the basemap in HDS Live has been improved over HDS Carbon. This only applies to US-units, not ROW-units.

What will work with my old stuff?

With software 18.2 for HDS Gen 3 and HDS Carbon we saw a change in what used to be one of the biggest advantages of the HDS-series, the option of having multiple generations networked together. With 18.2 it became clear that HDS Gen 3 is now the "new oldest" for which new models can still be networked without issues. So HDS Gen 3, HDS Carbon and HDS Live play well together, including modules like SonarHub, StructureScan 3D and (Simrad) S5100 as long as all of them are updated to (at least) software 18.2. 

HDS Carbon (left) and HDS Live (right) play well toghetter. (Photo; Dag Røberg)

Older units like HDS Gen 1, HDS Gen 2, HDS Gen 2 Touch and modules like LSS-1, LSS-2 BSM-1/2/3 should NOT be in the same ethernet-network as the newer HDS-units. NMEA2000 is OK, ethernet is not.

Your old transduers will work with HDS Live, but since HDS Live no longer has the classic 7- pin port but instead has two 9-pin X-Sonic ports you will need adapters if your old transducer has the classic connector.

Is it worth it?

That is literally the thousand dollar question. The main problem for me when asked this, is that the correct answer for you is most likely based 10% on tech (which I believe I know fairly well) and 90% on subjective reasons (which I am clueless to). Keep in mind that apart from the LiveSight-option, HDS Live in 7 and 9 are pretty much the exact same units as HDS Carbon in 7 and 9 when comparing what they do out on the water. So upgrading from Carbon 7/9 to Live 7/9 without a plan for LiveSight, is wasting your money.

If you already have HDS Carbons today I would say that Livesight has to be important for you in order to switch to HDS Live. If you have HDS Gen 3 today I would say that you have something to gain, especially if you fish a lot vertically in shallow water and therefore will want the LiveSight at some point or is using LSS-2 or TotalScan with your HDS Gen 3 and not StructureScan 3D. The upgrade from LSS-2 or TotalScan to 2 in 1 or 3 in 1 is noticable out on the water, and the screenquality between HDS Gen 3 and HDS Live really enhances that difference and makes that structure pop out.

If you have older units than Gen 3, than I would say it is time to move on and treat yourself to some rather fantastic new toys. 

Our other "what is the difference"-articles on Lowrance:

What is the difference between HDS Carbon and HDS Gen 3?
What is the difference between HDS Gen 3 and HDS Gen 2?
What is the difference between HDS and Elite Ti?
What is the difference between Hook and Hook2?

Edit 10.12.20:
Added info on US-units and base-mapping as well as info on ActiveTarget.
Edit 15.08.22:
Added info on difference in screen-design.


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