Oceanic has been producing quality dive equipment and submersible precision instruments since 1972, when its founder Bob Hollis decided to take a knack for making custom underwater photo gear to the next level. During the early 1980s, Oceanic played a central role in the development and introduction of the world’s first electronic dive computers. The company then went on to become a dominant player in the manufacture of a wide array of recreational dive equipment and apparel, during the decades that followed. Today, Oceanic’s tradition of innovation continues, and we have been informed that the company is working feverishly to begin shipments of the VT 4.0 by the end of this month.
The VT 4.0 is a an evolutionary continuation of Oceanic’s successful VT3 and VT Pro models. Readers may remember that I hinted at a shiny new lineup of Oceanic dive computers due out during 2011, including the VT 4.0, in my article detailing the highlights from the DEMA Show 2010. In addition to seeing the VT 4.0 at DEMA, I also got a chance to dive the unit recently during a trip to the Cayman Islands. Below is my analysis of Oceanic’s newest and most durable dive computer.
Quality of Construction
The VT 4.0 picks up where the VT3 and the VT Pro before it left off. It is ruggedly constructed out of hardened polycarbonate and various forms of rubberized plastics. The overall mass of the unit is substantial, but not cumbersome, which I prefer to other dive computers that do double-duty as wristwatches – those just seem too small to me. I want a dive computer that can take a beating, and Oceanic’s VT 4.0 absolutely fits the bill. The company is a great example of how quality products can still be produced in the United States, yet still offered to consumers at reasonable prices. As a testament to the tough build quality of these Oceanic dive computers, I am still regularly diving with the two aforementioned models that predate the VT 4.0 (all three pictured below). This made for a great chance to dive ant test all three of them, side-by-side.
The high quality fit and finish of the VT 4.0 is right on par with Oceanic’s entire lineup of dive computers and scuba equipment; I could not find any sloppy tolerances or ill-fitting component parts. It is clear from my demo of the VT 4.0 that the manufacturing and quality assurance processes down in San Leandro, where Oceanic is based, are still up to snuff.
User Interface Improvements
The most obvious advancements seen the Oceanic VT 4.0 come in the form of user interface improvements. The company kept its large display, but updated it to feature a greyscale dot-matrix array, which allows the unit to display icons and text much more clearly, using the same amount of screen real estate. The familiar, three-button form factor is carried over from the VT3, but significant improvements in the graphical user interface have lead to a quantum leap forward in terms of intuitive usability.
Specifically, the menu items are now displayed as a scrollable list, as opposed to the old model of displaying one item on the screen at a time. This new arrangement allows the user to quickly advance or step backward to the desired settings and functions. If I were to have asked the company to improve one single aspect of the previous model it would have been the user interface, as I was always accidentally going past desired menu items, then having to cycle back through each individual menu item to come full circle. Now this issue is solved and reviewing or changing settings on the fly is a breeze. Taking this improvement a step further, there is an entirely new menu architecture, with improved groupings of settings and preferences. Oceanic also introduces a “shortcuts” menu, allowing the user to pre-define a custom subset of commonly used settings based on personal preferences. Big kudos to Oceanic for making these user interface improvements.
Noticeably absent in the VT 4.0, at a time when most dive computer manufacturers are rushing to the market with various iterations of of chromatically imbued devices, is a color display. I talked to Oceanic about this and they cite supply chain inconsistency and quality issues as the primary reasons that they’re not ready to jump onto the color display bandwagon just yet. Since their company name is deeply tied to a reputation of producing and servicing large numbers of bulletproof dive computers worldwide, I can hardly blame them for showing some restraint. And, I can never turn down longer battery life.
Software & Dual Algorithm
Oceanic has recently been touting their Dual Algorithm™ capability, and for good reason. Simply put, there are two primary algorithms commonly used in most dive computers to calculate safe diving profiles: DSAT and Buhlmann. Oceanic refers to them as “Pelagic DSAT” and “Pelagic Z+”, respectively.
One can argue until the cows come home as to which one is “better” (and people certainly do), but the true answer to this oversimplified question is that it depends. DSAT is generally thought of as being more generous to the diver in terms of bottom time, and is more liberal when used during multiple days of repetitive, recreational diving, as is commonly the case during warm water dive vacations when most people try to make the most of their scarce vacation time. The Buhlmann (Pelagic Z+) model is generally considered to be more appropriate for the demands of cold water, decompression and altitude diving, and is typically found in most technical dive computers, such as the Shearwater Predator.
Until fairly recently, consumers had to choose one decompression model over another, and along with it – the rest of the dive computer (e.g., one may like the form factor of a particular dive computer but not the software that determines their no decompression limits). Something that I commonly ran into while diving Oceanic’s previous model dive computers was that while my computer was saying I had plenty of available bottom time, my buddy’s computer – running on a dissimilar decompression algorithm – would be telling him to ascend.
The Dual Algorithm™ Oceanic dive computers now solve these problems by allowing the user to select the algorithm most appropriate for the type of diving that they happen to be doing. In a few short words: this feature kicks ass.
Dual Algorithm™ is available in the following Oceanic dive computer models: OC1, VT 4.0, Atom 3.0, Geo 2.0, Veo 3.0/2.0/1.0
Wireless Tank Data
The VT 4.0 reads tank data wirelessly independently from up to four different electronic transmitters. Each transmitter is easily installed onto the first stage of a scuba regulator. Two common purposes for reading data from multiple tanks are: keeping track of your buddy’s gas supply, and using multiple tanks yourself for redundancy or switching to different gasses. I’ve found that the wireless connection between the transmitter on my own tank and my wrist or retractor-mounted dive computer is pretty reliable. There are uncommon instances in which my dive computer loses the signal, but this typically only lasts for a few moments until it reacquires the signal (as is typically the case when the computer is brought closer to view). Generally speaking, adjusting the placement of the transmitter on the tank or the dive computer on one’s body seems to solve most if not all pesky connectivity issues. To read a dive buddy’s tank data, I usually have to swim up alongside them and then take a reading, which isn’t a big deal. The best part about using a wireless dive computer, aside from being able to read tank pressures from multiple tanks, is that you minimize the amount of gear you have to bring with you – both while you travel and also when sitting down to fill out a dive log, review past profiles, etc. It’s nice to be able to handle your dive computer independent from your regulator.
Reliability & Support
Oceanic and Aeris dive computers are made by a sister company called Pelagic, which also manufactures dive computers for other well-known brands in the dive industry. Simply put, Pelagic dive computers are ubiquitous for a reason: they last a long, long time. The VT Pro was my first dive computer, and I’m still using it all the time. I have owned 5 different Oceanic dive computers over the course of my ten year career as a scuba diver and underwater photographer. I use Oceanic dive computers simply because they are predictably tough, easy for friends and dive buddies to learn to use, easy to find spare parts for, and the company offers great customer support. I only had a problem with an Oceanic computer on one trip and upon returning to the United States and contacting Oceanic customer service – they had the issue fixed in a jiffy and without hassle.
Note: I highly suggest throwing a replacement battery kit into your spares bag, along with the proprietary Oceanic battery change tool (included with the dive computer) when traveling. The VT 4.0 takes a standard 3 volt CR2450 lithium battery, which can be found in most large grocery stores, Radio Shack and most drugstores. While it is perfectly fine to use a standard, store-bought battery – the battery kit from Oceanic includes a spare o-ring as well as some o-ring grease which are both nice to have on hand.
- Powered by Oceanic’s Exclusive Dual Algorithm®
- Deep Stop with Countdown Timer
- Switch between up to 4 independent wireless transmitters, tracking multiple Nitrox mixes and/or buddy’s tank pressure with Buddy Pressure Check®
- 3-Axis Digital Compass with Full Tilt Compensation
- Improved user-interface with Step Back allows for easy settings preview and for settings to be changed while viewing the menus
- Customize your dive mode display with multiple data options
- Confirm common pre-dive settings – defined by the user
- Access custom Shortcut; your choice of display,setting or function
- User Replaceable Battery with Data Retention
- Firmware Update Ready
In summary, the Oceanic VT 4.0 is a reasonably priced and time-tested, dedicated dive computer that is built like a tank, easy to read, simple to use and offers a choice of algorithms specific to the diver’s needs.