The ORTOVOX Diract Voice is the first avalanche beacon that provides searchers with audible voice commands while in search mode. We inspected the device for this first look review.
In an avalanche rescue scenario, every second counts. Further, most avalanche rescuers will feel some — or a lot of — panic while trying to save the life of a beloved friend. This is why ORTOVOX believes its latest technological advancement in avalanche beacons will make a difference.
The ORTOVOX Diract Voice is an avalanche beacon that talks to you. It’s the first of its kind, but after a few days of testing, I don’t think it’ll be the last. In brief testing, I was shocked by the ease of use of this new type of avalanche beacon.
In short: The ORTOVOX Diract Voice ($380) is nothing short of a revolution in avalanche rescue. While it doesn’t replace avalanche education and training, the beacon reinforces that training with a calming voice to guide you through the search process.
While it’s too soon to discuss all aspects of the beacon’s performance, my initial reaction is that it will become the industry standard. It’s worth noting that ORTOVOX also offers a simple Diract model ($320), which functions the same but without voice guidance.
ORTOVOX Diract Voice Avanlanche Beacon
The ORTOVOX team is clearly proud of this new beacon. They sent one over well in advance of the announcement and hosted a videoconference deep dive on the technology with a group of writers.
It’s worth noting that the sample I’ve been using is a prototype. ORTOVOX urged me not to use it in avalanche terrain, so this testing was not done on skis, but simply around parks where no avalanche risk existed (thus the photos with no snow or skis). The ORTOVOX Diract Voice will launch to consumers in September 2021.
My testing was very simple. I put a beacon on the ground in “send” mode, then I used Diract Voice to find it. And it turned out as simply as I would have ever wanted. Watch the brief video below to see me using the beacon in the field.
One interesting note before getting into the review: The Diract Voice has a built-in rechargeable battery. This is a new development for ORTOVOX, as well as for most of the industry in general.
ORTOVOX said the built-in rechargeable battery has been tested down to -20 degrees Celsius. It’s a nice change from the standard throwaway alkalines!
ORTOVOX Diract Voice: How It Works
You turn on the Diract Voice by pressing a button that’s somewhat obscured by a latch on the bottom of the beacon. It’s easy to press with ungloved hands, and you can lift the latch to push it if you have gloves on.
Push the button, and the beacon springs to life with a chime. The screen reads out the battery life percentage and offers a “group check” with the press of a button. If you do nothing, a voice says “send activated” after about 10 seconds.
In send mode, the beacon screen flashes about every second for a visual confirmation that it’s on.
To switch to search mode, you simply lift a lever on the top of the beacon (the one that obscures the power button a bit).
Lift the orange lever, and the beacon gives a couple of beeps initially. Then, if there’s no signal present, the voice will say “run in 50m search strips and look out.” That begins your grid search pattern. Smartly, the beacon detects potential interference, like cellphones. If there’s interference, it says to do 20m search strips.
As the beacon picks up a signal, it will give you specific instructions such as “walk straight,” “walk left,” “walk right,” “turn around,” “bring beacon down to snow,” and “search in a fine pattern.”
Meanwhile, the beacon displays icons on the screen replicating the instructions. Once a signal is found, it shows an arrow and distance, until within 2 m, when it displays meters and decimals and a grid indicating fine search.
ORTOVOX Diract Voice Review
In my brief experience with this beacon, I found it incredibly easy to use. And I think a lot of other people will too.
For context, here’s a bit on my background: I’m an avid skier and have been hitting the backcountry for about 5 years. I have taken an Avi 1 course and spent quite a bit of time skiing with guides and avalanche instructors. I wouldn’t consider myself to be advanced in avalanche education, but I do have a decent amount of experience.
And for people like me, this beacon is great. It reinforces the lessons of your avalanche education. This will hopefully help you overcome panic during an emergency situation.
Using the beacon was intuitive. Even without the voice commands, the screen gives easy-to-navigate feedback. It picked up a signal from another ORTOVOX beacon at about 35 yards (32 m) in my testing. And ORTOVOX recommends a search strip width of 50 m without interference. It’s a three-antenna beacon and uses “smart antenna” technology to optimize its transmission range.
Finally, the beacon auto-reverts to transmit mode after sitting still for 30 seconds without motion, and gives you a loud audible warning before reverting. This is meant as a safety measure in case you’re caught in a second avalanche while working in search mode. It worked perfectly in my testing.
Ultimately, my test was brief and certainly far from conclusive. And many people more expert than me will spend hours scrutinizing this beacon when it hits the market. But my initial impression was wonderful. As long as it continues to work as promised, I expect this beacon will lead to voice guidance becoming an industry-standard feature in the near future.