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Buddy's Garmin Astro DC50 Product Review

Garmin astro 320 with DC50 Collar Garmin DC50 Product Review—July 2013

Buddy + on Garmin’s DC50 collar—the News from the Field is definitely positive!

Garmin has just released the DC50 tracking and training collar, the latest in its line of DC collars, and my field tests show that it offers several impressive advantages over its predecessors, the DC30 and DC40 collars. Combined with the Astro 320 handheld, your DC50 will provide vastly enhanced satellite coverage, much better handheld-to-collar reception because of its improved antenna, a Rescue Mode to automatically preserve battery power when you’re running low, and Bark Detection to keep you aware of your hounds’ behavior even when they’re far out in the field. These are the four most notable advances, but the DC50 comes with many more features you’ll appreciate as well. Read my whole review next, or zero in on a topic of special interest from our table of contents, and scroll directly to that topic:

First we should note:  The Garmin DC50 will only track with the Garmin Astro 320 handheld.  If you currently have a 320, You will need to update your software on your 320. Software should be available at no charge on with the free Garmin WebUpdater program, which will be made available in about 1-2 weeks after the DC50 announcement.

Addition of GLONASS Satellites Enhances Locating & Tracking Reliability

If there are more eyes looking for your dog, the odds are better that they'll be found—it’s that simple. For geo-location and tracking, satellites serve as our eyes in the sky, and though they don’t look for us, our tracking units

DC50-collar-closeup

do look for them to ask “Where am I?” By adding the GLONASS system of satellites to the GPS satellites that tracking systems commonly use, Garmin has made it much more likely that your  DC50 collar will be able to find satellites. The GLONASS system will give you 21 more earth-orbiting satellites for your tracking collar to find, which really improves the odds of being able to locate and track your dogs accurately, even in heavy tree cover or deep canyons.

In fact, your odds have increased by a factor of almost two. The USA series of GPS satellites has about 28 active satellites providing geolocation information to tracking units on the ground, so by adding the 21 satellites in the GLONASS series, Garmin has almost doubled the number of satellites your DC50 can contact to accurately locate your dog. This may not be a huge issue for bird hunters, because they typically operate in more open areas with good exposure to satellite coverage. But for hunters of four-legged critters like coons, cats or bears, who routinely get into dense forest or steep ravines that block satellite signals, the DC50 is the best answer yet to lost or intermittent satellite coverage. You’re going to love it.

GPS Antenna Summary:       

 When you upgrade to the DC50 tracking and training collar, you’ll almost double your likelihood of being able to connect to geo-location satellites and pinpoint your dogs’ position and yours. Making these connections is a basic, essential function of the receivers in any tracking system, but for hunters and their hounds who regularly venture into rough or covered terrain, the enhanced satellite connectivity in your DC50 could be critical to your dogs’ safety as well as your hunting success.

Longer, More Durable VHF Antenna Improves Reception

dc50-Antenna  Long RangeThe DC50 is equipped with either 18.5” or 22.5” braided-steel VHF antennas that are a huge improvement over the 12” antennas on the DC30 and DC40 in terms of performance and durability. Garmin has improved performance by moving the antenna’s GPS receiver back to the top of the collar, where it was on the DC30; the top-mounted placement provides much better exposure, guaranteeing you’ll enjoy faster satellite acquisition and more stable connections, as well as a more reliable transmit-connection between your Astro 320 and your DC50 collar. Basically, Garmin has removed your hound’s body as a source of interference to transmission. This is probably my favorite feature of the redesigned antenna, but Garmin has also improved durability by using aircraft-grade braided steel in the core of the antenna, rather than the copper-wound cores they put in the DC30 and DC40 antennas. Considering the abuse sustained by a collar on a typical active working hound, I think the greater tensile strength and flexibility of braided steel will give you dozens if not hundreds more hours of effective life.

These significant design changes make the DC50 antennas comparable to the TT10, Garmin’s top-line collar. In terms of reach, the 22.5” antenna will give you the biggest bump in tracking distance. But you can choose the 18.5” if you prefer something shorter. Bottom line? The combined improvements in the DC50 antenna will give you a longer service life, faster, more stable VHF and satellite connections, and fewer lost communication messages compared to the stock antennas on the DC30 and DC40. To me, that’s a hard combination to pass up.

VHF Antenna Review Summary:    

 When you upgrade to the DC50 tracking and training collar, you’ll get a better antenna design that guarantees you a longer life and better performance in the field. The boost you get will result from the DC50’s top-mounted receiver, which assures better transmit connections, as well as the antenna’s greater length and stronger, more flexible braided-steel core.

Rescue Mode Extends Battery LifeDc50 Rescue Mode

A tracking collar is no good to you once its batteries die, and one of the most discussed topics about Garmin’s tracking collars has been battery life. Garmin has addressed this issue in the DC50 by incorporating the “Rescue Mode” battery saver feature. First let’s discuss the way it works: when you enable it, Rescue Mode uses a program in the collar’s software to recognize when your collar has dropped to 25% remaining battery life; at this point, the program automatically changes your update rate from once every 5, 10 or 30 seconds to once every 2 minutes.

By automatically switching to the longest update rate, Rescue Mode will allow your DC50 collar to conserve its batteries and greatly extend the time over which it can transmit its location to your Astro 320. We tested this in the field and found that Rescue Mode did increase the amount of time we could remain in contact with our DC50 collar; check the table at right for results. With the DC40’s and DC30’s in a 5 second update we would generally see around 17 hours of life.    With the DC50’s we seeing getting around 30 hours total.  This is a test that is very difficult to summarize,  as our results are dependent on so many factors.  We have seen results as high as 39 hours on 5 seconds, and as low as 29 hours of battery life.   For this review we are going with the worst case test,  We wouldn’t be surprised if you see a few more hours than we are reporting in this review.  What is apparent is that the Garmin Astro DC50 Rescue Mode battery life has increased greatly from the DC40 collars when you use Rescue Mode.

With 5 second updates we are getting between 30 and 36 hours.

We’re currently testing battery performance with the DC50 set at 10- and 30-second update rates, and will let you know the results when we’re done. But meanwhile, we recommend using Rescue Mode on your collars so you can get all the benefits of faster update rates and still have confidence your batteries will last a long time. We figure it like this: 13 hours at a 5-second update rate gives you most of the day hunting, and if for some reason you can’t retrieve your dogs by then, most likely you’ve lost them or can’t physically get to them. By using Rescue Mode, you give yourself the best chance to find your hounds because you’ll continue to receive updates for many more hours. Of course, we recommend charging your collars after every hunt so you can start out with a fresh battery, but some hunters use their collars for several hunts before charging. Those customers may wish to disable the Rescue Mode on their latter hunts if they prefer to get faster updates in exchange for shorter battery life. That’s simple: just turn it off.

One thing to note: if you do use Rescue Mode with your DC50, you’ll need to manually change your update rate back to your preferred interval after you’re done charging; otherwise, the collar will continue updating at the 2-minute rate. In summary: the Rescue Mode on the DC50 is an awesome feature that we really appreciate and rely on because it increases our margin of safety while in the field with our hounds. It allows us to confidently use Garmin’s faster update rates all day long, knowing that when our collar batteries reach 25%, Rescue Mode will kick in to help us deal with any unexpected situations.

Rescue Mode Takeaway:       

 When you upgrade to the DC50 tracking and training collar, you’ll enjoy the option of using Rescue Mode to automatically extend the operating life of your batteries by many hours. This could mean the difference between finding or not finding one of your dogs after a long day in the field. However, if you don’t want your update rate slowed to 2 minutes when your batteries reach the threshold, you can just turn off Rescue Mode.

Bark Detection Included to Keep You Aware of your Hound’s Behavior

DC50 Bark DetectionNow let’s get into the details of the Bark Detection feature Garmin has added to the DC50. By showing each of your dogs’ rate of barks per minute, this valuable feature will keep you informed about which of your dogs are barking and which are staying silent during a race, even when they’re out of audible range. The DC50 detects barks and calculates the number per minute for each of your dogs, then displays a bark scale on your Astro 320 handheld. I’ve spent a few hours working with this feature to test it with my hounds in the field, and it works really well. Although I don’t see it as a “must-have feature,” it was useful and interesting to be able to tell if my dogs were still working a cold track when hunting—and by giving me an ability to figure out how much the dogs were barking, I could tell if and when my dogs started warming up to a track.

DC50 Bark Dection Map ScreenOf course, the downside is that I can’t lie to myself anymore about how mouthy Maddie (my Redbone Hound) is when she’s starting a track! The DC50’s Bark Detection clearly informs me she peg the scale when she wants to run a track. But from that standpoint, it is nice to have something that accurately judges my dogs’ mouths, because barking is a clear reflection of their level of excitement. This gives me a point of reference to help make decisions about the situations they’re in, whether they’re first heading out, or really eager to start a track, or already crowding a tree with a critter they’ve chased down.

How does this work with your Astro 320? Well, the Barking Scale for each your dogs is viewable on the map page next to each dog’s icon, or you can have it displayed on the compass page between each dog’s name and distance from you. Two points I need to share about Bark Detection are that you can turn off the feature if you choose, but if you choose to use it, it’s controlled by your Astro 320 and not selectable for each individual collar. So if you turn on Bark Detection, it will show the barks per minute for all the DC50 collars you have in your list.

DC50 Bark Dection AlertsOne issue I’m slightly critical about is how the bark rates for your dogs are displayed—the software I tested showed all my dogs’ bark rates on my map screen, and with multiple dogs this takes up a lot of valuable space on a screen that you don’t really want cluttered or obscured. For some hunters and hound-runners, this will basically make Bark Detection an “all-or-nothing” feature, At the time of this release I’m told we will have a feature that allows us to turn off the display on the map screen so Bark Detection can be configured to show only on the dog-list page. This would work a lot better for those of us who hunt with many dogs and prefer to keep our map screens fully viewable and uncluttered.

DC50 Bark Dection Alerts So, in the grand scheme of things, Bark Detection can be a useful feature when you’re out in the field, but it doesn’t add tremendous value to the core reason for buying a tracking collar. Turn it on if you like to get accurate real-time readings on which of your dogs are barking, and turn it off if you don’t.

Bark Detection Takeaway:       

 When you upgrade to the DC50 tracking and training collar, you’ll be able to rely on Bark Detection to keep you informed about your hounds’ level of excitement at any time during a hunt. The real-time barks-per-minute data displayed on your Astro 320 will help you command and control each of your dogs more effectively—but if you’d rather not use the feature, as with Rescue Mode, you can just turn it off.

Multipurpose Charging Port Enhances Convenience & Efficiency

DC50-4port-usb-connection (Large)Charging ports have also been a topic of much discussion throughout the evolution of Garmin’s DC collars, and we’re happy to report improvements here too. The DC50 comes with a more versatile and user-friendly charging clip that resembles the one on Garmin’s TT10 collar; the clip connects to the collar via a standard USB port through which you can not only charge your DC50, but also connect to your computer to update its software. This versatility gives you more charging options and makes it easier for you to update your software, which will help you keep your DC50 current on new features and capabilities released by Garmin in the future.

Dc50-charing-clipThe multipurpose DC50 port also gives you more choices and greater reliability when you need to connect to power to charge your collar: it can be plugged into a standard AC outlet, a charging port in a vehicle, or any computer USB port. I would have preferred to see Garmin more closely mimic the design of the charge clip on the TT10, which has a smaller USB connection that allows Alpha Collars to use Garmin’s splitter cable. However, there are plenty of inexpensive aftermarket cell-phone cables with multiple USB plugs, so you can invest in one of those to make it possible for you to charge two or more DC50s out of one AC outlet.

Besides easier charging, one of the best benefits of the new port on the DC50 is that it provides you with a direct connection between your collar and computer to update its software. With the DC30 and DC40 collars, users need to wirelessly connect their collars to a computer, and as we all know, updating software through wireless has its limitations, including slower data-transmit speeds and a tendency to lose connections. Using a direct USB cable to update your DC50’s software will give you a faster, more stable method to connect and complete the download. The direct USB connection is less prone to interference, software corruptions, or errors while updating. The only real drawback is that you’ll need to have your collars near a computer to update them, so unless you bring your laptop with you and are able to get access to the internet in the field, you won’t be able to update. For a very few customers this might cause some inconvenience, but in the end we think a hardwire connection is the best way to update collars because of its increased speed and stability.

In summary, I think the DC50 charging port and clip are a welcome design advance and a definite upgrade to the system.

 Charging System Summary:       

 When you upgrade to the DC50 tracking and training collar, you’ll get more options for electrical charging hookups, as well as a hardwire connection to stay current on Garmin’s software updates. The USB cable will give you faster, more reliable downloads than the wireless setup used in the DC30 and DC40 collars, but you’ll have to have a computer on hand to execute an update.

Tones Confirm Successful Setting Changes or Addition of Collars

Another notable difference between the DC30/DC40 collars and the new DC50 is the audible tone it emits when you successfully add a collar to your Astro 320 handheld. This feature is nice because it not only confirms when a collar has been added, but also that it was added correctly. It will also identify exactly which collar has been added when there are other collars in the immediate vicinity. Finally, the DC50 emits a short beep when you successfully change many of its settings. For instance, when you change the collar’s update rate or dog status, you’ll hear a beep confirming that the change has been made successfully.

 

Tool-less Design Makes Collar Change-out Quick and Easy on your DC50

DC50-without collarOne of the best things about the new DC50’s design is that it will allow you to easily replace your collar strap without using tools. Garmin has adopted the design used on its TT10 collars (and on Tri-tronics EXP collars), so your DC50 has integral channels into which you can quickly slide a standard universal collar strap. This not only makes it faster and easier to change out your straps, but also allows you to easily insert longer straps if you need to fit a collar to a larger dog. You’ll no longer need those special collar straps with die-cut holes in DC50 With Different Collar Strapthem when you just want to change the color of your dog collar. This will free up hunting time you might otherwise have to spend on the routine task of changing out collars. And if you have dogs that are as smart, disciplined, and well trained as Buddy’s, you’ll find that the quick-change collars on the DC50 are a welcome feature after your hound has had a close encounter of the famous skunk—or when they’ve rolled themselves shoulder to hip in the reeking remains of some dead wild critter. Because we all know they LOVE to do that!

This collar strap design allows you to add a Tri Tronics EXP receiver to the bottom of the collar unlike the DC30s or DC40s.

 Summary x 2:       

 When you upgrade to the DC50 tracking and training collar, you’ll not only enjoy super-fast, super-easy collar change-outs thanks to the slide-in channels on the GPS receiver, you’ll also be audibly notified when you change settings on your Astro 320 or successfully add new collars.

Con's About the DC50 Collar

The DC50 is a well designed  device and it works extremely well. Some of the low points with the DC50 system.

  • The Garmin DC50 Is not compatible with the 220 Handhelds.
  • The DC50 is limited to 10 dogs unlike the ALPHA which as a 20 dog capacity.
  • You will see more Interference messages compared to the Garmin ALPHA system

DC50 vs. DC40—What’s the Difference?

In brief, here are the features that distinguish the Garmin DC50 from the Garmin DC40.

Garmin DC50 Collar Garmin DC40 Collar
Suggested retail: $229.99 Suggested retail: $249.99 (now reduced to $197.00 at DU Hunting Supply!)
Bark-detection mode has been added No Bark Detection
21.5” braided-steel VHF antenna provides 30% more range (up to 9 miles) 12” VHF antenna provides 7-mile range depending on terrain
Top-mounted high-sensitivity, GLONASS-enabled GPS receiver High-sensitivity GPS-only receiver
Waterproof to 10 meters (33 ft) Waterproof to 1 meter (IPX7 rated)
Rescue mode that automatically kicks in at ¼ power to preserve battery life No rescue mode
A 1” wide collar adjustable from 12” to 27" in length A 1” wide collar adjustable from 12" to 20" in length
Only compatible with the Astro 320 handheld (and will require users to download a free software update to their 320 before using the DC50) Compatible with Astro 320 and Astro 220 handhelds

What’s in Your DC50 Box?

Garmin DC50 collar
DC50 wireless transmitter with Blue collarAC adapter Vehicle power cableQuick start manual

Contact Double U Hunting Supply today if you’re ready to order Garmin’s DC50, or Garmin Astro 320 Combo, the most innovative and versatile dog collar around, or just ask questions about the many other Garmin products and hunting supplies we sell. You can reach us on the phone at 855-DU Hunts (855-384-8687), or via email at mail@dusupply.com.

Thanks and good luck in the field!

Buddy Woodberry --