Wednesday, September 06, 2006

GIGA Vu Pro Evolution - Worth the Wait?

I just got back from my one-week vacation today and had some goodies waiting for me. While I should be writing about my trip and posting some pictures from it, those who know me know that I can't resist playing with new toys. We placed an order for the JOBO Giga Vu Pro Evolution back at PMA in March. I saw the prototype at the show, read a great preview over at, and was generally pretty excited to get my hands on one. Well, today I did. The 120GB model ($899) was the first to ship with the 40GB ($499) and 80GB ($699) models coming soon after.

The original ship date was in May. Well, better late than never. When talking to our JOBO rep, I found out that the reason for the delay was a pending FCC approval. I can only assume this has something to do with the Wi-Fi support. The unit doesn't have a radio in it, but has support for a CF card Wi-Fi adapter and a built-in FTP server so you can beam photos from a Wi-Fi enabled camera like the D2X with the WT-2A. This promises to be a very cool feature.

For those who don't know what a GIGA Vu Pro Evloution is, it is a backup device for copying photos from memory cards to a hard drive. Aren't there lots of HD back-up devices out there? Sure, but the GVPE (as the manual calls it for short) is definitely not a "me too" device. The two biggest improvements (besides the Wi-Fi/FTP support) is the speed and the screen. The GVPE is powered by a 400Mhz AMD alchemy CPU and 128MB of RAM, running Linux. This is enough power that it can load and view 17+ megapixel files from memory. It also has co-processors to handle data I/O to the CF card and to the USB 2.0 ports. Instead of the typical hard drives found in iPods and the like, it uses a 9.5mm laptop drive, which is shock-mounted for maximum protection. The GVPE is basically a very, very portable computer weighing only 10.5oz.

Image Viewing

About that speed... I took an Epson P-2000 with me on my trip and offloaded photos. On average, the Epson took at least 20-30 minutes to download a 2GB card. That's a long time to wait to use your card again. I timed the JOBO at 5 minutes, which is about 7MB/sec. JOBO claims an 8.3MB/sec max transfer rate and I got pretty close to that on my informal test. Also, the GVPE gives you the option of generating cached screen-res thumbnails for superfast viewing. This took an additional 16 minutes for 150 NEF/Fine JPEG files from my D200 (300 10MP files total). When I viewed the album, the pictures loaded instantly(!) from one to the next. This beats the Epson hands down, which can take 15-20 seconds to display a D200 JPEG. Even without the preview generation on import, on-the-fly thumbnails only took 4 seconds for JPEGs and 2 seconds for NEF files. I'd suggest using the thumbnail option if you can spare the time and battery power (in your hotel room at night, for instance). The 2200mAh Lion battery should last for about 5 hours of normal viewing, and about 15GB of data transfer.

12-up Thumbnail View

The GVPE screen is really amazing. I thought the Epson had a nice screen. This one is better. Brighter, sharper, wider viewing angle, and more accurate. The 640x480 VGA resolution is quite good on the 3.7" LCD, yielding 217 PPI. JOBO took advantage of color management features available under Linux and provided a profile for the LCD, meaning that you can actually get a good idea of how your shots will look on a "real" monitor. It works, too. I compared the same images on the GVPE next to my Dell Ultrasharp 2405FP, which I calibrate using the Monaco Optix XR. The images were almost an exact match, with the Dell having a just a bit more color saturation (mostly in the reds) and brightness. Color me impressed. This little LCD screen looks better than a lot of laptops screens I've seen and profiled. The smoothness, subltely, and crispness of the images is incredible. The 170 degree viewing angle and anit-glare coating doesn't hurt either.

Histogram Display

Other noteable features include black and white preview, accurate histograms, channel viewer, pixel-for-pixel zoom, batch renaming, offload to external USB HD without a computer, MPEG2/4 30fps playback, MP3 playback, DVI and anologue connections for external viewing with stereo sound, protective rubber cover, joystick for quick navigation, and PictBridge direct printing.

B&W Preview

The batttery lasts a considerable amount of time considering the specs the GVPE posts. 15 Gigs is a lot of pictures whichever way you slice it. Even with DMR Raw files, we're talking about 750 pictures transfered on a single charge. While you can change the battery, you may not want to do so in the field. The battery looks less like a digital camera battery and more like one you'd find on an RC car. In order to remove the battery, you have to remove the rear cover (easy enough), lift the battery out (also easy), then disconnect the connector to the circuit board inside (not as easy). Worse, you'll have to reconnect it and it is tough to get to even with nimble fingers. I don't recommend bothering with the battery. It should have enough juice for 90% of the shooters out there.

The back

Cover comes off easily

Battery pops right out

Not happening

I guess it's fair to say I would have rather had the GVPE with me than the Epson for my latest trip. The P-2000 is not a bad device. The JOBO is just that much better, especially for the working pro and serious amateur. A lot of people ask me why they'd get a $900 backup device instead of a laptop. This is not a replacement for a laptop, and a laptop (no matter how small) is not a replacement for a really good backup device like this one. Sure, the laptop can be used for RAW conversion and Photoshop, but honestly (and maybe it's just me), I like to shoot and be on vacation when I'm on vacation. This means that even though I have a laptop with me, I really don't like to sit for hours doing post processing and sorting. I save that fun for when I get back home. No, I like to back up on the go and relax at the hotel. That's how I roll. Oh yeah, and I really don't feel like carting around at least 6+lbs when I've already got enough pain from lugging all my camera gear (stay tuned for an upcoming entry on that topic, BTW).

The rubber cover protects the screen

Bottom line: GIGA Vu Pro Evolution rocks. Fast and furious with the best portable screen to date, and pro features up the wazoo. It's going in my bag.

If you want to pre-order or know when more come in, call me at Dale Photo & Digital at 800-327-1776.


At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch - I've been looking all over for decent reviews for this product. The only other relevant information was the review at robgalbraith, but that was a pre-production unit. I hate lugging my laptop around, so this is a god-send. Unfortunately they're significantly more expensive here in Denmark, so it might be a while before I can scrape the money together. But thanks for the great review - it'd be cool if you do a follow-up when you've used it a while.


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