Ortovox S1 – Avalanche Beacon Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 15, 2009      
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

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August 2011 Update: For the 2011-12 season, the S1 becomes the S1+, with the ability to switch between two different transmission antennas, so as to avoid a worst-case vertical-plane transmission. This means that (as explained in more detail in my initial review for the Ortovox 3+) some scenarios for suboptimal searcher-victim coupling are avoided and hence initial signal acquisition range will be longer. But the beacon still can’t do anything about the transmission being in the same horizontal plane as the searcher yet perpendicular to the searcher, or the transmission being partway between the vertical and horizontal plans. Bottomline is that on average your buddies will pick up your signal earlier than they would without the “+” (i.e., good!) but they still can’t count on a constant distance (i.e., no worse than with any other transmitting beacon). I’ll report back later on any changes I notice in the 2011-12 firmware (which will also be available for older S1 beacons), although you can probably count on various behind-the-scenes improvements in signal processing.

Back to the original review:

Ortovox S1 is an amazing technological tour de force, coupled with a radically different search screen. And as with some of its competitors, the techno tweaks only increase over time, as the firmware is upgradable. This review was originally written in Fall 2008, but information concerning firmware version 1.2.3074 (often referred to as version 3, after the leading digit of the last part of the code), follows at the end of the review (with a few relatively minor edits throughout the main body of the original review)

Interface and Controls
To switch S1 to transmit, rotate the switch at the top edge of the beacon 90 degrees. How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Look for the two flashing lights. The switch’s position for off versus transmit is not intuitively obvious when in the harness.

Switch to search by simultaneously depressing a button at the case’s hinge and flipping open the lid, realistically a two-handed operation. Revert to transmit by closing the lid. S1 will also revert to transmit within a programmable length of time if the beacon senses no motion.

Backcountry Skiing

Ortovox S1 may be the most fully featured beacon available, essentially tied with the Barryvox Pulse for that honor.

The search interface has a LCD screen on the lid combined with two keys on the base, whose functions vary depending on the context but have some underlying consistency:

– Top button = mark/demarking/confirmation
– Bottom button = menu/rejection

I have found myself thinking of them as:
– Top button = enter
– Bottom button = tab

Ortovox S1 can check another beacon’s frequency drift (as does the Pieps DSP), transmission time, and total cycle length. But unlike the DSP, the S1 just reports a pass versus fail for each test, without reporting, say, just how much the tested beacon has drifted if it failed the frequency test. In my testing, I have found the S1 to be in agreement with the DSP’s tester.

The S1 has a compass (just like the Pieps DSP Advanced), thermometer (ditto), and clinometer. These are used internally as part of the search algorithms, and are also accessible to the user. Personally, I prefer to access such functions away from my avalanche beacon, and am not a big fan of leaning over on a ski pole pressed up against a slope to measure its angle with a beacon dangling loose from its harness. Same for trying to navigate with a compass that lacks any declination or bearing function. (Note: the Barryvox Pulse has an internal compass, which like the S1’s compass requires recalibration after replacing the batteries, but unlike the S1’s compass, its measurements are not accessible to the user.)

How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing

The S1’s display is radically unlike any other beacon: A grid-like display simultaneously shows each victim’s relative position complete with distance and (first introduced with firmware version 2.0 in Fall 2008), directional indicator for the strongest signal (largest victim symbol). The S1 can also display a sort of “windshield washer” graphic to direct the user to rotate the beacon.

Within three meters, as measured by the beacon, the display changes to a descending circle graphic, with distance readout down to 0.10m, plus arrows pointing inward or outward depending on the procimity of the victim.

The S1 also has an analog mode with sensitivity control, which seems to be intended mainly as a backup that can be accessed at anytime via the menu system.

How It Works: Multiple Burials

S1 magnifies the symbol for the strongest signal and displays an arrow toward that symbol along with distance readout, although the user can simply choose to head toward a different symbol. When a beacon is found, the user can then mark/mask it, and the S1 will graphically show a preference for the next strongest signal.

When the S1 detects more than four signals, “4+” appears in the upper-lefthand corner, which is a suggestion that the user access the menu to enter a 5m search-strip-width mode. This optional search mode can also be entered at any point via the menu.

How Well It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing

The S1’s display is certainly different. Whether it’s better or merely a change from the traditional directional indicators (as originally pioneered by the Tracker), or the 360-degree rotating arrow on the Pulse, all depends on personal preference. The Fall 2008 addition of a directional indicator pointing to the strongest signal (i.e., largest victim symbol) is definitely an improvement upon the original release, and can be perceived as combining the best of both worlds. The directional indicator shown in the LCD is especially helpful when the victim symbol bounces around, which it often does, although to a small degree. The directional indicator therefore reinforces a common-sense conclusion to avoid this small “jiggling” effect.

Initial signal acquisition range is an improvement upon standard all-digital beacons (e.g., Ortovox D3 and original BCA Tracker), and roughly on a par with the Barryvox Pulse and BCA Tracker 2, but the Pieps DSP is still the range champ for full directional indicators, especially in worst-coupling alignment.

Once the signal is acquired, the S1 works best if you keep moving. Why? The answer is in how the 360-degree rotating arrow behaves. Although I am no electrical engineer, I did spent lots of time puzzling over the ahead-versus-behind detection of both the S1 and Pulse with an avalanche instructor who is also an electrical engineer. He concluded that the only way these beacons are able to detect ahead versus behind is the way you do with your own sense: whether the signal is becoming stronger or weaker. Keep moving and all is well. Stand still, and then any small drop-off in the signal strength, often caused by tilting the beacon slightly, will cause the S1 or Pulse to direct you (incorrectly) to turn around. So if in doubt, move!

Two situations in particular cause the ahead/behind function to become confused. First is the tricky perpendicular search, where initial signal acquisition occurs with the searching beacon pointing at a 90-degree angle to the target, and with the target pointing straight at the searcher. Any traditional directional beacon has a furthest-off-center directional indicator at about a 45-degree angle. What then happens is that either:
a. The correct furthest-off-center directional indicator appears, and once the searcher starts following it, the beacon will lead the searcher in a direct path to the target.
b. The correct and incorrect (i.e., essentially backwards) indicators trade back and forth, but the correct indicator wins out when the searcher hesitates a bit.
c. The incorrect indicator appears, and following it causes the distance readout to increase rapidly, which should be an obvious indicator for a searcher to turn around.

Okay, so that’s with a “traditional” directional beacon. What happens with the S1? See the latest results at the end of the review for the most recent firmware.

The other confusing behind/ahead situation is during a multiple burial, when once the first beacon is marked/masked, the next beacon might be behind or ahead of the searcher. During many multiple beacon searches, after the behind/ahead function performed flawlessly for the first beacon, I repeatedly had to turn around for the second beacon if I followed the rotating arrow’s behind/ahead distinction.

So even though the S1 does have a behind/ahead function, you still need to pay attention to whether the distance readout is getting smaller or larger. And once again, keep moving.

But don’t move too dramatically: If you do, S1 will chastise you with a little symbol (somewhat like a Masonic code) if you tilt too far away from level. I received this message incessantly at first when I opened the clamshell only to the angle that I was accustomed to on my flip-phone instead of almost all the way flat. (Unlike the Barryvox Pulse, which is programmable for multiple languages, the S1 communicates almost exclusively via universal symbols. At first they can be confusing.)

And on occasion, don’t move at all. Also similar to the Pulse, the S1 holds up a warning hand within a traffic-style octagon when it needs to think a bit. The user manual refers to a few seconds for the halt command but on a few occasions the warning hand has stayed up for a almost a minute, mainly when I randomly switched target beacons on or off. This seems to have been improved though with the new 2.0 firmware.

The backup analog works, although the average range result was slighter shorter than in regular mode.

For pinpointing, the descending circle graphic with distance indicators works well. The distance readout goes down to 0.10m, although I found that it dropped from 0.60m to 0.10m over the span of only about 0.12m. The box size is very small.

How Well It Works: Multiple Burials

I found the Ortovox S1 and Barryvox Pulse to be more reliable in both victim count and marking/masking than the Pieps DSP. Relative to the Pulse, the S1 has more difficulty with more than three or four victims, but realistically, that shouldn’t be a major priority in beacon selection.

The S1 and the Pulse essentially substitute model-specific familiarity for more general beacon searching skills. In other words, hand an S1 with no prior explanation to a user highly skilled in resolving multiple-burial searches on a beacon that has no special features, and the user (especially with no prior cell phone usage) might be confused with manipulating the soft keys correctly since the way these work is specific to the S1.

By contrast to above, a user familiar with the S1 can solve multiple-burial searches as if with x-ray vision.

But the S1 is still not perfect. Why? For the very same reason that your ear can have trouble discerning the presence of more than one sound. The different beacon signals can overlap and be tough to detect. But eventually, the signals’ different timing will cause them to diverge from another, and the S1 will correctly identify the number of beacons. In my testing with modern digital beacons as the target, this resolution is fast, usually before I even reach the first beacon.

This becomes a more significant problem when searching for older F1 beacons, which can cause persistent ghosting or undercounting.

Compared to the Barryvox Pulse with its scrollable list, the S1’s graphical display will be more intuitive to some users. However, remember that although the graphical attempts to show relative positions among beacons, given the relatively small screen and the nature of flux lines, this will almost never be a perfect map. Also, the S1’s two keys are arrayed vertically, but the prompts on the screen are arrayed left to right. The lid and base have lines visually connecting the keys to their screen prompts, but in my experience the top-bottom versus left-right disparity can be a bit confusing.

And like the Pulse, the S1’s excellent reliability in marking/masking seems to come with a drawback: the focus on the strongest signal may cause the S1 to effectively reduce its range for other beacons. But see the end of the review for the latest results with the current firmware.

Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?

If you love the latest high-tech gizmos, then check out the S1 and the Pulse. A bit wary? You might still like the S1, but you might not -– be sure to try before you buy.

Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon

“My partner had better be prepared to second guess the forward/backward indicator if the distance readout is increasing (instead of decreasing as it should).”

“My partner better be good at matching up the top and bottom soft key presses with what the screen indicates.”

“By learning and using the Ortovox S1, my partner will be a whiz at a multiple burial, but should be prepared for some possible small complications.”

***** JANUARY 2010 UPDATE *****

For Fall 2009 the Ortovox S1 is now in its third major version of firmware. The new 1.2.3074 S1 firmware code entails mainly behind-the-scenes improvements. The only immediately obvious change to the user is that the clinometer function now has a lock feature. (Great for measuring boot board ramp angle!)

Ortovox HQ in New Hampshire can perform this service, or see if a dealer is available near you:
Worth it? Along with the general check-up that such a firmware upgrade includes, I did notice two behavioral changes in my testing this fall that would seem to indicate improvements in the processing algorithms.

First, in my Tricky Perpendicular Search Test:
. . . previously I had found that:
“The S1 essentially located the target in its “northwest” quadrant (i.e., if straight ahead were considered “north”) even though it really should have been either directly “west” or “east” (depending on whether I had the long axis of the beacon pointing to my left or right). When the target should have been located in the “west,” the “northwest” reading was only a minor problem. But when the target should have been located in the “east,” the “northwest” took me away from the target before the S1 corrected the behind/ahead distinction.”

With the latest firmware, I noticed significantly different behavior:
– When the beacon was initially pointing to the left, the S1 performed very well every time, either taking me to directly to the beacon or swinging me out on a trivially small arc.
– When the beacon was initially pointing to the right, the S1 very quickly went through a few confusing readings (e.g., right > left > right > back) before indicating that I should pivot the beacon back and forth, after which the S1 guided me correctly to the victim. My recorded times for this potentially confusing series of readings ranged for about half a minute to a minute, although a user who got thrown off by all this could of course fare far worse.

The sharp contrast in behavior between the initial orientation of the beacon (i.e., left versus right) was consistent across all several trials in each orientation. Overall, although my description of the new firmware’s behavior might not sound like an improvement compared to last year, in one orientation it performed nearly perfectly, and in the other it corrected relatively quickly after some initial confusion, and moreover did not actually send me off course more than a couple meters (before correcting).

Whether this test is a worthwhile simulation of a real-world rescue is debatable, but the improved results of such an odd initial coupling do show that the S1’s processing is undergoing improvements with each major firmware release.

Second, in my Triangle Range Test
. . . previously I had found that:
“And like the Pulse, the S1’s excellent reliability in marking/masking seems to come with a drawback: the focus on the strongest signal may cause the S1 to effectively reduce its range for other beacons. When I ran some tests to investigate this issue, with two beacons equidistant from my starting point, but far away from each other, the S1 initially showed both beacons. Once I got closer to the first beacon, the second beacon disappeared from the screen, and did not reappear until I turned off the first beacon, then quickly put the S1 into transmit and back into search again. The Pulse exhibited very similar behavior.”

I had no such problems with the S1 this year. Same improvement with the Pulse. This made me worry that somehow my testing protocol had changed from the prior year. So I tweaked the orientation and distance, tried again, and again. Still, no problems. Although I could be wrong, my conclusion is that both Ortovox and Barryvox have solved — or at least significantly mitigated — this previous drawback.


Shop for S1+ avalanche beacon.

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)


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27 Responses to “Ortovox S1 – Avalanche Beacon Review”

  1. Halsted January 15th, 2009 2:40 pm


    That is an “interesting” transceiver review.

    I wasn’t sure if I was reading a review of the Ortovox S1 or the Barryvox Pulse, since you refer back and forth so many times….

    There really isn’t a lot I would take issue with you on, except that I think you make bigger issues out of something’s then they really are (example: the ahead or behind issue). There is always a lot of personal option in these reviews.

    My personal option is that the Ortovox S1 is one of the most simple to use transceivers that’s on the market. If I had a very inexperienced partner, I would really want him/her to have the S1 in their hands if I was buried.

    My inexperienced partner would only have to open the transceiver find the signal, and go to getting the little victim icon in the crosshairs, about then the circles come up and all they have to do is get to the smallest circle = Probe victim and dig.

    Recently with a level 1 class, I had some of my students try out my S1 with multiple burial/signal searches (yes, some of us believe in teaching multiple transceiver skills in Level 1 contrary to what Mr. BE wants us to do). One student remarked, “This thing (the S1) makes multiples so easy, it’s almost cheating to use one.” Well, if finding a buried victim(s) so quickly and simply is “cheating,” then I’m all for it.

    Meanwhile two minor points: First, getting the S1 to revert to transmit has nothing to do with “…no buttons are pressed.” The S1 will revert to transmit if it remains perfectly still (i.e. the compass doesn’t move a single degree) while in receive mode, for the programmed length of time (see page 47 of your manual). But, if you want to go back to transmit faster, just snap shut the case.

    Second, if you’re testing other transceivers (i.e., the trailhead check function) and there is something wrong with the transmitting transceiver, yes the little triangle with the exclamation point comes up. But, you then press the marking button, and the S1 will then show you what the problem is with the transceiver you’re checking. The S1 is checking to see if the problem transceiver is on frequency, transmission period and period length. (See page 40 of your manual).


  2. Bryce January 15th, 2009 6:38 pm

    I was a cub outdoors reporter at the Ogden Utah paper just before this came out and got to try it out at the Outdoor Retailer show. I went to a few OR shows and usually just walked around thinking that all this ‘latest and greatest’ stuff was exactly the same as the latest and greatest stuff at the show 2 years ago. But this was awesome – at least it gave me something to write about. There were still some kinks to be worked out at that point, but I thought that grid system was just revolutionary.

    Eventually, I bet they (or someone else) will get a grid display to actually give a good idea of the buried beacons’ locations after just a few steps. Imagine, get a reading — 32 meters NW — then just RUN there and start pinpointing. It’s an awesome feature that’s only going to get better.

    But … when you have to read the instructions three or four times before they start looking like English, you better hope the guy using it has taken some serious time getting to know his beacon. Or at least has a pretty good idea how to work an iPhone. I mean, I hope the guy with the Tracker has practiced quite a bit, too, but …

  3. Randonnee January 15th, 2009 7:56 pm

    Thanks again, Jonathan. That is a lot of detail and good information.

    FYI today I asked an active Professional Ski Patroller who works where I had my early transceiver training. He told me that the current standard there with the new technology is to recover two buried transceivers within 5 minutes. He said he turned in a 3 minute time. This compares to the 5 minute standard of 15 years ago to recover a single buried transceiver.

  4. Jonathan S. Shefftz January 16th, 2009 10:31 am

    Halsted, thanks for your comments. I agree on the potential confusion about including so many comments on the Pulse (and Lou agrees with you too!), but I wanted to stress that many of the pluses and minuses of the S1 are shared with the Pulse, especially since the two beacons appeal to very similar users.
    I’m also not trying to make a big deal out of the some of the issues that I devote lots of text to, but I feel that they are issues that users should at least be aware of, even if they crop up very rarely.
    In almost all of my searches, the S1 (and Pulse) performs amazingly well. Like one of your students remarked, “This thing (the S1) makes multiples so easy, it’s almost cheating to use one.” Sometimes I almost feel that I’m the one who’s been cheated: all those many hours of practice and acquired skills with other beacons, rendered pointless by the advanced capabilities of the S1 (and Pulse).
    But then some weird little quirk manifests itself, and I have to engage my brain to figure out what’s going on. Happens only very rarely, and perhaps some of my tests are pretty contrived and unlikely to occur in a real search (e.g., tricky perpendicular search, or the triangle search), but I feel that info should be out there, and I’m grateful to Lou for providing the space to do so.
    By contrast, a more simple design like the Tracker, you can predict when you’ll have to step up to the plate, e.g., you know you’ll have to resolved spikes/nulls while pinpointing, and you know you’ll have to use the 3 Circle Method or something similar in a multi.
    And thanks for the correction on the revert to transmit (being based on motion, not buttons – now on page 51 in new manual) and the clarification on testing (I meant to write that you can query which test, but not know how close it came to passing – now on page 44 of manual). Lou will make those edits once he finishes eating pastries and/or skinning somewhere or other.

  5. Lou January 16th, 2009 11:00 am

    Edits made! I’m drinking Calandra Birra Chiara now in celebration. But trying not to let the Livigno telemarkers convert me.

  6. Downhill Dave March 2nd, 2009 12:08 pm

    Hey! Review the beacon, not all beacons. Jeez!
    And the Tracker has 2 antennas and is a 10 year old design! all high end new designs have 3 to simplify and speed the fine search part of your search pattern. Thanks to Tracker for making it easier for everyone to have, wear and use a beacon, but after 10 years of the same technology it would be nice to see tracker step up and join the rest of the industry with 3 antennas and a better unit. Most field tests show the tracker lacks a lot and the searcher takes lots of time, more then then other beacons sold today. Pros have replaced their trackers that they were GIVEN by Tracker with units they BUY because the tracker is not the best beacon available.

    Ghosting occurs at great distances, but as you close in it is eliminated. Ghosting is not an f1 problem. And a 10 year old or more f1 which was THE STANDARD back in the day should be expected to have drifted. All those old units are still good as long as they are tuned correctly. And with so many in use out there today, everyone should design beacons so that the analog beacons with constant carrier signals are included and the signal is acknowledged by the newer better beacons.

    S1 Let’s see, the visuals provided with a graphical display work in the s1 so well you can actually triage while searching for your first beacon. Distance numbers get more accurate as you get closer to victims signal, which is true for all beacons. The sensors are sensitive and require a user to be familiar with how to properly work the tool, however, out of the box a newbie can turn it on and use it with little or no instruction. When you get multiple burials (YES EVERYONE SHOULD BE READY AND PRACTICED FOR MULTIPLES) then you should have practiced so you recognize the information that the beacon(the tool) is giving you (the user). Ummm, bend over and touch your toes already, how else will you get a slopes angle? Marking a signal is not turning off a beacon in a multi scenario, especially when the graphical representation still has the flag marked in relation to the next signal your a looking for. Strongest signal = closest victim = fastest recovery = possible life saved, get it? Testing the drift or integrity of another unit is simple and easy and the s1 gives you more info then the box at the trailhead which just reports the noise it hears. oh yeah, if you get buried while looking for victims and you don’t get the beacon closed in time so it is transmitting again the s1 will automatically sense your not moving after the programable time and kick back to transmit. Nice professional feature add for any rescuer who has been worried about additional avis coming down on them. And distance of reception is directly related to bandwidth, for those companies claiming the big numbers that have gotten them by narrowing their bandwidth, they should rethink that policy and remember “downward compatibility” which means the new beacons will always recognize the signal of the older beacons.(industry standard)

    So to sum it up the S1 is the simplest, easiest to use beacon with the most safety features in any unit. auto switch to transmit, testing, science tools, great distance, graphical representation with sound numbers and lots of info to help you be faster, the ability to be only an analog beacon (like the old school f1). Multiple burial triage tool…it is the pro’s choice when they are buying a beacon (vs sponsored or given one) and it is the newbie’s choice as the easiest to use.

    Oh yeah, upgradable means you buy the hardware once and then just need to update the software at convenient locations around the world. or send it i, your choice. So spend the $$ once knowing it will always be the latest greatest tool out there.

  7. Jonathan Shefftz October 21st, 2009 10:57 am

    I didn’t notice this comment from March until now:
    “Hey! Review the beacon, not all beacons. Jeez!”
    I did not review all other beacons. However, many of the S1’s features are best understood in comparison with other beacons: which features does the S1 have that its competitors don’t (and vice versa), as well as how functionality and effectiveness compare to competing beacons that do have those some features.
    The danger is illustrated well in the comment from “Downhill Dave” since most of what he cites as making the S1 his favorite are in fact available in other beacons. (Then again, he violates his own chastisement by spending an entire paragraph criticizing a competing beacon.)
    Most of his stream-of-consciousness comment is not worth a response, but a few points require corrections:
    “Ghosting occurs at great distances, but as you close in it is eliminated. Ghosting is not an f1 problem. And a 10 year old or more f1 which was THE STANDARD back in the day should be expected to have drifted. All those old units are still good as long as they are tuned correctly. And with so many in use out there today, everyone should design beacons so that the analog beacons with constant carrier signals are included and the signal is acknowledged by the newer better beacons.”
    Not all of those old F1 units are still good. Many of them have drifted beyond the official spec, and will no longer be found effectively by many other beacons. A drifted beacon can’t be “tuned correctly” – the only solution is putting it in the garbage. If you still have a pale blue (more like teal?) F1, be sure to have it checked by an S1 or DSP frequency tester at the beginning of each season.
    For F1 beacons that are still in spec, they will be found by any signal separation beacon. The only problem is that their constant carrier could cause confusion among a rescuer because the searcher’s beacon might count each F1 more than once, and marking/masking might not be as effective.

  8. Jonathan Shefftz October 21st, 2009 11:00 am

    Fall 2009 update: new 1.3.x firmware is available for the S1. I had my beacon upgraded in September, but haven’t had a chance to play around with it yet. The only visible change is that the inclinometer has a lock function. (So for example, if you were using it to test the ramp angle inside the boot board of you ski boot, you could set it in there, press the lock button, then take out the beacon to read the angle, i.e., without having to simultaneously measure the angle and see the readout.) Otherwise, the changes are all related to internal processing issues.
    More detailed testing to follow in November. I’ll update my review if I notice anything different during the testing.

  9. Jonathan Shefftz December 28th, 2009 8:23 pm

    Firmware upgrade especially recommended now for certain serial numbers:

  10. Jonathan January 4th, 2010 4:01 pm

    Ortovox S1 review has now been updated for firmware version 1.2.3074 (often referred to as version 3, after the leading digit of the last part of the code) at the end of the original review. I also made some relatively minor edits throughout the main body of the original review to better match up with the new info, but I tried to preserve the main text as much as possible so that any comments still refer to material in the review.

  11. Lou January 4th, 2010 4:14 pm

    Nice job Jonathan, thanks!

  12. Jonathan Shefftz September 1st, 2010 2:47 pm

    Firmware version 1.2.3237 is now available:
    — Changes to ensure that when you hit the menu button you really intended to go into the menu (i.e., as opposed to hitting the button by mistake in the middle of a search and getting all confused).
    — Various tweaks to reduce the frequency of the “Stop” hand while searching.
    Any Ortovox dealer that has the “Up-Box” should have this version and should provide the service free of charge. A list of Ortovox dealers is available here:
    . . . but call beforehand to verify that any dealer actually has the Up-Box.
    Alternatively, mail your S1 (with batteries installed) to Ortovox USA:
    . . . and include a $5 check for return shipping.

  13. Christian February 26th, 2011 4:02 pm

    I did a first test with my new updated S1. Here is what I experienced. I would be interested to see if anyone had a similar experience.
    I did perform the test in a flat wooded area. I buried an older beacon and then went off with the S1. I intentionally stood backward to the buried victim. I realized the following behavior:
    – When I was about 30 – 40 m away from the buried beacon, the S1 directional arrow was not able to to point me into the right direction. In fact it often pointed in the opposite direction. In addition the arrow (and the small human) often jumped around.
    – The distance indicator seemed quite accurate. Due to the arrow pointing in the wrong direction, focusing on the distance indicator only helped to get closer to the buried beacon and not wandering off into the wrong direction.

    Honestly I was not very happy with this behavior as it is very confusing. The S1 should rather not show any arrow rather then pointing in the wrong direction

    – At about 20m distance the search get’s way better. The distance indicator points into the correct direction and becomes very stable now (not jumping around)

    – At 10 m the beeping sound of the S1 changes. I liked this very much. From now on the S1 basically leads you directly to the buried beacon very fast.

    – Getting closer the S1 will switch into the fine search mode, which is very fast and intuitive

    Conclusion: Below 20m distance the S1 beacon seems to be very effective. For longer distances the display seemed very confusing and everyone would be better served to focus on the distance number only. Can someone with more experience please comment on this? Thanks

  14. John S February 26th, 2011 5:29 pm

    Are you sure you weren’t following a flux line away from the victim that would have curved inward?

  15. Christian February 26th, 2011 7:15 pm

    Thanks John for the reply. That is definitely possible. As there was quite some deep snow I just did not follow the direction of the arrow all the way “to it’s end”. However I did go from 50m to 60m distance just to see where it let me. Then I turned around making sure that the distance is decreasing.

    The arrow however did not constantly point into one direction but did jump around by maybe +- 20 degrees

  16. Jonathan Shefftz February 27th, 2011 8:25 pm

    The S1 (and the Pulse) really can’t tell from just the beacon signal whether it’s fore or aft, despite the display. Instead, it starts off with educated guess essentially, then corrects as necessary.
    If I’m understanding what happened, essentially it didn’t correct quickly enough?

  17. Jonathan August 28th, 2011 11:10 am

    I added an August 2011 Update at the very beginning of the review, as follows:
    For the 2011-12 season, the S1 becomes the S1+, with the ability to switch between two different transmission antennas, so as to avoid a worst-case vertical-plane transmission. This means that (as explained in more detail in my initial review for the Ortovox 3+) some scenarios for suboptimal searcher-victim coupling are avoided and hence initial signal acquisition range will be longer. But the beacon still can’t do anything about the transmission being in the same horizontal plane as the searcher yet perpendicular to the searcher, or the transmission being partway between the vertical and horizontal plans. Bottomline is that on average your buddies will pick up your signal earlier than they would without the “+” (i.e., good!) but they still can’t count on a constant distance (i.e., no worse than with any other transmitting beacon). I’ll report back later in September on any changes I notice in the 2011-12 firmware (which will also be available for older S1 beacons), although you can probably count on various behind-the-scenes improvements in signal processing.

  18. Lou August 28th, 2011 11:23 am

    Thanks Jonathan, good job.

  19. Todd January 11th, 2012 5:58 pm

    I just got the S1+, after finding that my old beacon would transmit but not accurately receive (this while at the trailhead, ending my ski day early!).

    So I drove into town to get a new beacon, and then took it to a “beacon basin” — a dedicated BCA practice area.

    The S1+ is extremely simple to use, and I was especially impressed with how the circles work in a fine search.

    Of course, at longer distances I found that the S1+ frequently sent me off in the wrong direction along the flux line. So watch the numbers, and turn around if they get bigger. It was all a lot more effective if I moved faster (ie: long, continuous strides) through the course search.

    This last point, re: flux line direction, just goes to show that no beacon should be marketed as “so easy to use a beginner can do it without any practice.” We need to practice with all our tools, regardless of how far they have advanced.

    The part I didn’t like: I think the start-up time is too slow. When you flip the beacon open it shows a no-cellphone icon for a couple seconds, and then begins searching. It takes to long.

    No Cellphones: speaking of which, we are all using our smart phones as GPS in the backcountry, and this isn’t going to change. What effect does a cellphone have on the unit?

    Thanks for the review.

  20. Jonathan Shefftz January 11th, 2012 6:04 pm

    Todd, points well taken, especially on overhyping beginner ability to use any beacon capably.
    As for cell phone impact on beacon searching, I’ve found that just a plain old cell phone making a call has no impact at any realistic proximity. However, a smart phone — even if not actively doing anything — can cause all sorts of bad “ghosting” and other problems, even when held at a typical distance (e.g., phone in jacket chest pocket, beacon held slightly in front of chest).

  21. steve January 23rd, 2012 6:26 pm

    I just got my S1 updated and it will not calibrate the compass. It asks for it to be done when I turn it on, but then goes to an hourglass, and after about 90 seconds it resets to the search screen. I guess I will check with Ortovox and see if something has changed.

  22. Jonathan Shefftz January 23rd, 2012 6:28 pm

    The hourglass means it’s waiting for you to put it through a figure eight move and then a flip — then it will be recalibrated.

  23. steve January 23rd, 2012 7:17 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan. I am still having some issues, though. Previously when I would calibrate the S1 it would show the calibration symbol, I would push ok, the hourglass would come on, and then the symbol to turn it 360 degrees, and then the unit would beep. I would then flip it over and wait for a beep, flip it over again, another beep and then it was done. What I am getting now, is the calibration symbol and then an hourglass that never moves on to the rotate unit symbol. I tried turning and flipping the unit while it was on the hourglass and it just goes back to the search screen. There is no feedback from the S1 at all. Maybe I am just used to the way it was done previously, but I would think the S1 would give me some feedback. Thank you for your great site, by the way. It helped me to decide to buy the S1, and I have been really happy with it.

  24. Jonathan Shefftz January 23rd, 2012 8:18 pm

    Steve, you’re right — I just tried my S1, and sure enough, first the hourglass symbol, then the rotation symbol (which you’re not getting). Sounds like an issue for Ortovox customer service…

  25. steve January 23rd, 2012 9:26 pm

    I will call them tomorrow morning and see if they can help figure this out. Thanks again.

  26. steve January 26th, 2012 6:46 pm

    Just wanted to let you know I received an email from Marcus at Ortovox instructing me to send them the S1. I sent it today, so hopefully it will be back soon. I used the S1 almost exclusively last year, so this will give me a chance to work with my other beacons which have not been used in some time.

  27. steve February 13th, 2012 10:15 pm

    I received a replacement S1 from Ortovox on Friday. It works perfectly, and their warranty service was very fast! Thanks for all of your help!

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