Epson P4000 and Archos AV500 portable storage


So you have your digital camera and lens, and you've even perfected your photographic technique. Now you want to venture further afield and take images on your birding or family holiday. One obvious difficulty immediately arises – how will you store the hundreds of images that you take on holiday, without taking a laptop or a sackful of memory cards with you?

The answer is simple – get a portable storage device. These units enable you to download images directly from your memory card in the field, so that you can re-format your card and start shooting with it again straight away. The last few years have seen a plethora of such devices arriving on the market, many now coming complete with a good-quality LCD screen. Over the spring I tested two of them: the Epson P4000 and the Archos AV500 DVR.

The P4000 is the successor to the popular P2000. With a massive 80 GB of storage capacity, it can store more images than my laptop. It has integral CF and SD card slots, but will support other types of card with an additional third-party adapter which is bought separately. What sets the P4000 aside from any other portable storage device I have seen or used before is the quality of the 3.8-inch LCD screen. Epson has incorporated exclusive Photo Fine technology, which utilises two core techniques – ultra-fine precision processing and the capability to deliver three colours (red, green and blue) per pixel. Additionally, this unique technology provides a superb resolution of 212 pixels per inch. This ensures that every detail of your downloaded images is displayed with vibrancy and clarity – you can zoom your pictures up to a staggering 1,266 per cent (JPG only) before any pixellation appears. Typical digital camera viewing panels and competitive viewer products only offer one colour per pixel and a resolution of 80-100 pixels per inch.

The sales brochure claims that downloading a full 1 GB CF card of 80x write speed should take no more than six minutes. I found that a 4 GB Kingston 100x CF card full of 2.6 GB JPEGs took 33 minutes to download fully. The ability to store RAW files makes the P4000 attractive to professionals who prefer to shoot in this mode. As well as supporting RAW files, it will store and play MPG video files and MP3 sound files.

The layout of the browser was simple and easy to use, enabling me to create, name, protect and arrange new albums full of pictures without having to refer to the instruction manual. The buttons are clustered around one large circular navigation button – you can operate the unit with one hand.

What I have found frustrating with previous storage devices that have an LCD screen is the rate at which the screen refreshes when browsing through an album. The P4000 delivers here too, with an almost instant load of the next file, though this is slower when viewing large RAW files. In playback mode, it is also easy to access the EXIF data and histogram of each picture, although this option is not available for RAW files.

A single Lithium ion rechargeable battery gave more than three hours of continuous viewing of files, or two hours of continuous downloading of CF cards.

The Archos AV500 DVR is more than just a storage device: it is also a complete portable entertainment system that can play and record audio and video. It is available in either 30 GB or an enormous 100 GB models – I tested the former.

‘DVR’ stands for Digital Video Recorder, and that is this machine’s primary function. The complete package includes a ‘TV Pod’, which enables the user to digitally record TV programmes, record from DVDs or even digitally record programmes from a VCR for playback on the AV500. This is a useful feature should you wish to load some identification DVD/VCR excerpts of problem species to your Archos for playback on holiday. I watched an episode of the BBC programme Rome and was very impressed with the quality of the sound and picture.

At four inches wide, the high-resolution LCD screen is even larger than the Epson P4000’s and is very impressive when viewing either video or photo files, although the screen refresh rate was a little slower. The AV500 has full support for JPGs and BMPs but not RAW files – they can be downloaded to the system but cannot be viewed. Although significantly lighter and also smaller than the Epson, the AV500 does not have dedicated memory card slots. Images can be downloaded to the device by a USB lead to the camera, but this then renders the camera inoperable during the download.

I got round this problem by downloading via a USB lead to a mini CF reader, which enabled me to continue to use the camera during download, but this is not a particularly practical solution.

I found it difficult to navigate around the AV500’s split-screen browser, but mastered it after some practice. I could then drag and drop, copy or rename files and folders. The main reason for the initial confusion was the staggering array of buttons the AV500 has, 11 of them altogether in two clusters. To navigate around some of the menus you need to use the main D-Pad, and for others you need to use the four buttons underneath.

Although the Archos AV500 is an excellent all-round entertainment device with many desirable features, it is really most suitable for tech-savvy users. What I particularly liked about Epson’s P4000 was the sheer simplicity of it – any device that you can take out of the box and start to use immediately, without having to refer to the instruction manual, gets my vote every time.

Tech spec

Epson P4000

  • Price: £422
  • Size: 147x314x84 mm
  • Weight: 400 g
  • Memory: 80 GB
  • LDC screen size: 3.8 inches

Archos AV500

  • Price: £275
  • Size: 124x18x76 mm
  • Weight: 255 g
  • Memory: 30 GB (100 GB version available)
  • LDC screen size: 4 inches