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24th March 2005
SanDisk Photo Album review
by Ian Burley
1684: SanDisk Photo Album review

Has SanDisk come up with the best TV photo player yet?

Price: US $49.99 (approximately EU€46 or UKŁ32 excluding VAT), (manufacturer's guide price)

The SanDisk Photo Album accommodates all the main digital
camera memory card formats.

SanDisk is best known for being one of the big-league players in the memory card manufacturing stakes, but SanDisk also has a growing line of accessory products, like its sleek new Photo Album, which cleverly makes the experience of viewing photos on TV more appealing than than it has been.

So why use something like SanDisk's Photo Album in the first place? One of the many advantages of digital photography is that you can forget about that old slide projector and bulky screen and display your photos on your TV.



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Does your camera have a TV connection anyway?
But is this as easy as it sounds? Cost cutting with some camera models means that TV ports are no longer to be taken for granted and. In any case, you need to remember where to find your camera's TV cable and what about the camera's batteries - are they charged up for a slide show session? So why not use a dedicated digital photo TV player?

An on-screen thumbnail navigation interface guides the user.

In practice, TV photo players have suffered from one key drawback, slow and cumbersome operation. This is because photo image sizes are large, typically a megabyte or more and they are getting larger as camera resolutions rise relentlessly. It takes time to load each image, so with a conventional TV photo player the process of moving from one image to the next can be very tiresome as you wait for each image to load up.

TV player drawback cleverly solved
SanDisk's designers have come up with an ingenious solution to this problem and it also makes your photos more accessible. TV screens are relatively low resolution devices, so it's possible to reduce the resolution and increase the data compression of digital photos, making the file sizes smaller and much faster to load, without affecting the displayed quality on-screen.

A second Compact Flash slot at the rear serves as a
semi-permanent archive for TV-quality versions of your photos.

By using a second Compact Flash card slot on the rear of the SanDisk Photo Album, you have the option of archiving slimmed down copies of your photos to a CF card that can be left semi-permanently slotted into the Photo Album. In our experience, images can be reduced to around 60K in size, enabling a modest 128MB card to store over 2,000 TV-ready images.

With such slimmed-down copies of your originals stored, browsing from one picture to another becomes a breeze, with no long pauses as pictures load. Unfortunately, SanDisk has overlooked the remaining tedium of having to individually select large numbers of photos, then convert and store them, as there is no batch capability.

Besides TV display quality (640x480 pixels), there is a higher resolution 6x4 inch print resolution option. This results in image files twice as big as TV ones and they don't display on-screen full-size. However, these, or your original full-resolution camera images, can be marked for printing using on-screen options, though you can't actually connect a printer to the SanDisk Photo Album, instead you must take the memory card to a store for printing or use a printer or printing program on your PC that understands DPOF (Digital Print Order Format). With DPOF, images marked for printing will be recognised and processed by compatible hardware or software.

A purposeful infra red remote control is supplied as standard.

Create a slide show and with music too
Besides showing pictures manually one at a time, you can also start a slide show. This automatically displays each image stored in an album or folder, with some slick fade/wipe effects introducing the next photo. Fade and wipe transitions can be randomly featured or pre-selected. You can also set music to your slide show by storing an MP3 audio file in the same card or folder album as your photos.The SanDisk Photo Album also functions as an MP3 audio player without photos.

Movie clip playback needs improving
Movie clips in selected formats can also be played using the SanDisk Photo Album. Motion JPEG and MPEG1 formats are understood, in either .MOV or .AVI files, though the up and coming MPEG4 format is not supported. There is room for improvement here as we found that high frame rate movies were not played back smoothly, while some suffered from degraded audio quality or no audio at all.

AC power-in, AV and USB ports for connection to a PC and to an
USB-connected external storage drive are provided. TV display mode is
also switchable between PAL and NTSC.

Other notable features
Other features worth noting are some grouping options that can sort your files by month and year, etc., the unit also doubles as an 8-in-1 memory card reader, though PC connectivity is only via the slow USB 1.1 standard instead of high-speed USB. TV display can be switched between the American NTSC standard and European PAL mode, but the supplied AC adapter is not an internationally universal type.

Connection to a TV or other video device is via RCA phono stereo audio and compositve video connectors, which many TVs feature for connection with camcorders. S-Video is not supported. A good-sized infra red remote control is included. We tested JPEG files as large as 12 megapixels and encountered no display problems.

A USB port for connecting an external USB storage device, like a USB pen/key drive, is also provided and this worked fine with an external USB hard drive as well.

Review ratings:

(Our rating system explained)
 

Features

(Good) As TV photo players go, the SanDisk Photo Album is probably the most feature-packed example yet. It's a shame that the USB port is not of the high-speed variety though.

Design

(Excellent) Aesthetically, the SanDisk Photo Album is an attractive design that wouldn't look out of place next to a stylish TV or AV system.

Build quality

(Excellent) For the asking price, the SanDisk Photo Album is nicely put together and finished. The remote control is lightweight, but otherwise positive to use.

Ease of use

(Good) The SanDisk Photo Album cleverly solves the problem of storing a lot of photos yet making them conveniently accessible. Photo browsing is also made faster and easier, but the processing of adding photos to the archive needs to be made more convenient via a batch mode that lets you process lots of selected photos in one go. Apart from this niggle the unit is reasonably easy to use, especially compared with most of the competition.

Value for money

(Excellent) No complaints here - for the asking price, the SanDisk Photo Album is very good value for money.

 

Things we liked about the SanDisk Photo Album:

  • Faster and more space efficient photo storage options
  • Good display quality
  • Great styling and build quality
  • Excellent value for money
  • All main digital camera memory cards supported
  • Doubles as a USB memory card reader

Things we weren't so keen on:

  • Lack of batch storage facility
  • Poor movie clip playback performance
  • High-speed USB not supported

The bottom line:

SanDisk are to be congratulated for coming up with a great-looking and functionally innovative alternative to run of the mill TV photo players - and at a very attractive price. It certainly represents the best value for money in this category. However, SanDisk can still make some significant improvements to the all-important TV-quality archiving process with the addition of a batch mode. Video clip playback quality has plenty of scope for improvement, too.

These criticisms aside, the SanDisk Photo Album is probably the best and one of the cheapest TV photo players on the market, so we have no hesitation in awarding it a RECOMMENDED rating.

Check the price of the SanDisk Digital Photo Album

 



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