Transcend Digital Album
The Transcend Digital Album is a $359.99 portable data and image storage device, viewer and multimedia player. It features a large 2.5-inch True Color LCD monitor, two memory card slots, Li-ion rechargeable battery, USB 2.0 high speed I/O and a 20GB hard drive. You can quickly copy your digital camera's flash card or Microdrive to the Digital Album and then go shoot more pictures. You can view JPEG still images or motion-JPEG movies on its high-resolution color LCD or a TV set using the supplied A-V cable and remote control. The DA can be used as a portable MP3 music player and comes with a set of earbud type headphones. It can record brief 10-second audio memos with its builtin microphone. And it's also a plug-n-play 20GB portable hard drive for transferring data between PC or Mac computers.
Other portable storage units use 2.5-inch laptop hard drives, the Digital Album employs a new, smaller 1.8-inch hard drive. The unit itself is smaller than a paperback book and fits in the palm of your hand, pants pocket or purse. You can also toss it in your camera bag or hang it on your belt with the included carrying case.
The main use for the Digital Album is to allow digital photographers to offload their camera's flash cards to its internal hard drive. The DA has two flash memory card multi-slots; CompactFlash Type I and II solid-state flash cards and Microdrives fit into the CF2 slot located on the top.
Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro and SmartMedia cards go into the multi-card slot on the left side. Other types of cards (xD-Picture, Memory Stick Duo) can be used with the appropriate CF or MS adapter.
Whenever the DA is connected to the host computer these card slots can be used like a high-speed card reader/writer to transfer data directly to the computer's hard drive.
I/O Ports & Controls
On the right side is the builtin microphone, DC IN for the AC power adapter, USB 2.0 port, IrDA port for the remote control, volume control buttons, the Lock lever can be used to disable all buttons to prevent the unit from being accidentally turned on when stored or carried, the Reset button, and two LEDs for battery charging and Power ON.
The Digital Album is compatible with computers with USB and running Windows 98, 98SE, Me, 2000, or XP, or Mac OS 10.1 and above. The download speed to the host computer is rated at up to 480Mb/sec (that's Megabits not MegaBytes) when plugged into a high-speed USB 2.0 port, USB 1.1 can be used but at a greatly reduced throughput rate.
On the left side is the A-V Out for connection to a TV set or video monitor. The stereo audio jack is for the earbuds or headphones for listening to MP3's and next to that is the DA's builtin speaker.
Controls on the front are minimal and clearly labeled as to their functions. The top label is the immediate button function, the lower label is the function performed when the button is held down for more than three seconds. The 4-way selector lets you select images, move through file lists and menus and scroll around inside enlarged playback images. Pressing it in the center accepts on-screen selections and controls the zoom ratio in playback mode.
The included infrared remote control is used when the DA is connected to a TV set or video monitor. You can control playback from the DA's front panel buttons but it's much easier with the remote's expanded set of control buttons. The remote has plenty of range to work from ten feet away while sitting comfortably in your easy chair.
The DA's Main Menu:
- Language - Menu language (English, french, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese)
- Backlight - Always On, 30s, 60s, 90s
- Power Save - Disabled, 1m, 2m, 5m
- File Filter - No Filter, Audio Files only, Photo Files only, Multimedia Files only
- Browsing Mode - Thumbnail image or File list
- TV Out Format - NTSC or PAL
- Format Device - Formats the hard drive
- Update Firmware - Flash new firmware code
Copying Flash Cards
Copying files from a flash card is simple. Insert your card, press and hold the power button for about five seconds, the unit will initialize the hard drive and display the startup menu. Press and hold the Select/Copy button until prompted for a Copy Destination, select the HDD and then press the center of the 4-way selector.
The entire contents of the card or Microdrive is copied into a single folder on the DA's hard drive. This is an automatic COPY ALL function. Progress is indicated by a moving bar graph display.
The actual transfer time varies greatly depending on the speed of the flash memory card being copied. I copied 512MB from a Lexar 32x 1GB CF card in 4:45. The same 512MB of data on a Lexar 1GB SD card took 10:19. The original Memory Stick cards are very slow devices compared to the newer Memory Stick Pro cards. And 45x or faster professional grade CF cards literally fly!
You can also copy folders from the DA's hard drive to a flash card.
You can scroll through your image folders in either the File List mode shown here or in the Thumbnail List mode shown below.
In Thumbnail List mode you will be presented with eight thumbnail images per screen. If you're trying to view images that have come directly out of the camera this will be the viewing mode of choice because the filenames in File List mode will be the typical numerical type (i.e. DSCN0001.JPG, etc.)
You can view your images the same as you do on your camera's LCD. Using the 4-way selector you can "Right" or "Left" arrow your way through the pictures one at a time or press the center of the 4-way selector to start an automatic slideshow. The auto slideshow features various fade and wipe effects that are not selectable but the user can select the delay time between pictures.
And as you can see from this picture, you can zoom into the image and then scroll around inside of the enraged picture. If displaying a portrait mode image you can rotate it 90° for proper orientation on the LCD or TV screen.
The DA can also playback movie files too. The only specification that I could find simply said M-JPEG which means Motion-JPEG. Fortunately this is the most common type of movie file format used by most cameras, but not all. As you can see from this Thumbnail List mode screen, some of the movie formats are not readable. The vast majority of AVI and MOV files we tried worked, none of the *.MPG type MPEG encoded movies were ever recognized.
Playing MP3 Songs
The DA is only a so-so MP3 music player. It's a shame because with a little more programming they could have made it so much better. You can view the contents of your song folders in Thumbnail or File List mode but as you can see, Thumbnail mode is fairly useless here. Once you select a song all you can do is adjust the volume using the two buttons on the side. There are no other music player settings available -- even my $49 MP3 player has an audio equalizer and bass boost controls. The audio output is sufficient but not as LOUD as today's younger users will want it to be.
Hopefully a future firmware update will enhance the DA's MP3 capabilities.
Connecting to PC
When the DA is plugged into your computer here's what you'll see in My Computer. The DA's hard drive will appear after your main hard drive (it's K: on my system), the card slots appear as four removable disks (G: through J: on my system).
Here's the Windows Explorer view of the Digital Album's hard drive. When you copy a card it is placed into the BACKUP folder (see below.) The Transcend folder has some sample photos in it that comes with the DA for demo purposes. The file TRANSC~1.WAV is an audio memo file recorded with the MEMO function.
Each time you copy a card to the Digital Album it is assigned a unique folder name such as 0001, 0002 and etc., and it's placed in the BACKUP sub-folder.
Everything that is on the card is copied, including sub-folders and hidden system files used to keep track of file and folder numbers. So you can make copies of flash memory cards from MP3 players just as easily as those from digital cameras.
Even if you copy the same card twice, each copy will be given a unique folder name on the hard drive. You can use any file management program you want to copy and delete the folders from the Digital Album -- it's just the same as any other removable file device when it's plugged in to the USB cable.
The Digital Album comes with everything you need. You get the Digital Album with the battery pre-installed, a carrying case for the DA and another carrying case for the accessories, a 100~240V AC multi-regional power adapter / charger, Infrared remote control and button battery, USB cable, A-V cable, Stereo earbuds, driver software and manual on CD, a printed manual and quick start manual.
The included 100~240V 50/60 cycle AC power adapter is made to be compatible with the power plugs and voltages in most countries around the world. Using a double set of folding prongs and a removable "UK key" pin it can be configured to fit most any wall outlet without need of additional adapters.
It takes about four hours (twelve hours is recommended for the initial charge) to recharge the internal 2200mAh Li-ion battery pack. A fully charged battery has enough power for about 3 to 5 hours of use. The battery pack can be recharged approximately 500 times before it needs to be replaced.
The Digital Album compared in size to a standard CD.
All things considered I was quite impressed with the Digital Album. We recently reviewed Transcend's PhotoBank, a great little 20GB portable storage unit with flash memory card slots that sells for $269.99. The Digital Album sells for $359.99 and uses the same 1.8-inch 20GB hard drive and Li-ion battery but includes the ability to view images and movies on its 2.5-inch color LCD or a TV set. For less than $100 difference in price you get a lot more "bang for the buck" as it also offers the ability to output to a TV set, comes with a wireless remote and can also be a fairly decent MP3 player too.
The DA's main job is to act as a portable storage unit for digital camera users and it performs this function quickly and easily. Insert your card and press a total of 3 buttons and it is off and running on its own. A graphical progress bar display is shown during the copy process to let you know how it is doing. As I stated in the review, the actual copy time depends on the media and the amount of data being copied. Using a fairly average Secure Digital card I copied 512MB of data in about ten minutes. The copy process is automatic and needs no user attention so you could carry the DA on your belt, swap cards and keep on shooting with very little delay.
As a playback device I was impressed with how fast the DA was able to display even large, 7-megapixel camera images. The eight thumbnail image preview screens were assembled within a few seconds and when viewing these images full-screen it only required 2-3 seconds to go from one image to another. Some of the earlier photo viewing gizmos that I've used were OK when used with VGA-size images but choked when dealing with the larger full resolution camera images. I'm happy to report that it is not a problem for the DA. Note that only JPEG images can be viewed, it will not display TIFF or any kind of RAW image formats. It does happily backup anything on the flash card or Microdrive, but you can only view JPEG still images.
Playing movies was somewhat of a mixed bag. The majority of the AVI and MOV type movie files that we tried worked just fine. The only specification that I could find in the manual or at the manufacturer's site simply stated that it is capable of playing M-JPEG motion files. When you view your movie files in Thumbnail list mode you will either see a thumbnail image of the first frame of the movie or an icon which indicates that the DA cannot decode the movie properly. I was not able to play any MPEG1 or MPEG2 encoded movies (files that use the .MPG extension.) When playing back a movie, the 320x240 size movies play in a centered but not full-screen mode. The higher quality 640x480 movies do playback full-screen and looked great on my 42-inch plasma screen in the living room.
And the DA is also an MP3 song player, but this seems to be more of an after-thought than a primary function. Yes it does play MP3 song files and yes it is fairly easy to find and play a particular song. What it lacks is any kind of audio control other than a simple "up" and "down" volume control. There is no audio equalizer or bass boost and the output is adequate but not nearly as loud as most inexpensive MP3 players already on the market. The Digital Album is not going to be putting much of a dent in iPod sales that's for sure.
Know what's really cool? Going to your friend's house and plugging your DA into his big screen TV and then sitting back and controlling the action with the handy little remote control. It also makes a great backdrop for family or business get togethers, just have an automated slideshow running along on its own. And let's not forget that you can just carry the DA along with you and show off your photos and movies to other people on its builtin color LCD. This is not a low-res muddy looking LCD either, it is big and bright and very colorful and better than most found on the back of even the most expensive digital cameras.
I give the Transcend Digital Album a definite "Two Thumbs Up" - it's cool and easy to operate and works as advertised and doesn't cost a fortune - who could ask for more?
Digital Album Specifications
|Memory cards Supported||CompactFlash Card type I / type II (CF)|
Smartmedia Card (SM)
Memory Stick (MS)
Memory Stick Pro (MS Pro)
Secure Digital (SD)
|LCD||2.5-inch LTPS high resolution True Color display (294 x 288 pixels)|
|Viewable Images||JPEG still and M-JPEG motion only|
|Music File||MP3 type only|
|Video Out||NTSC or PAL selectable|
|Hard Disk||1.8-inch 20GB|
|Power Source||Internal: Li-ion rechargeable battery 2200mAh|
External: USB port 5V
|Battery life||3 - 5 hours (full charge)|
|Download interface||Fast USB 2.0 |
(Backward compatibility with USB 1.1)
|Download Speed||Up to 480Mbps|
|Files System||Support Standard FAT 12/16/32|
|PC Peripheral||USB 2.0 Interface with standard storage device|
|OS Supported||Windows 98/98SE, Win 2000, Win XP|
Mac OS 10.0.1 and above
|Operating Temperature||5°C / 70°C|
|Weight||231g (including battery)|
|Dimensions||111.4 x 83.7 x 24.5 mm|