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Oceanic OC1 computer
Cressi Palau fins
Mares Carbon 42 regulator
Cressi Big Eyes masks
Mares Air Control
Aqualung Pearl i3 weight release
Custom Divers Sportster
Seac Sub wing
SiTech Neck Seal System
Hollis Prism 2
| ||THE DEMA EXPERIENCE IN THE USA has changed, especially for me. There was a time when I would have to dodge the irate owners of diving centres about which I had failed to write an uncompromisingly flattering article, or manufacturers of new products that had been revealed as having some obvious defect. |
The culture of US-based media has changed. Instead of obsequious publications chasing advertising budgets at any cost to their integrity, many American magazines have been shamed by the vocal masses on the Internet into realising that you either get it right or go out of business.
Suddenly, DIVER is no longer a lone siren voice on the far side of the Atlantic. Instead of berating us, manufacturers and dive operators have come to realise that we're not so bad in the great scheme of things, and that constructive criticism can even be helpful for those planning to stay in the game for the long haul.
At times, I was embraced so warmly that it almost became embarrassing. Well, almost!
A case in point is Oceanic. I remember its esteemed and gentlemanly leader, Bob Hollis, explaining to me that my view of his computers was distorting the market. I had said that they might sell well with US leisure divers, but their algorithms seemed out of step with those we were used to on many European-built computers.
I wasn't saying that Oceanic was wrong, just different. And at DEMA in November, Oceanic unveiled its very nice new wireless gas-integrated OC1 titanium watch-style computer and digital compass.
I'm reliably informed that it offers the user the facility to switch between the traditional American program and the familiar Buhlmann-style program, which provides the sort of no-stop times and deco information with which we Europeans feel more comfortable.
Strangely, one of the Oceanic staff manning the booth was unaware of this fact. I am also told that all Oceanic computers may soon be able to do the same. If so, stand by for Oceanic computers to be seen much around the world!
I also had to point out to the operator of one dive resort that it was traditional to beat me with a rolled-up copy of DIVER, and not to give away glossy printed run-ons of my articles to prospective group-trip purchasers. Either I'm losing my edge, or the Americans are beginning to understand the philosophy of balanced reporting.
DEMA 08, at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, enjoyed a very good turnout of both exhibitors and diving-trade visitors. However, each year it becomes more of a showcase of where you can dive rather than what you wear when you dive, and I was there to see the new kit.
Many big-name manufacturers were either absent or there only through their local distributor. Doug Toth, one of the Atomic Aquatics bosses, told me that the company was disinclined to exhibit products still in development, because clever manufacturers from the Far East would photograph them and get their versions into production first.
Even so, he showed me the new Atomic T2x regulator, a top-end product at a top-end price.
I was then left scouring the vast exhibition hall for new products not yet unveiled in the UK.
There was no sign of Scubapro, but the unusually modest Mares booth had a couple of items that caught the eye. One was a regulator second stage made of carbon fibre. This Carbon 42 will almost certainly be inordinately expensive, but it certainly is lightweight.
Another item was a combined BC direct-feed and emergency breathing device, the Air Control, that operates along the lines of Scubapro's Air II.
Not so popular in the UK, it indicates that American demand must be strong for such products. I noted that Mares now supplies stainless-steel spring-straps for use with its fins.
I also noted the enthusiasm that manufacturers including Mares now have opted for modern lightweight braided hoses. Many new regulators are now supplied with these as standard.
Rival Italian manufacturer Cressi-sub was at DEMA with a big stand and a huge raft of new products, including the Palau fins; a new Big Eyes mask to follow up the success of the original Big Eyes and the later Matrix; the new Ellipse MC9 SC dry-sealed regulator for coldwater use; and the TravelLight BC, with integrated-weights.
As usual there were a lot of new BCs. Even Bare, the Canadian brand that manufactures diving suits in Malta, revealed its own Bare BC.
I'm pleased to say that integrated-weight pockets held in position by Velcro have almost entirely been replaced by secure buckle systems. Aqua Lung's Pearl i3 jacket even offers a choice of types. It is aimed at women, and its buoyancy-control direct-feed system does away with the corrugated hose.
It seems that only Cressi, Mares and Aqua Lung are soldiering on with the idea of a BC without a corrugated hose, despite other manufacturers flirting with the idea in past years. Aqua Lung also showed the new Titan LX Supreme regulator. Custom Divers proudly displayed its Sportster leisure-diving wing, and Oceanic its new Cruz BC, among others.
Aqua Lung's French competitor, Beuchat, mirrored its bigger rival with a new BC and a new coldwater regulator, as did Oceanic on the American side of the Atlantic.
Seac Sub showed the new Pro 2000 SWS BC (and 10 others), a new line in wetsuits and semi-dry suits and a lamp, the X5, with five high-intensity LEDs. Most lamp makers now pin their sales hopes on this kind of light.
Belgium's Green Force had a whole range of LED lamps lighting up its booth, including the massive Nonastar head. Switzerland's Keldan and America's Ikelite and Underwater Kinetics were pursuing the same route, as was NiteRider with its range of compact umbilical LED units.
O'Neill, Typhoon and Fourth Element had new versions of semi-dry suits and wetsuits, but Sweden's Waterproof took first prize in this department, with new suits that are anatomically shaped as usual to fit one sex or the other.
On the drysuit front, New Zealand's Pinnacle has included a Merino wool lining in its latest offering, the Black Ice, bringing it into line with its huge range of semi-dries.
Northern Diver showed a range of low-magnetic drysuit valves that will suit military divers, and another dry glove-and-ring system. Italy's Teknodeep showed its new range of six drysuits. DUI had a whole rack of different types of undersuit, in a variety of colours.
SiTech demonstrated its own dry-glove lock, which will rotate about its ring to make the gloves easier to get on. It also showed a new neck-seal system that, once fitted, allows the user to replace a damaged seal easily without resorting to glue. Stig Insulan, SiTech's boss, ably demonstrated the ease of fitting and the flexibility of its mounting ring. Watch out for this system being fitted to many makes of drysuit in the future.
A Chinese sub-contractor showed an example of a tough pair of gloves made with stainless steel in the weave. I believe that Otter Watersports may be commissioning production soon.
New computers for technical divers included the smart-looking VRX with interchangeable front mouldings in different finishes, from the makers of the VR3, Delta P. There was also the Shearwater Pursuit, and the neat little Liquid Vision, suitable for use with both open-circuit and CCR and directly aimed at potential VR3 buyers. No dealer was listed for the UK.
Florida cave diver Lamar Hires' Diverite gave us a first glimpse of the rather neat NiTek X, a mixed-gas computer that doesn't require complex instructions.
De-Ox from Italy had a range of gas analysers, ranging from both a simple oxygen analyser and a complex programmable diving computer and oxygen analyser, through to a helium analyser for use with trimix and a ppO2 meter for use with rebreathers. Its products can be obtained through Custom Divers in the UK.
With an envious eye on the sweeping success of Ambient Pressure Diving with its Inspiration and Evolution rebreathers, many other manufacturers seem to be jumping on the closed-circuit bandwagon. All the usual suspects were in Las Vegas.
OMS displayed its own version of the Megalodon. And Hollis, the technical diving arm associated with Oceanic, now has the perfected Prism 2 rebreather, which I understand is close to being launched to consumers, after many years of independent development by British rebreather guru Peter Readey.
HB Technology of Italy presented a range of manual closed- and semi-closed-circuit rebreathers under the Voyager name, including a trimix version, the Voyager V2 CCR, said to be suitable for 100m diving.
Deep Outdoors was another company with a rebreather fitted out with its BC and harness. But most interest was drawn by the Poseidon Discovery Mark 6 fully automatic rebreather, first shown last year with a slightly different name but only recently launched.
The Scottish-built and not-yet-ready-for-sale Apocalypse promises to put a basic manually controlled CCR on a diver's back for less than US $1000, with CO2 monitoring, ppO2 monitoring with four sensors, automatic loop shut-down and lots of other electronic wizardry for only around US $1500 more. We'll have to see if it meets its promises.
The biggest growth in diving equipment must surely be based around underwater photography. Manufacturers are constantly kept on their toes, producing underwater housings to accommodate new digital cameras.
SeaLife has introduced a new 8-megapixel compact model, the DC800, promising much better-quality performance than previous models, and there's the necessary underwater flashgun, the DC800 Pro, to go with it. Meanwhile, rival Epoque has come in at the least expensive end of the market with something similar and cheaper, together with a prototype housing for the Canon DSLR.
Howard Rosenstein, a former Red Sea diving pioneer, was present as usual with his Fantasea Line range of inexpensive plastic housings, including a new one for the Nikon P6000. He also showed a new digital flashgun to complement the range.
Liquid Image showed off its digital camera, which is included within a consequentially rather large mask.
All the major top-end camera-housing manufacturers were at DEMA. With camera models changing so rapidly, Sea & Sea has gone over to shorter production runs, with precision-machined aluminium rather than cast housings for the popular Nikon D300 and Canon 40D models. It also revealed its plans for polycarbonate housings for the D60 and 450D.
Ikelite was able to introduce almost instantly a Plexiglas housing for the recently arrived Nikon D700 camera, while Seacam showed off with a housing for the Nikon D3, with the usual spectacularly effective, if expensive, viewfinder.
Hugyfot displayed its little electric pump system for reducing the air pressure inside its housings, thereby settling the O-rings in place and revealing any possible leaks without wetting the camera.
It works in conjunction with an indicator light system installed within the clamshell.
For those who want to win the megapixel race regardless of cost, Ultima Digital stunned us all with an underwater housing for the £15,000 50-megapixel Hasselblad camera.
It glibly told the world that the housing cost little more than those designed typically for top-end full-frame DSLRs. If only we could afford to flood what was inside.
Diver recovery has become a hot topic at last, and Custom Divers showed us its Seeker radar-detectable SMB with four alternative methods of inflation. ENOS again displayed its VHF/GPS diver recovery system, in the hope that more boat operators would adopt it.
We were also shown how to go diving with no chance of getting wet. eDiving is all about virtual diving on computer. Once a dive has been programmed, and there are plans to visit and program a lot of popular sites, it could be a very useful teaching or briefing tool.
As you may have gathered, DEMA was really more about ideas being developed from the previous year than about product launches.
I was pleased to note that the quirky Israeli-made UDI computer from UTC, an instrument that not only uses an RGBM algorithm and a tilt-free digital compass but has diver-locating facilities too, was not what is sometimes called a "one-DEMA product". I reported on it last year.
We should soon be able to get our hands on a pair of units, to find out whether underwater text-messaging between divers really is possible.
Many of the few genuinely new products at DEMA were due to be launched at our own Dive 2008 consumer show in Birmingham a week later. I had to content myself with bringing back to the UK a pair of compact APS Mantaray fins and a Kapitol Reef luxury snorkel, which looked more complicated than might be thought strictly necessary.
With twin tubes and a valve system, it separates inhalation from exhalation, but was a lot bigger than any other snorkel I've seen. It comes in a range of six colours.
The kind lady on the booth wanted to let me have one in a surgical pink, but I'm afraid I just wasn't prepared to be seen walking back to my hotel with it.
Green Force LED Lights
Seac Sub X5
Ikelite C-Lite 8
O'Neill semi-dry and wetsuits
Ultima Digital Hasselblad housing
Sea & Sea MDX 300 and MDX 40D
Sea Life DC800 and flash
Kapitol Reef Luxury Snorkel.
Liquid Image Camera-Mask.
Pinnacle Black Ice
Ikelite housing for Nikon D700.