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Giga Vu PRO evolution: a breakthrough pro product? - Continued

Port Side: The proprietary DVI connector, two USB 2.0 mini-B ports, power switch, Compactflash card slot and A/V jack grace the side and top of the Giga Vu PRO evolution (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Backup and Copy

The Giga Vu PRO evolution has two USB 2.0 ports, both mini-B. One is for connecting the device to a computer, for two-way transfer of data (the Giga Vu PRO evolution appears as an external hard drive to the computer system). This USB port is managed by a dedicated co-processor which, says Emmers, enables up to 20MB/second transfers to the hard drive of a Mac or Windows machine. This transfer rate is roughly the real-world upper limit of a 9.5mm hard drive today, and it's that drive size that's inside the device.

The second port is USB 2.0 On-The-Go, or USBOTG as it's more commonly known. A camera with a USB port can be connected to the Giga Vu PRO evolution and pictures offloaded, though our experience with Canon and Nikon digital SLR cameras with USB 2.0 ports linked to other USBOTG devices is that the transfer rate can be slow. We don't know if this will be true of the Giga Vu PRO evolution as well, but if it is, we'll use the CompactFlash card slot for most transfers instead.

The USBOTG port is called on for another task also: incremental backup of the Giga Vu PRO evolution. Jobo has tested the transfer of pictures from the Giga Vu PRO evolution to another one of its photo storage devices, the Giga ONE. The procedure is apparently simple: connect one end of a USB cable to the USBOTG port on the Giga Vu PRO evolution, connect the other end to the USB 2.0 port on the Giga ONE, select the appropriate copy option in the Giga Vu PRO evolution's menus and the transfer will commence. The transfer can be done in an incremental fashion, where only new pictures since the last transfer are backed up to the Giga ONE. We're not sure what the range of copy options are, and we've not seen this feature in action. But if it has been smartly implemented, it could be a useful way to make a second set of important pictures in the field.

While Jobo is recommending the Giga ONE, any external hard drive with a USB port should be capable of fulfilling the Giga VU PRO evolution's backup role, as long as it's FAT32-formatted and can bring its own power, either battery or AC.

The Giga Vu PRO evolution can also copy pictures back to a memory card.

Wi-Fi Wireless

With the addition of a Wi-Fi CompactFlash card, the Giga Vu PRO evolution and its built-in FTP server become a landing spot for pictures arriving from a Wi-Fi/FTP-capable camera. This is, by far, the feature in the Giga Vu PRO evolution we're most excited about. That's because we're really hoping it will replace a clunky if serviceable wireless video setup that gets pulled out when the assignment sees us teamed up with an art director or other decision maker and the shoot involves multiple field locations or is just happening in a big hurry.

Our wireless video kit is comprised of a battery-operated transmitter, which gets hooked up to the camera's video out port, and a 5 inch LCD screen+ receiver, also powered by batteries, which ends up in the hands of the art director. The setup works: press the Display button on the camera and the screen image pops up on the art director's display immediately. But the picture quality is only okay, the transmitter has to be kept perfectly still for the video image to be jitter-free and with most Canon and Nikon digital SLRs the cable has to be pulled out of the video port for the camera's own display to work and allow us to see what we're shooting.

The Giga Vu PRO evolution should do the same job as our wireless video setup, only it's almost certainly going to do it better. Our intention is this: to shoot on RAW+JPEG, where the JPEG is reduced in resolution and fairly highly-compressed, for the quickest journey over the wireless link. The camera (equipped with a Wi-Fi transmitter like Canon's WFT-E1/E1A or Nikon's WT-2/2A) will be configured to only transmit the JPEG, and in most cases it would transmit every JPEG shot, since these types of assignments tend not to involve heavy burst shooting. Some experimentation will be required on a per-camera basis to find the resolution/compression level that will provide the right balance of fast transfer and good on-screen quality. But, with that balance found, pressing the shutter button on the camera should produce this chain reaction:

  1. Both RAW and JPEG files are written to the camera's memory card. The RAW file will be used later to produce the final image.
  2. The smallish JPEG is sent through the air to the FTP server on the Giga Vu PRO evolution.
  3. Once arrived, the JPEG is added to an album and automatically appears full-screen.
  4. The art director examines the picture, zooming and scrolling, while we keep shooting.

You might be thinking that a laptop would work just as well as the Giga Vu PRO evolution for this sort of assignment, and for you it might. For us, even a laptop would be too cumbersome to employ on fast-moving jobs; for this to work, the viewing device has to be easily hand-held and carried, not to mention easily operated by someone with usually limited familiarity with pro imaging software. That's why we use wireless video now, even with its limitations, and why the Giga Vu PRO evolution has the potential to be the near-perfect tool for this type of job.

To make this workflow work, the Giga Vu PRO evolution includes the following features:

  • An FTP server; new pictures are added into an FTP-specific album with a user-configurable name. The device can optionally be set to show pictures automatically as they come in, and among the picture display options is one that will allow all verticals to appear flopped on their side, so that if the unit is oriented in portrait mode during a shoot of mostly verticals, those verticals will better fill the screen.

  • Support for a range of Wi-Fi CompactFlash cards, though it may be limited to only 802.11b models initially, including one that Jobo will market as an accessory for the Giga Vu PRO evolution. The reason for 802.11b only, says Emmers, is the lack of a Linux driver for the precious few 802.11g CompactFlash cards on the market (802.11g can be as much as 5-6X faster than 802.11b). For the scenario we describe above, 802.11b and its real-world throughput of up to about 600K/second (Emmers says the Giga Vu PRO evolution will be capable of this throughput rate) should be fine. But after our discussions with Emmers about this took place, we unearthed a new 802.11g card from Socket that may be Linux-compatible. Called the Go Wi-Fi! P500, our initial query to the company about its Linux support has gone unanswered. If it can be made to work with the Giga Vu PRO evolution, however, the potential increase in bandwidth could open up the device to a greater variety of wireless workflows.

  • Basic wireless router functionality, including user-selectable SSID, channel and key for the optional WEP encryption, plus the ability to run in either ad-hoc or infrastructure mode. It has a built-in DHCP server as well.

The Giga Vu PRO evolution lacks an FTP client, so it's not possible to forward pictures on from the device using the FTP protocol. Emmers says that it's possible to add an FTP client, and even a web browser, since most of the bits and pieces Philips' engineers need to do these things are readily available for Linux. But he emphasizes that creating a Giga Vu PRO evolution interface for such features, just like awakening the Ethernet interface or supporting 1024 x 768 video output, costs money in the form of additional firmware development time. The clear implication is that before Jobo commits to a whack of additional functionality they need to see a whack of Giga Vu PRO evolutions fly off dealer shelves. Emmers says that for organizations that wish to extend what the unit can do themselves, a software development kit (SDK) is already available.

We're nearing the end of our preview of this new photo storage device. Some other features worth mentioning are:

Printing The Giga Vu PRO evolution supports PictBridge for the printing of JPEGs on a compatible printer.

File and Album Management File and album deletion, file renaming, file ranking as well as the entering of comments and keywords, these are among the basic picture management tools included in the Giga Vu PRO evolution.

Movie and Music Playback The PMA units were loaded with a trailer of Spiderman, running the full width of the screen at 30 fps. The video image was tack sharp, motion was smooth and stutter-free and colour was great. In short, the video looked superb on the built-in screen (and movie playback on an external display is possible too). The video decoding specifications for the Giga Vu PRO evolution state that both MPEG2 and MPEG4 are supported, with audio, at 640 x 480 pixels and up to 30 fps. In fact, a design goal of the AMD processor in the Giga Vu PRO evolution was to natively support DVD video. The AMD processor can also handle WMV9, DivX and H.263, though we're not sure whether the Giga Vu PRO evolution is designed to capitalize on the hardware support for all these formats.

There are various hurdles - both technical and legal - in getting movies and other commercial video content onto the device. Given its support for common video formats, and at a high level of quality (its playback specs are considerably better than the video-capable iPod, for example), the Giga Vu PRO evolution should be a fine portable movie theatre for those willing to jump through the hurdles. Ultimately, this is a nice addition to the device's feature set, one that could be used, at minimum, for the playback of photographer portfolios rendered as movies. Emmers estimates that the battery life should be sufficient to show up to about a 2.5 hour feature.

The Giga Vu PRO evolution will also play MP3 files.

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