Some CAT owners like the comforting computer setup of the A-P mounts with their normal HCs. Others want the capacity and quality of the A-Ps, but also the latest technology in the form of a mount that is ready out of the box for tasks such as remote control over the Internet—from 100 meters away or 10,000 kilometers away. These advanced amateurs naturally gravitate to the Software Bisque Paramount ME ($12,500). The ME is currently Bisque's only GEM, but it is a mutha. The company's magazine ads for the mount feature a picture of it emblazoned with the words, "They call it the red giant." That is a fair description. This 68 pound mount head can carry even more weight than the 1200GTO, up to 150 pounds. Although Bisque describes the ME as "field portable," its weight and its specialized power needs (48 volts DC) mean most of us will find carrying this GEM around to weekend star parties something less than practical.

What makes the ME different from the A-Ps or the GEMs sold by other manufacturers? Mainly, it is that this mount was designed for the digital age. Most GEMs can be controlled by an external PC, but the ME may be the only one that requires a PC. Much of the mount's "brains" are in the suite of Bisque software that accompanies the ME: TheSky, CCDsoft, T-point, and more. The Paramount is perfectly capable of producing an astounding visual observing experience, but CCD imaging is where it really sings. Not only is it designed with this in mind, featuring things such as internal cable routing for cameras and USB communications with the host computer, its mechanical precision makes image acquisition almost easy. With a periodic error of 7 arc seconds before PPEC, the mount, like the A-Ps, may not need guiding for most imaging tasks.

So, what is the downside? As with the A-Ps, it is partly the price. Like the A-Ps, the quoted price, as considerable as it is, is just for the equatorial head. Piers, counterweights, and dovetail mounting plates are extra. But it is also due to the nature of the mount, which is best suited for a permanent observatory. The ME is also a mount designed for serious imaging work, more so than for casual skylarking. The PC must be online whenever anything is done with this GEM. There are no clutches on the RA and declination axes, so the ME cannot even be moved without the help of the PC. Frankly, this is a GEM for CAT users engaged in much more serious amateur astronomy pursuits than most of us. For those folks, the Paramount is a genuine breakthrough.

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