Editor's Choice 2007: Digital Storage and Display

Editor-s-Choice-2007-Digital-Storage-and-Display
Editor-s-Choice-2007-Digital-Storage-and-Display
Editor's Choice 2007: Digital Storage and Display

Cameras may be sexier, but we're equally beholden to the devices that let us store, work with, display, and share our digital images. This year we note several trends in storage technology: Memory cards have doubled in both speed and capacity; hard drives are cheaper, with new ways of connecting to computers and entertainment devices; portable hard drives have become tougher and more communicative; and pocketable flash drives are cleverer and more playful. Traditional card-reading storage viewers have become further refined, while multimedia devices are proving increasingly valuable to photographers. Professional technologies like RAID and drive networking are being pitched to non-pros. Another new technology, the Blu-ray writable disc format, gives optical media a huge boost in storage size. All of which makes for a brave new world in digital imaging.

STORAGE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR: LEXAR PROFESSIONAL UDMA COMPACTFLASH CARDS

As the resolution of digital cameras increases, so does the size of the image files they produce. This means your memory card's data transfer rate must be fast enough both for fluid shooting and for speedy upload of large numbers of high-res photographs to your computer. As of this writing, the fastest cards on the market are these new Lexars, available in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB versions. They use the same Ultra Direct Memory Access (UDMA) data transfer protocol as the latest generation of fast hard drives, permitting a top 300X speed equivalent to 45 megabytes-per-second.

That's at least 12 percent swifter than the fastest competing cards, and 125 percent better than Lexar's own 20MB/second offerings, including the new 133X Lexar Professional 4GB SDHC. The only catch is that to realize the UDMA cards' full shooting potential you'll need a UDMA-enabled camera (Lexar says several will be announced later this year), and to realize their top upload speed you'll need Lexar's own Professional UDMA card readers, available now. The new cards come bundled with Lexar Image Rescue software (for file recovery), Lexar Backup N Sync (for managing your collections), and Corel Paint Shop Pro X (for advanced photo editing). About $65 (2GB), $120 (4GB), and $220 (8GB).

It's hard to believe that 8GB CompactFlash cards cost a few thousand dollars when they were introduced just three years ago. Contrast that with the few hundred dollars of new 16GB cards such as this SanDisk, which debuted last September. Unlike competitors, it's a tough-as-nails professional version with "extreme" temperature and shock specifications identical to its 8GB predecessor -- and despite its doubled capacity, no reduction in the previous 20MB/second data transfer speed. (In fact, now there's an even faster 8GB Extreme IV card delivering a whopping 40MB/second.)

The Extreme III's 16 gigabytes cost about as much today as the 8GB card did last year, meaning you're paying half the price per gigabyte for twice the storage space. And that's equivalent to more than 2,000 best-quality 10-megapixel JPEGs, or over 1,300 same-resolution RAW files. If you accidentally erase the card's contents, retrieve them with the bundled RescuePRO Deluxe software, which lets you preview (see, hear, or watch) photo, audio, or video files before recovering them to your hard drive. About $300.

BEST BUY: KINGSTON TECHNOLOGY 8GB SDHC CARDS

Even with their tiny size, about half that of CompactFlash cards, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) memory cards are keeping pace with their bigger rival in both capacity and value. A case in point is Kingston's new line of affordable 8GB cards, which come in three speed classes. The Class 2 card has a minimum sustained data transfer rate of 2MB/second, while the Class 4 and Class 6 versions deliver 4MB/second and 6MB/second respectively. That's more than fast enough for most digital cameras, but the SDHC format's extra speed makes it especially well-suited to use in high-definition consumer camcorders. About $80 (8GB).

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Unlike most digital camera makers, consumer electronics giant Sony has had the resources and clout to design and market its own, proprietary memory card format. Although Sony camera owners can't use other kinds of cards (except in a few higher-end models that also accept CompactFlash), the Sony Memory Stick (MS) universe is large and constantly expanding. The company's latest PRO Duo card is a good example; at 8GB it has twice the capacity of its predecessor. It's also fast, with a maximum transfer rate of 20MB/second.

Those are impressive specs given the card's tiny form factor, 31x20x1.6mm, slightly smaller than an SD card. The PRO Duo also comes with an adapter that allows it to be used in cameras that accept the original (physically larger) Memory Stick cards. Unlike other card formats, MS supports Sony's MagicGate copy protection, which allows you to play (but not share) protected material such as music, video, and games downloaded from compatible devices. About $170.

|| |---| | Lexar Professional UDMA Card Readers

With a league-leading read/write speed of 45MB/second, Lexar's new Professional 300X CompactFlash cards are currently the fastest on the market. They won't deliver their full upload speed, however, with just any reader: You'll need one of Lexar's souped-up Ultra Direct Memory Access (UDMA) card readers. The Professional 300X CompactFlash Reader looks identical to its predecessor and, likewise, can be used in a stacked group of up to four for simultaneous downloads from multiple cards. To achieve its 100MB/second transfer rate -- twice that of the older unit -- the new model uses a faster FireWire 800 interface, for which there are two ports.

A second new high-speed card reader, the Lexar Professional Dual-Slot Reader, has a single USB 2.0 data port that allows downloads at up to 60MB/second. But it accepts both CompactFlash and SD formats, including Lexar's new Professional 133X SDHC cards. The reader also has a stylish, translucent clamshell cover to protect the card slots. About $80.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

With the current proliferation of different memory card formats -- including those for digital cameras, media players, cell phones, and PDAs -- having a multi-card reader is essential. Most such readers are palm-sized or bigger. But this new model from Kingston, designed specifically for mini- and micro-format cards, is the size of a stick of gum, and is safe to stash in a purse or pocket thanks to its protective clamshell cover.

But the DataTraveler is not just a card reader; it's also a USB flash drive, available in three capacities. Insert a memory card into its slot, in fact, and the device functions as two separate drives, one saving to the card and the other to the built-in memory. When the device is connected to a computer you can easily transfer data back and forth between the two, since they appear as distinct volumes on your desktop. Supported card formats include SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and, with an optional adapter, miniSD, microSD, RS-MMC, MMCmobile, and MMCmicro. About $20 (1GB) and $30 (2GB).

|| |---| | RiDATA YEGO Flash USB Drive

A tiny USB flash drive (also called a thumb drive, though it isn't a drive at all) is a great convenience for storing, backing up, and sharing your photos and other files. And with no moving parts, it's very reliable. But it has a drawback: Once plugged into your computer, it occupies a USB data port that could otherwise be connected to something else. Now, in a clever move, RiDATA has designed a flash drive that's also a two-port hub, eliminating the need to play musical chairs with other USB devices and cables.

Measuring just 2.7x1.7x0.6 inches and weighing a little over half an ounce, the playfully Y-shaped YEGO draws power from its host computer, with LED status lights indicating which of its two Hi-Speed USB ports is in use. Supplied software allows you to partition and password-protect the drive. It's available in three colors (purple, orange, and green) and six capacities (128MB to 4GB). About $19 (1GB).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

This tiny, stylish USB drive looks a lot like a Zippo cigarette lighter, but we think it's a better lifestyle choice. Measuring only 2.6 inches long, the Mega TravelDrive is comparable in size to many USB thumb drives, which like memory cards use nonmoving flash memory for storage. But the Memorex substitutes a one-inch hard drive, which helps it accommodate up to 12GB of data -- several times more than most of the biggest flash-based competitors.

Hidden inside the TravelDrive's sleek gun-metal case is a retractable USB 2.0 connector that unfolds from the top of the drive. It can pivot up to 180 degrees for easy access to any USB port, no matter how hard to reach. And no AC cord is needed, since the unit draws the power it needs from the data cable. About $150.

|| |---| | LaCie d2 Quadra External Hard Drive

This high-quality 500GB digital storage device is one of the fastest single-drive external models available, and also among the most compatible with the latest data-transfer standards. "Quadra" denotes four separate cable connections: USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800, plus the newest and fastest, eSATA. Using its eSATA connection, the d2 exchanges data with your computer roughly ten percent faster than it does with FireWire 800, though to achieve that with most computers you'll need to buy a separate eSATA expansion card. (Greater speed can be achieved with multiple d2 Quadras configured in a RAID -- a redundant array of independent disks.)

Housed in a stylish, sturdy aluminum case and cooled by a super-quiet "smart" fan, the d2 Quadra can stand vertically or horizontally, be stacked with other drives, or even rack-mounted. The unit has a programmable "shortcut button" that can launch any application with a single touch, including its bundled automatic backup and data recovery software, EMC Retrospect. About $215.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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This portable hard drive lives up to its brand name. It's definitely a smart disk -- the first we've seen that tells you exactly what's inside even when the drive itself is off. It does that with a separate, dedicated 1.6x2.4-inch monochrome LCD data screen that's always readable whether or not the unit is turned on. Information displayed includes the drive name as it would appear on a connected computer; the date when data was last saved; a "percent-full gauge" that resembles a cell phone signal-strength meter; total drive capacity; and available free space.

Smarter still, the display provides space for personalized information, which you enter using SmartDisk Notepad software installed on your PC or Mac, then upload to the drive. The applet has variable fonts, text sizes, and justification. It even lets you create and add a hand-drawn graphic, or import one created in another program. The FireLite Xpress measures 3.3x5.1x0.9 inches, weighs 10 ounces, and is available in both USB 2.0 and FireWire versions. It's bus-powered, meaning it gets the juice it needs from the data cable itself. About $150 (80GB) and $190 (120GB).

|| |---| | OWC Mercury Blu-ray External

While hard drives are cheap these days, serious shooters often back up image files to recordable DVDs because they're less vulnerable to physical damage and can be easily stored in multiple locations. The capacity of these disks is limited to 8GB, however. Enter the Blu-ray format, which squeezes up to six times the data on the same size disc. Blu-ray disks are relatively expensive -- about $17 for a 25GB single-layer and $35 for 50GB dual-layer -- but prices are likely to fall when the new format's high-density rival, High-Definition DVD (HD DVD), offers writable disks. (HD DVD is currently limited to read-only movies.)

Even 2X Blu-ray writers like the OWC Mercury, an external drive, are cheaper than their 1X predecessors. This one uses a Panasonic mechanism that allows recording of 25GB in about 45 minutes, a rate of 9MB/second. The one we tested came with Roxio Toast 8 Titanium, which we needed because the Mac OS X we used doesn't offer native support for Blu-ray burning. The Mercury's rugged plastic case has a cooling fan along with three data ports, two Firewire and one USB 2.0. About $650 (with cables and two 25GB discs).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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This attractive large-screen personal media player is slimmer and lighter than competitors because it uses flash memory for storage instead of a hard drive. The tradeoff is a lower capacity, but its 8GB of onboard memory still holds thousands of photos, roughly 2000 songs, or 33 hours of video -- and by slipping an SD memory card into the Sansa View's slot, you can greatly expand that space.

At 3.1x4.8x0.66 inches, the Sansa View fits into a pocket, yet its beautiful four-inch widescreen LCD is perfect for looking at big, sharp stills (including in slideshows, with music) as well as DVD-quality movies. It also has a built-in speaker and AV output, the latter for playback on your stereo or TV. And it can drive a 1080i high-definition monitor when placed in an optional docking station. The SanDisk supports JPEGs up to 16 megapixels (no RAW files), as well multiple AV formats and media subscription services. Its removable Li-Polymer battery lasts up to ten hours per charge. About $300.

|| |---| | Best Buy: Samsung YP-T9

Though it competes with Apple's tiny iPod nano music player, this gorgeous, even-smaller device is actually useful for photographic purposes too. Measuring 3.3x1.7x0.4 inches and weighing just 1.7 ounces, it plays music beautifully, its 4GB of internal flash memory storing about 1000 songs (MP3 or WMA format). You can use the YP-T9's ample, sharp 1.8-inch color LCD screen to browse JPEG images, zooming and re-centering them for closer inspection. (The screen allows it to play converted MP4 videos too.)

The YP-T9 has a built-in microphone, useful for recording interviews or notes about photos you've taken. And when you connect it to a computer with its proprietary cable, it functions like a USB flash drive, allowing you to save various kinds of data. That includes text files, which you can open and read on the unit's own LCD. There's even an FM radio tuner for catching tunes or news. Only downside: no Mac support. About $170.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

Last year's P-4000 portable storage viewer was at the top of our Editor's Choice list, so we're happy that Epson has made a good thing better with this significantly upgraded model. The company describes the P-5000's dazzling four-inch screen as the world's first four-color LCD because it employs red, blue, emerald green, and yellow-green filters for better fidelity. Indeed, the 640x480-pixel display can now discriminate 16.7 million colors versus the P-4000's 262,000 -- reproducing 88 percent of the Adobe RGB color space.

The transfer speed of Epson's new viewer is 250 percent faster than the P-4000's, which means shorter downloads from memory cards (it has slots for CompactFlash and Secure Digital) and more transfers per battery charge. (The Li-ion cell can power three hours of slideshows or videos.) It also has a revamped user interface, an 80GB hard drive, USB 2.0 port, headphone jack, and PictBridge direct-to-printer output. (The companion Epson P-3000 has the same specs but with a 40GB hard drive that makes it less expensive.) Supported files include JPEG and RAW for most new cameras, plus a mindnumbing array of format acronyms that includes DivX, MPEG, WMV, MP3, AAC and WMA. About $700.

|| |---| | Best Buy: Iomega eGO

Encased in shocking red aluminum, this pocketable 160GB hard drive provides two different kinds of shock protection. It automatically pulls its read/write head off the spinning disk when it detects either too much gravitational acceleration (such as when you drop it) or an unexpected bump. That plus its sturdy housing and internal cushioning allow the eGO to survive a four-foot fall on a hard surface.

Shaped like a vest-pocket liquor flask, the snazzy eGO spins at 5400rpm, measures 5.25x3.5x0.75 inches, and weighs under half a pound, drawing power from camera or computer through its USB 2.0 Hi-Speed data port. It comes with a free download license for Secure EMC Retrospect HD backup software (Windows only). About $150.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

Despite the improved reliability of recent hard drives, moving parts have a finite lifespan. Some day your computer's drive will crash, taking your photographs with it -- unless you back up its contents zealously. One convenient and reasonably priced solution is this dual-drive RAID (redundant array of independent disks). The Guardian MAXimus continuously "mirrors" your data to two separate drives, writing two identical volumes. If one drive fails, the RAID's status LEDs warn you, even as it continues to write data to the second. Pull the bad drive from the Guardian's case, slip in a new one, and the unit fully restores your data from the backup to the replacement. And it does so quickly: drives are 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda SATAs with 32MB or 64MB memory caches, supported by FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and USB 2.0 connections. The new unit is available in capacities from 250GB to 1TB, in addition to a superfast 10,000rpm 150GB version and driveless case for those who want to choose their own drives. About $420 (400GB).

|| |---| | Media Street eMotion Audio/Video Jukebox

With a huge LCD display and multi-format compatibility, this sleek personal media player is a great way to view and share photos and videos, at home or on the road. The seven-inch screen's 16:9 aspect ratio is perfectly suited to widescreen movies, backed up by Dolby Digital stereo speakers. (There's a headphone jack, of course.) Using either the SD memory card slot or USB 2.0 data port, you can upload those movies, or any other digital media files, to the Jukebox's integrated 40GB hard drive. There's also an RCA input for recording analog video directly from a TV, VCR, or DVD player. Available in silver or black, the new eMotion player can handle virtually any media file you throw at it, including MPEG 1, 2, and 4, AVI, WMA, MP3, HDCD, DVD-Audio, DTS, JPEG, and BMP. About $380.

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
Click photo to see images of all the Editor's Choice 2007 products.

Known as a RAID -- a redundant array of independent disks -- this massive, multimedia-enabled external backup and storage system incorporates four 7200rpm "quick swap" SATA drives and offers several configuration options that balance speed and data safety. In its default RAID 5 mode the array functions normally, preserving identical data on other hard drives if one should fail. (You must replace the faulty drive quickly so that the system can restore data to the new one.) But unlike conventional PC-connected external RAIDs, the TeraStation also serves as a Gigabit Ethernet (125MBps) network server that can be accessed by one or more computers via a wired or wireless router. And its built-in FTP (file transfer protocol) capability allows you to use an off-site computer to send files to the RAID or retrieve files from it remotely. The TeraStation Live is DNLA (Digital Network Living Alliance) certified, so it can stream video and music wirelessly to compatible televisions, stereo systems, and mobile devices. Other assets include easy setup and configuration, a heavy-duty power supply, a nearly silent cooling fan, dual USB 2.0 ports for attaching extra drives, and backup software for Windows. About $700 (1TB), $1100 (2TB), or $2400 (3TB).

|| |---| | Lite-On LH-2B1S Blu-ray Disc Triple Writer

This internal disc burner is currently the most affordable cross-platform model capable of reading and writing Blu-ray optical discs. It can also burn DVD and CD media, but Blu-ray discs hold many times more data than those formats. The new discs are available in both 25GB and 50GB capacities, each in BD-R (write-once) and BD-RE (rewritable) versions. The Lite-On is limited to the 25GB discs, but it's swift -- burning Blu-ray at 2X (about 45 minutes for 25GB), writable DVDs at up to 8X, and CDs at up to 32X. Burning software is bundled, but we'd suggest buying Nero 7 (Windows) or Roxio Toast 8 (Mac). The drive will also play prerecorded high-definition Blu-ray movies, of course, but you'll need a fast Windows-based computer with Serial ATA and an HDCP-compatible monitor. (The acronym stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection.) Mac owners can use the Lite-On to play standard resolution commercial DVDs but not high-def Blu-ray titles. About $500.

|| |---| | Archos 605 WiFi

This personal media player simply redefines the category. Unlike competitors, it lets you surf the Web on any wireless network, using its eye-popping 800x480-pixel, 4.3-inch LCD touch-screen and Opera browser plug-in. The pocketable 605 WiFi is the first such device to stream photos, music, and high-definition video from your computer to a connected TV. It's also the first that allows you to purchase video on demand, watch and post movies on YouTube, and control your cable or satellite box for scheduled recording. The 605 WiFi has a simple photo viewer that allowed us to browse and zoom 10-megapixel JPEG files (no RAW) very quickly. And Archos tells us they're working on providing still-image uploads to webmail, blogs, and photo sites. The 4GB model (which uses flash memory) includes an SD card slot for extra storage and is amazingly cheap. The 30GB model (which uses a hard drive) has USB 2.0 connectivity but no SD slot. A 160GB model is on the way, and numerous plug-ins and accessories will be available, along with the player, later this summer. About $200 (4GB); about $300 (30GB).

American PHOTO Editor's Choice 2007
Intro Entry-Level DSLRs Advanced DSLRs | Professional DSLRs | Digital Rangefinders | SLR Lenses | Camera Cellphones | Imaging Software | Fine-Art Printers | Superzoom EVFs | Digital Compacts | Ultrathin Compacts | Storage and Display | Computers | Snapshot Printers | Lighting | Tripods | Camera Bags | Imaging Essentials
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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Donna Padowitz
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