Sunday, October 21, 2012

Neptune Systems' Handsome New Apex Dashboard

Next up, we dropped in on Neptune Systems to find out what's new in the world of aquarium automation. Paul Jansen, Neptune Systems' Director of Operations, first took a moment to remind us what's so great about aquarium controllers in the first place. In a nutshell: they make the hobby easier for aquarium keepers so they can spend more time enjoying the fruits of their labor. The ability to control everything from a single source is one of the greatest benefits controllers offer. Not having to unplug everything just to find the cord for your powerhead alleviates a lot of headaches. Not only that, having the power to monitor and control your aquarium from anywhere in the world grants hobbyists with demanding systems the freedom to have a life outside their home.
The beautiful new Apex Dashboard was one of the hightlights in the Neptune booth this year. In fact, Neptune Systems' new controller interface, expanded product selection and overall rebranding helped the company earn Reef-A-Palooza Best in Show honors in MarineDepot.com's annual "Best of" awards. Anyhoo, back to the dashboard: many hobbyists are probably familiar with the simple drop-down controls used in the old design (which are still accessible, by the way, if that's your preferred user-interface). The new, more graphical UI is much more user-friendly. You can drag-and-drop various "tiles" on your dasboard to quickly check your temperature, pH and other key water parameters at-a-glance. Controllable features can now be adjusted using your mouse. Just slide a bar using your mouse, similar to how you might raise or lower the volume on your PC. Another feature that impressed attendees as well as our own staff was the ability to monitor your tank via web cam and have the video stream right on your dashboard. The camera Neptune Systems had running during the show was from D-Link, although we were told that any internet protocol (IP) camera will be compatible.
Paul demonstrated some of the monitoring and control capabilities available in their iPad and iPhone applications. Don't worry, Android users: Neptune has an app for you that is currently being beta tested by users so they can polish up the programming before the finished product comes out in the coming months. Allowing hobbyists to check in on their tanks from their mobile device or smartphone is a huge convenience and the ease-of-use of their apps make Neptune Systems an attractive control system to adopt if you're considering automating your own system. You needn't worry about a bunch of complex programming that may be over your head if you're not super tech-savvy. Neptune Systems' new AI has a bunch of built-in wizards to help you get things setup quickly and easily. They also ensured us that more wizards are in the works to keep up with the ever-evolving needs of hobbyists.
Neptune also showed us their exclusive wireless pump control for EcoTech VorTech powerheads, which they pointed out you can't get from any other controller company on the market today. You can switch your powerheads into pulse, lagoon or feed mode with your iPad while sitting on the couch or from your mobile device anywhere you have web access.
Neptune explained they have been hyper-focused on producing the best possible products and are now ramping things up to expand into international markets. We expect to see a lot more adoption of Neptune controllers in the latter half of this year and in 2013 based on what we've seen at the show this year: new exciting products, a revamped and polished website and an expansion in their marketing efforts. You really get the feeling the company is feeling confident and we're excited to see them grow.
One last nugget of newsworthiness: the AquaController Apex Jr. is getting some refinements as well, including color-coded cables (like PCs often have) and other improvements to make the out-of-the-box experience better and super easy for even beginning hobbyists to get up and running.

The Customizable AquaticLife 3W LED Expert Series

The first manufacturer booth we decided to visit on day 2 was AquaticLife so we could learn a little more about their recently released 3W LED Expert Series for marine aquariums.
The first thing we observed is how much smaller it appers in real life versus the image we have displayed on our website. The unit itself is a mere 14.625" L x 12.125" W x 2.125" H. You can create three 24-hour programs and those programs correspond to the 1, 2 & 3 buttons on the included remote control. The fixture is equipped with American-made CREE LEDs: 8-White XPG, 8-Blue XPE, 6-Royal Blue XPE and 2-Red XPE. You can create up to 18 custom colors and save them in the downloadable software. The lenses (shown below) can be replaced or swapped out for hobbyists that want to modify the fixture to their liking. The black lenses are angled at 80° and the whites are 100°. AquaticLife tells us there are 60° lenses available on their website for aquarium keepers who want more focused light for deeper penetration into their tanks. And, should you decided to swap them out, you don't have to stick with AquaticLife's, either. You an opt for whichever brand makes you happy.
The fixture includes the remote and hanging kit and the free software can be downloaded from AquaticLife's website (Windows only as of today). Let's talk a bit more about the remote. So we already know what the 1, 2 & 3 buttons do, how about the others? The arrows allow you to cycle through your programs while the + and - buttons adjust the light intensity, which is useful for coral acclimation or setting the right mood for a romantic evening at home (OK, joking about that last part). You can hear audible sounds emit from the light when you press the buttons so you know it's working. The buttons along the bottom are controls for the lunar, cloud and storm settings. You can use AquaticLife's 30-day lunar cycle or create your own custom one using any of the fixture's LED colors and even tweak their intensity for just the right look. The storm and cloud duration can be set using the software and started using the wireless remote.
Let's talk a bit more about the software. When you first setup up your light, you can sync the time with your PC so it's correct for your time zone. Watching the AquaticLife boys demo the software, I could tell it was super easy to use. You basically just click and drag the various settings to get the right look to export to the light. One of the coolest features we noticed was the software displays your 24-hour energy consumption (just the LEDS, mind you, not the power supply). AquaticLife has downloadable "traces" available on their website that you can save for your light(s) and even share with fellow reefers. Since the aquarium hobby has such a strong community, we imagine they'll be a lot of sharing among Expert Series users.
For more info about the AquaticLife Expert Series light, come down to Reef-A-Palooza today and visit the MarineDepot.com or AquaticLife booths! Of course, if you can't make it or you're busy watching Sunday football, head over to MarineDepot.com to check out detailed specs and photos. The software was so cool, we spoke with AquaticLife about shooting a video for the light. It sounds like they're already ahead of us and have something in the pipeline, so we'll be sure to embed the video on the product page once it's available.
Stay tuned for more updates from Reef-A-Palooza 2012!

Welcome to Reef-A-Palooza: Day 2

We're back for day 2 of Reef-A-Palooza here at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, CA. In case you're unfamiliar, Reef-A-Palooza (RAP) is a huge annual aquarium show hosted by local aqaruium club SCMAS (Southern California Marine Aquarium Society).
Today we thought we'd walk around and speak with some of the vendors and hobbyists at the show so we can share some of the goings on with folks who weren't able to make it to this year's event. If you happen to be around the Orange County area today, the show will be open until 4 pm this afternoon. Entry is $10 and parking is $5. You're bound to score some great deals on coral frags, get some freebies from the various booths (like our new Major League Reefing T-shirt!) and maybe even win some awesome goodies in all the raffles going on.
There's a ton of new products on display at the show as well. In our own booth you can come play with AquaticLife's new remote-controlled Expert Series LED light, see just how compact and powerful EcoTech's Radion light is and admire how slim and easy-to-use Cobalt Aquatics' new heaters are. The biggest draw in our booth so far this year is the 175-gallon Red Sea Max S-Series Plug and Play Aquarium.
There are some free educational events scheduled for this afternoon that you won't want to miss. Scott Fellman will be doing a "Tank Flow" demonstration at 11:30am, followed by a coral "Fragging" demo at 1:30 pm with Greg Fryling. Speakers scheduled for today are Steve Carroll at 11:30 am with Ret Talbot closing out the day at 1:30 pm.
We hope to see you soon but, if not, stay tuned for more posts througout the day as we chat with all the great folks here at RAP.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Aquarium Needs Top Off


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Robert's DIY LED Light Fixture, Part 2

Robert's DIY LED Light Fixture v2.0
Since I made the big switch to LED, I have been pretty pleased with the results.

Temperatures have become much more stable in my aquarium and I saved about $30 on my electricity bill the first month. For those of you who followed my DIY LED fixture post I figured I would share a few changes that I made to fixture which resulted in a bit better color spectrum as well as more efficient heat dissipation.

I found too much white light resulted in a color closer to 10K white and it washed out my colors a bit, only from an aesthetic standpoint. I figured by adding more blue colored LEDs I might be able to get a better color spectrum.

I got a hold of two more Ecoxotic Panorama Pro LED Modules, one of them in the 24” length and one in the 12” length. I chose the 12k/445 nm blue color to preserve some white daylight while getting a bit more blue color.

I began brainstorming how to get the strips into the fixture while keeping it looking sleek. After removing the existing Diamond White True Lumen Pro Striplights, I found the 24” Panorama Pro fit nicely down the center channel.

Ecoxotic Panorama Pro LED Module
Ecoxotic Panorama Pro LED Module
I was able to attach the 24” strip by screwing through the top side of the fixture housing with a ½” self tapping metal screw. The screw was just large enough to fit between the heat sink fins on the back of the LED strip holding it place. Being flush with the aluminum fixture housing, I figured heat dissipation will not be a problem. I attached a reflector to blend the light and gett a more even 14K color spectrum.

Now the 12” strip needed to be mounted. I knew I would need this extra strip to keep up the PAR values. I noticed one of my Palythoa colonies on the sand bed was not happy with my original DIY setup so I moved it closer to the surface which was all it needed to come back around.

The 12” strip aligned perfectly with yet another existing channel in the fixture housing. I screwed it into the channel using the mounting holes on the end of the Panorama Pro Strip. A couple of the leftover screws from the original build worked out perfectly to fit right into the channel.

Once I wired up the power, it shone a much nicer 14K look and all the corals are looking great now. It has been a full 8 weeks since I made the switch and I am really pleased with the results.

Did you miss Robert's DIY LED Light Fixture, Part1? Click here to read the original blog post.