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What is the difference between Lowrance HDS Live and Elite FS?


Lowrance as a brand of marine electronics is well known to all anglers, but the differences within their range of different models seem to cause quite a few questions out there. Here we will try to outline the difference between Lowrance HDS Live (top end) and Lowrance Elite FS (middle range).

As usual, we will start with the tech and then try to translate those technical aspects to practical differences while out on the water.

Lowrance Elite FS (left) and HDS Live (right) - what are the differences?

Before we dive into the details, let us take a moment to recap on the range of units Lowrance is currently offering.
  • HDS Live
  • Elite FS
  • Hook Reveal

There is some confusion going on as to which unit replaced what; here is a brief overview of the history of Elite and HDS.
History of HDS and Elite Ti/ Ti2/ FS

If we look at it from a purely historical viewpoint, the middle-range units before Elite Ti could be included in the list and would (newest to oldest) be Hook, Elite CHIRP, Elite HDI. I have chosen not to include those as they differ a lot from the more recent middle-range units with touchscreens and networking-capabilities. 

Hardware - housing, screen and connections.

With the jump from Elite Ti2 to Elite FS, we saw a few changes on the housing to incorporate the new placement of the internal GPS-receiver, the ethernet-port and the programmable button. 

Elite FS has a top-mounted GPS-receiver like HDS Live

Programmable button on Elite FS 7 & 9, and on HDS Live 12 &16.

Continuing on the front, Elite FS has one memorycardreader, located under the Lowrance-lettering on the left side of the screen.

One memorycardreader on Elite FS

All sizes of HDS Live have two memorycard readers. For many users this is not a big deal, but if you like to have both mapping from Navionics and C-Map available in one unit, or like to combine Navionics with recording sonarlogs (for Reefmaster or C-Map Genesis). Both Elite FS and HDS live use Micro SD memorycards up to 32GB. For us mapping-geeks, HDS is still one step ahead of Elite FS.

At the back, with Elite FS now having an ethernetport, the differences regarding physical connections at the back of the units are:
Type and number of ports.

As you can see, Elite FS in 7 and 9 have the same type and number of ports, while it varies with size on HDS Live. Keep in mind that ethernet is what shares 2D-sonar, StructureScan, mapping, radar and synchronizes waypoints (not just share), while NMEA2000 shares simple data like depth, position, enginedata, heading etc.

This is the backside of Elite FS, both 7 and 9:

Elite FS.

This is HDS Live 12 and 16:

HDS Live 12 and 16.

If you are to remember just one thing regarding the ports, it is that Elite FS has one ethernetport for both 7 and 9, while HDS Live has one ethernetport on 7 and two ethernetports on 9/12/16. This has a big practical impact if you plan to have more than just one unit. With Elite FS you will soon run out of ethernetports with more than two units, and will have to add the NEP-2 (network expansion port), in order to add the third unit or a module like Active Target.

When looking at the screens, they look very similar at first glance. But when looking at them side by side, the better screen on HDS Live (and HDS Carbon, which has the same screen has HDS Live) is still visible.

Lowrance Elite FS left, HDS Live right.

In the photo above (taken while icefishing) we use ethernet from the HDS Live, which again has the LiveSight-transducer connected, and as you see it networks perfectly to the Elite FS next to it. With Elite FS we now see full networking. No limitations, making it not just a good middle-range unit but also a very good supplement to HDS Live as a "second screen" at a lower cost than adding another HDS. This is a big plus versus the main competitors Garmin and Humminbird. However, doing so also makes the difference in screen-quality clear to the user.

The screen on Elite FS is similar to that on HDS Gen 3, but with the same outer-layer, as we know from Simrad GO and HDS Live. The only way to tell the difference between the screens on Elite FS and HDS Live is by seeing them live side by side, if you do you will notice brighter colors on HDS Live and the white is less yellow and brighter white on HDS Live. Nevertheless, with the improved outer-layer on Elite FS (versus HDS Gen 3), the viewing-angles are almost the same, HDS Live is slightly better but marginally. You can still see what is going on, even if you are more or less directly off to the side of the Elite FS, a big improvement over HDS Gen 3 that had a narrower viewing-angle. This might sound like a detail, but when you are fishing, moving around in the boat, being able to see details on your screen without standing right in front of it is a major practical difference versus older units.

Using polarized sunglasses, you again see a big difference. HDS Live is clearly viewable with such sunglasses, Elite FS is not.

That difference is at its most noticeable when using Active Target. Unlike LiveSight or 2D-sonar, Active Target ONLY has dark pallets, no light-colored background to choose like pallet 1 on LiveSight. 

Elite FS with Active Target left, HDS Live with LiveSight right - IPad mirroring Elite FS.

In the photo above (taken while icefishing) we use LiveSight on HDS Live and Active Target on Elite FS, in addition to mirroring the Elite FS to an IPad. In the strong sunlight we had that day, it was clear that Active Target and Elite FS as a combination can be quite frustrating in strong sunlight. Active Target on HDS Live is still viewable in strong sunlight due to the better screen, but in such conditions, even HDS Live would benefit from a light-colored pallet for Active Target. 

If we look solely at screen resolution, Elite FS is still behind that of HDS Live. It is worth mentioning that this is not because the resolution on Elite FS is "bad", it is on par with most units on the market. It simply means that the resolution on HDS Live is "excellent".

Examples of screen-resolution.

Both Elite FS and HDS Live can be operated using the touchscreen, and they have multi touch so you can use two fingers to zoom in and out. On HDS Live you also have a full set of buttons. Especially in rough conditions, choppy seas, being able to use buttons to operate a unit is a plus.

When it comes to the processor(s) and RAM etc. in the units, Lowrance (like most brands) is not very informative. We can get a clue to the difference between HDS Live and Elite FS though, both in practical use and by looking at the About-menu in the units. 

Elite FS 9 and HDS Live 9.

Elite FS seems to have more or less the same processing-power of HDS Carbon.  HDS Live is (as expected) slightly faster than Elite FS, but you have to operate the units side by side to notice the difference. Elite FS is one of the fastest middle-range units on the market and the difference towards Elite Ti2 is noticeable. When operating Elite FS it is more on less on par with HDS Live in terms of how fast it loads different views, adjusting settings and so forth.


Hardware - transducers.

With ethernet added to Elite FS, the only remaining difference is for Airmar dual-channel chirp-tranducers. HDS Live can run these directly, Elite FS cannot without a module. This aside, Elite FS and HDS Live use the same transducers.

Software.

When using Elite Ti/Ti2, we saw that the processing of the sonar-signal was "dumbed down" versus HDS Carbon and Live. This was especially noticeable in very shallow water (less than 10 feet) and in deep water (more than 160 feet). When viewing the units side by side, it was clear that HDS would draw better arches, with more definition and with better target-separation.

Another example of difference in signal processing was visible when using manual mode. HDS has always coped well in manual mode, Elite Ti/Ti2 would only work well in manual mode if it still had a bottom-return. This meant that HDS was the go-to units for pelagic fishing over deep water, due to the massively better target-separation one achieves in manual mode under such conditions. At the time of writing this, we haven`t tested Elite FS for pelagic fishing, so this has yet to be answered (by us).

Auto left, manual right, quite the difference in target-separation.

Please note that Elite FS cannot use chirp on 2D, while also using StructureScan (SideScan/ DownScan) unless there is a module involved as well. HDS Live can do this.

Another difference that used to be, but is no more, is the maximum power for the 2D-signal. Both Elite FS and HDS Live are now 1000W RMS for 2D, as long as they are used with a transducer that supports it. (In other words, used with Airmar.)

As for mapping, there are no difference between Elite FS and HDS Live. They are both fully compatible with the same mapping-products and -services, inlcuding both Genesis Live and Navionics Sonarcharts Live. In the film below, you can see Genesis Live and Navionics Sonarcharts Live side by side on HDS Live:



Combining HDS Live and Elite FS?

With cable-based ethernet on Elite FS, Lowrance has opened up the door for cross-series networking between Elite FS and HDS. Elite FS networks well in ethernet with HDS Gen 3 (on latest software), HDS Carbon and HDS Live. Using ethernet between Elite FS and older generations of HDS will cause legacy-issues, and we would not recommend doing so. (Networking with NMEA2000 is OK, networking with ethernet is not.)

Out on the water/ conclusion.

Lowrance had good middle-range units already with Elite Ti2, and excellent top-end units with HDS. With Elite FS, they now have an excellent middle-range unit in their arsenal. We see these types of users as users that still need to look to HDS (Live) for their needs.
  • For multiple unit/ module networking (more than two).
  • For use with multiple modules (more than one).
  • For use where a large screen is necessary.
  • For use where two 2D-transducers is needed to one unit.
  • For Active Target.
  • For Airmar double-band chirp-transducers like TM265HL.
On the other hand, Elite FS is ideal if:
  • You only need/ want one unit, or two units but no modules (like Active Target).
  • You want as second screen to combine with HDS.

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