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8th December 2004
Epson P-2000 multimedia storage album review
by Ian Burley

Epson shows how its done with more affordable second-generation portable multimedia storage album

Read our updated news story - Epson improves P-2000 and eases supply situation

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Everything centres around the P-2000's superb screen

Price: 349 (manufacturer's guide price)
Epsons brand new P-2000 portable multimedia storage album is just reaching the stores at the time of writing this review. It comprises a 2.5in 40GB battery-powered hard drive, SD/MMC and Compact Flash Type I/II memory card slots and a superb 3.8 inch Photo Fine VGA LCD display. A compact world-standard mains AC adapter/charger is included, along with a desk stand and wrist strap.
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A desk stand is included

The P-2000 can store and display a variety of audio and visual format content, from photos, including some camera RAW format files, to MP3 digital music files and digital video movies. Compared to its P-1000 predecessor, the P-2000 is faster, more versatile, eeks more up-time from its battery and its cheaper too.

Who is Epson aiming at?
Storing what can be the prodigious output of ones digital camera is a headache many of us have to contend with and its even more taxing when you need to travel light. Portable hard drives with media card readers represent one solution.

A neoprene-like soft case is provided too

If you want to view your pictures and movies, the choices available are quite limited and they tend to offer disappointing display capabilities. The Epson P-2000 is probably the first portable media storage solution Ive seen that combines decent storage capacity and high quality viewing capability at what approaches an affordable price. It's certainly the best put together device in this category so far.

Photo Fine
Dominating the top surface of the P-2000 is its 3.8 inch 'Photo Fine' 640x480 TFT LCD screen. Without seeing the screen for yourself its a little difficult to get across just how stunning quality of this display is.

The screen is a little larger than a typical Pocket PC PDA screen, for example, but with four times the resolution (VGA 640x480 pixels vs QVGA 320x240 though latest generation PDAs are now appearing with VGA displays). Indeed, the P-2000s display has an on-screen resolution of 212 pixels per inch (ppi). To give you an idea of how that compares, here are some other display device resolutions:

FinePix S3 Pro DSLR LCD 350ppi
Nikon D2X/D2H DSLR LCD 280ppi
Epson P-2000 212 ppi
Sony Vaio C1MHP Picture Book ultraportable PC 160ppi
19 inch 1600x1200 CRT monitor 114ppi
17 inch 1280x1024 LCD monitor 94ppi
17 inch 1024x768 CRT monitor 80ppi

But its not just sheer resolution that makes the P-2000s display look great colour and contrast are both excellent too. Many small LCD displays can only display a few tens of thousands of colours, but Epsons Photo Fine LCD technology displays 262,000 colours. With such range, the pixels all but disappear when viewing photos and they are really only obvious when looking at text close up.

When zooming in or out, the P-2000 interpolates the display. This can leave some views looking a little soft but there isn't usually any unsightly interference patterning or pixellation. Unfortunately, there is no 1:1 image to screen pixel zoom indicator, but the screen is sharp enough and high quality enough to reveal an out of focus shot. It's almost like looking at a glossy photo print from a reasonable viewing distance.

Media card accessibility
On one side of the P-2000 you will find two card slots, once for SD/MMC cards and the other for most types of compact flash memory card, including microdrives.

The side profile shows two media card slots and that the P-2000 isn't particularly slim

A slight disappointment is that there is no provision for Sony memory stick, SmartMedia, or xD cards, though what is supported accounts for around 80% of the digital camera market. Compact flash adapters for the unsupported formats are available but, of course, they will add to the cost and erode convenience. A nice feature is that once installed, cards dont stick out. Empty slots are protected by a spring-loaded flap. Its possible to copy the entire contents of a card to the P-2000s hard drive in one operation.

The P-2000 is designed to be used in landscape mode think Nintendo Gameboy Advance (the original version, not the clamshell-style MkII versions). The number of buttons and other controls has been kept to a minimum. The largest is an OK/Zoom-in button, which is surrounded by a thin raised collar for compass-style navigation. It works very well, with just the right resistance and feel. A smaller satellite button provides 'Cancel' and zoom-out functions.

Epson opted for a simple set of controls

There are also menu, print, display and home buttons. Apart from those, the only other control is an on/off slider switch that is unlikely to cause the unit to be switched on accidentally.

The user interface is graphically very slick, but fundamentally very simple. Files and folders are represented by icons, including composite thumbnail icons that hint at their contents. You can also place files from different folders into albums in a similar style to some digital asset management packages. When viewing photos that contain EXIF camera information, a subset of this is accessible via the display button.

DPOF print ordering, where you can mark selected images for printing, as well as the number of prints required, is supported just like a camera and it's possible to print directly from the P-2000 to Epson photo printers that support USB Direct printing, though there is no mention of PictBridge support.

Rather like a digital camera, there is a standard mini-USB port, A/V port, DC power-in port and you also get a 3.5mm stereo headphone socket, though no headphones are supplied. USB 2.0 High-Speed is supported, which is a major improvement over the old P-1000.

A plastic flap protects the USB 2.0 port

The USB port is protected when not in use by a stiff plastic flap. When connected via USB under battery power only, the P-2000 locks its controls and shows a big warning display concerning the danger of transferring data should the battery die. However, transfers both ways can still be initiated from the PC-end when the P-2000 is under battery power.

Display formats
A wide repertoire of still image and video file formats is catered for by the P-2000, including JPEG, MPEG1, 2 and 4, MJPEG and also MP3 digital music files. Support for ordinary TIFF files is a surprising omission, only TIFF file thumbnails produced by Epson's new F-3200 scanner can be viewed. Microsoft AVI and Quicktime MOV formats are supported but it doesn't look like Real Player format files are. Movie playback is very good, though there is some occasional jerkiness.

RAW format, or at least the display of a RAW file's embedded thumbnail rather than the actual image itself, is currently supported for the following cameras: Nikon D100 / D1H / D2H / D1X / D70, Canon EOS 300D / D60 / 10D / 1D Mark II and, unsurprisingly, Epson's very own R-D1. Epson says further formats can be added through firmware upgrades let's hope that's what will happen for the sake of Olympus, Fujifilm, Konica Minolta and other brand users as well as for users of Nikon and Canon camera models not yet supported.

One disappointment is that there is an image size limit of 8.9 megapixels. The P-2000 will thumbnail images larger than 8.9MP but not let you view them full-screen. This kind of limits the attraction of the P-2000 to professionals using cameras like the Canon EOS-1Ds series and Kodak's 14MP pro SLRs, as well as users of some cameras that output interpolated 12 megapixel images.

Transfer speeds
Transfer times from memory cards are above average. Below is a comparison with the Vosonic MMV, which we will be reviewing shortly, for example:

Card TypeVosonic MMV transfer rateEpson P-2000 transfer rate
1GB IBM Microdrive 1.8MB/sec 1.7MB/sec
Fast CF (Sandisk Ultra 2) 1.9MB/sec 2.2MB/sec
Standard CF (Lexar 12x) 1.5MB/sec 1.7MB/sec
Standard SD (TraxData 256MB) 1MB/sec 1MB/sec
Fast SD (Dane-Elec Xs) 1.5MB/sec 2.3MB/sec

Copying from the P-2000 to a PC via a USB 2.0 High-speed connection demonstrated a 9.5MB/sec transfer rate, or roughly half a gigabyte per minute.

Battery life
Epson claims three and half hours of continuous battery-powered operation can be expected from the P-2000 when using its slide show facility. After a couple of days, on and off, exploring the P-2000 and copying a couple of gigabytes worth of files from various cards, the battery capacity meter has hardly moved.

Despite a surprisingly compact battery, charge performance is impressive

As you can expect improved capacity after several battery charge cycles, if anything, Epson's 3.5 hour claim seems conservative. Even at moderate pace, you should be able to copy across 10-15 one gigabyte cards per battery charge and faster cards could double that.

The competition
Frankly, the P-2000 doesn't have a lot of competition. Vosonic's MMV is smaller and lighter, but its screen is not as good and the P-2000 is more versatile. We have yet to try Nikon's CoolWalker.

The Vosonic MMV on the right is smaller and lighter but on most other points the Epson P-2000 is superior

The SmartDisk Flashtrax, also known as a Phototainer, comes closest to the P-2000 with a screen almost as large, but not as refined, and it has support for RAW format images, but it's not as well built and it's significantly more expensive too. As long as you don't mind the slightly larger dimensions of the P-2000, it's a very compelling choice.

The Epson P-2000 isn't small but it shouldn't be over-large for most.

Things we like about the Epson P-2000:
Fantastic Photo Fine display
Superb design and build quality
Can display selected RAW format image files
Easy to use
Good battery life
Fast USB 2.0 transfer performance
Competitive pricing
Print facility

Things we didnt like about the Epson P-2000:
Its on the big side and larger and heavier than its predecessor
8.9MP image size display limit
Standard TIFF file viewing not supported
Adapters required for card formats apart from SD/MMC and CF
Only a 40GB capacity option
RAW format display support needs expanding
PictBridge apparently not supported

The bottom line
While the older Epson P-1000 shared the same remarkable Photo Fine display, its overall design was flawed and it was far too expensive. The new P-2000 has fixed practically all of the P-1000s flaws and although its a bit bulkier, its more affordable and much more useful. There isnt anything else to touch it at the moment.

Overall rating: Highly recommended - Editor's Choice!


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