Wednesday, September 07, 2005

OziExplorer & OziExplorerCE

OziExplorer and its companion WindowsCE product like Aussies are from DownUnder.

This package contains pretty much every single feature a GPS user would probably require from a software product. It does have some funny ways about doing things, but it also has a very long history of added features, bug fixes and support for whatever is out there.

I learned about more Datum (probably Data if plural) that I ever wanted to know about, lots of map providers and its different formats, quick and easy getting started tutorials and even the internal file formats used by the product. And this package leaves the feeling that you will need a lot of time to exhaust its possibilities.

OziExplorer installed easily in a WinXP box with a CF card adapter to the PCMCIA port. (The GM-270 from Holux and its COM driver was sitting at COM6 all the time, I only had to run the Holux utility GPS Viewer and scan the ports to find it there.) Ozi let me configure COM6 and have it as a moving map.

For CF cards you can use the "NMEA Only" setting and discover that Ozi includes support for Garmin, Magellan, Eagle units and pretty much every single GPS receiver under the Sun.

But first you need to load a .map file (more on this in a minute), then establish the connection with the GPS unit. The status bar will show which kind of sentence the unit is transmitting, if a fix was obtained and the status of the link.

The trial version only run for one hour without interruptions and you cannot upload/download data to a GPS unit; load or save waypoints or events or save map images in bitmap.


Creating .map files

The idea was to use the pair OziExplorer & OziExplorerCE with the PDA as a moving map. But the .map file has to be created first in the Windows version. And then converted to the ozfx3 format (or ozf2 for previous versions) with a utility available at its website.

When you install OziExplorer in your Windows box you will be asked if you want two icons to be created by the installer: one for the demo/shareware version and another for the trial.

The trial includes most of the options available for registered users (US$85 currently). The Shareware version has restricted usage, like for example maps can only be imported from .bmp images.

The Trial will let you import maps from several image formats (among others .jpeg and .tiff) including some pretty obscure types. I decided to try it out using .bmp images exported from Topo! The idea is to georeference the image by creating a .map file with two reference points (up to nine in the registered version).

First select File | Open and then "Calibrate image" to load a .bmp image file. Set the reference points by clicking in the image location and selecting the Point 1 tab in the right panel for the first reference point. Type in the Latitude and Longitude for that point. Do the same for the second reference point. Hit the Save button and you will get a .map file.

Ozi map formats

Download the img2ozf utility from the Optional Extras link in the website and install in your PC. These are conversion utilities that will take a .map as input and generate map files in the format used by OziExplorerCE.

After selecting the .map files and corresponding .bmp images, click the Convert Maps button. This will start the ozfx3 conversion.

In the same utility select the next tab, Copy Maps to PDA, hit the refresh button and the new _ozf.map files should be displayed. Hit the Copy Maps to PDA button and the ozfx3 files will be transferred to a connected PDA.

Voila! You got georeferenced maps in your PDA.

OziExplorerCE costs US$30 and according to the website, to fully utilize this product you need a registered copy of both products. The trial version lasts for two weeks.

Among its limitations the evaluation copy of the OziExplorerCE will interrupt its communication with the GPS unit while in moving map mode and a "Demo version" watermark shows up in the maps.

OziExplorerCE

I like the option for Sirf-based GPS receivers where OziExplorerCE let you choose a fix for the elevation bug from these chips. I wasn't aware of the bug but I did notice some weird values (like negative altitude) a couple of times with other packages.

It might not be a perfect solution but it gives probably better values. In fact it tends to increase the altitude value when you are going downhill under poor satellite visibility conditions.

With the Demo version you can log your track (default behavior with GPS connection active) and save it to memory or disk. It does find your georeferenced maps for the position you are in.

The demo will pop up a screen to let you know that you are using a demo version and turn the GPS connection off. But it does have a lot of room for control, like letting you configure the color of tracks and providing your own schemes.

This is probably the most feature rich package available for Windows CE devices.

After tracking a route, you can upload the TrackLogFile from the PocketPC to the Data directory of OziExplorer in the PC. Use the File menu to open the previous .map image you used for that track. Use the "File | Load from file | Load Map File" and "Load Track from File" for that.

With the corresponding .map file loaded, select View | Tracks | Track Control (or hit Alt-T). Select the Track Log File you want to replay. Now click the button with a plus sign and a down arrow for more options. Select Track Replay and hit the button with the red dot on the Track Replay Control to start the replay.

As a photographer friend once said "with Ozi you will typically use for trip planning and afterwards for analysis of the waypoints/track data. You can also use Ozi on a laptop in the car, connected with GPS - Ozi will show you where you are at your maps. This is way cool. Sometimes we use this when we are at unknown territories and wish to know what is [there] before us".