Epson P-2000/P-4000 Image Storage and Viewer

A quick review

I bought the P-2000 for my wife, so that she can not only easily offload images from her camera, but also keep her whole collection of photographs in a practical and easy to carry around way. Having heard lots of positive opinions from happy users, including some people whose opinions I trust, I chose the Epson device. Everyone raves about its sharp, contrasty, and colorful screen, and this is really what counts in an image viewer.

The P-2000 has been on the market for a year or so, and it is still selling strong. We paid the full list price of $500, no deep discounting here. Recently Epson released a new model, the P-4000, differing only in hard drive capacity: 80 GB (double that of the P-2000), and this review is equally applicable to both models.

After having used the P-2000 for two weeks, I'm ready to share my observations and opinions with you. Note: the firmware which came with this P-2000 is Version 2.04, upgraded from the original release, but other upgrades may follow, changing the exact specs and the performance.

(Click on the image to see a larger version. Shot with Olympus E-500.)

Functionality

The P-2000 allows you to store and replay media files. While the emphasis is put on still images (especially photographs), the device will also play video and audio files. The supported formats are:

  • Images: JPEG and raw formats for some camera brands (Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, and Epson, with Olympus strangely missing from the list)
  • Video: MPEG-4 (file extensions: .avi, .mov, .mp4, .asf) and Motion JPEG (.avi, .mov).

    Note: Video files may be encoded in a number of standards, and, to keep things more complicated, the accompanying audio can differ, too. For full list of supported codecs refer to the Epson Web site (including the full user manual downloadable from there).

  • Audio: MP3 (.mp3), AAC pr MPEG4 (.aac, .m4a).

Physical

The P-2000 is quite smaller than a paperback: 147×84×31 mm (5.8×3.3×1.2"), and it weighs 415 g (14.6 oz) with battery. Quite chunky, but in the good sense of the word. With the included nylon pouch (nicely made), it fits into my wife's handbag, or in the inner pocket of my jacket.

The front side hosts, in addition to the screen, all controls except for the on/off/lock slider, which is located on the right-hand side. The left-hand side hosts all sockets, and the top one — card slots. The battery compartment door is at the bottom.

Screen

The screen has the "digital" 4:3 ratio and measures 77×58 mm, or 96 mm (3.8") diagonally. The resolution is 640×480 pixels (remember VGA?). Don't be fooled by the small screen (understandable, to keep the device size down): at these pixel dimensions the pixel-per-inch (ppi) count is about 210, twice that of a decent computer display.

The screen is not only sharp; contrast is also good (although not exaggerated), and colors vibrant and pleasing. From what I have seen (and read about), makers of competing devices have yet to catch up with Epson on that.

Interestingly, the display seems to have an 18-bit depth (6 bits per color): Epson claims 262,144 colors available, and log(216144)/log(2) is 18. One might think that the 24-bit RGB would be slightly better (and easier to implement), but the bottom line is that the screen looks darn good anyway displaying continuous-tone images.

The picture shows a close-up of the P-2000 screen; you can see square pixels, each 0.12 mm across, composed of three vertical stripes. While this is similar to a regular TFT screen, I'm not sure if the stripes correspond to RGB components; does Epson use some unorthodox solution here? (Shot with the Olympus C-5060WZ.)

Unfortunately, the screen surface has no anti-glare coating. Under artificial light indoors I often end up seeing a reflection of my own face overlaid with the viewed picture, and this is the last thing I want to see when using the viewer. This sometimes requires changing the viewing angle an/or your position in the room.

Power

The unit is powered with a single, removable Li-Ion battery, EU-97, proprietary to Epson. When fully charged, it will allow for about three hours of viewing activity, which is very good with this screen and type of activity.

Spare batteries can be purchased from Epson.

As importantly, the P-2000 is very energy-efficient when transferring files from memory cards; important when using it in the field to offload images from your camera. Starting from a fully-charged battery you may expect ten or more one-gigabyte cards to be copied before the battery runs low.

Plugging in the included AC adapter allows to charge the battery without removing it from the viewer. The process lasts about three hours; longer if the viewer is used during this time. The adapter works with voltage of 100-240V, so it can be used worldwide with the proper plug adapter (or, better, a standard accessory cord).

It is strongly recommended (although not absolutely necessary) that the adapter is powering the P-2000 while the USB connection to a computer is used; not following this advice may corrupt the viewer's disk and make it to malfunction.

Storage

The P-2000 stores the data on a 40 GB hard drive, of which 3.5 GB are reserved for the operating system. About 36 GB available for storing your pictures. My 8-megapixel JPEGs straight off camera are, on average, about 5 MB each; this means that the P-2000 can hold more than 7,000 such pictures. That's plenty.

(If this is not enough the P-4000 model differs only in drive capacity: 80 GB. I consider this obscene.)

The drive has a 2.5" platter, the same size as in most notebook computers. The drive maker remains unknown, and there is no data on predicted reliability.

Data interfaces and transfer speeds

The P-2000 provides a USB 2.0 interface allowing it to be hooked to a computer for file transfer. This is the "real" USB 2.0, defined as "high speed" in the 2.0 standard (not the lame "full speed" USB 2.0 which is the same as USB 1.1).

In my informal test, copying 1.5 GB worth of data in about 500 JPEG files (3 MB per file) resulted in the average transfer speeds of

  • PC to P-2000 — 10.5 megabytes per second
  • P-2000 to PC — 17.5 megabytes per second.

Interestingly, Simon Joinson in his very informative review at dpreview.com reports a 5.2 MB/s rate for uploading to a PC, less than a third of the speed I've clocked. Putting a possibility of a typo aside, this may mean that either the computer used by Simon has a slower USB interface, or Epson introduced a major speed improvement in firmware revisions from 1.0 (used in that review) to 2.04 (used in this one).

Transferring 229 MB in 1000 JPEG files (0.23 MB/file) from a PC to the P-2000 took 31 seconds; this is 7.4 MB/s; the same files in the opposite direction took 16 seconds, or 14.3 MB/s. This clearly indicates a per-file overhead; let us remember, however, that in photographic applications most files will be between 2 and 12 MB in size, therefore the previous numbers are more representative for such uses.

The nominal USB 2.0 speed is 60 MB/s. Obviously, my numbers reflect not just how fast the interface is, but also the disk read/write speeds, and the necessary CPU time (significant, I would believe, only on the P-2000), plus some disk access related to housekeeping operations. Anyway, I'm impressed with this performance. For comparison, transferring the same files between two physical, internal drives on my mid-range desktop computer resulted in the transfer rate of 20.5 MB/s, just 17% faster than from the P-2000 to a PC. (When compared to my laptop, the P-2000 wins hands down, and the fourth-generation iPod gets just 5.2 MB/s via FireWire.)

The USB socket on the viewer is of the standard mini-plug type, and the proper cable is included.

When the P-2000 is hooked to a computer, it is seen as yet another external drive (formatted in FAT-32) and all file operations on it can be performed normally, without using any dedicated software.

P-2000 also has an A/V output (accepting a 3/8" concentric plug); it can be used to show your images on a TV set. It works OK, and the video standard is switchable between NTSC (USA, Japan) and PAL (rest of the world). The cable is not included, but I have six of those around the house and so do probably you.

Another socket provides sound output to earphones or external amplifier. I haven't used this one.

There are two memory card sockets provided: one for Compact Flash (CF), and one for Secure Data or MultiMedia (SD/MM) cards. The CF socket will also handle MicroDrive devices, and, via optional adapters, XD-Picture, SmartMedia, and MemoryStick cards (don't ask me about various flavors of the last one, as I don't use any MemoryStick products!). Both are protected from dust and dirt with inwards-swinging doors, a feature many PDA and makers forget to include.

The sockets are essential when you use the P-2000 as a field storage device, to offload pictures from your digital camera card, but you can also copy files in the opposite direction, i.e., from the viewer onto a card.

I've timed the transfer of 944 MB of images (250 files, 3.8 MB per file) between a 2 GB SanDisk Extreme III CF card and the P-2000; the average rates were

  • CF to P-2000 — 2.20 MB/s (430 s)
  • P-2000 to CF — 1.89 MB/s (499 s).

The same files copied from a slower and inexpensive (2004 vintage) PQI card took 451 seconds (2.09 MB/s), and the transfer in the opposite direction took 514 seconds (1.84 MB/s). The performance is fairly slow in both cases and it is clear that the Epson device, not the card, is the bottleneck here.

Simon Joinson in his article at DP Review reports card reading speed of 2.04 MB/s with a 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II CF card. (The review contains more timing data, which you may find of interest.)

For the nitpickers: Just for the thrill of it, after upgrading the firmware to the newest Version 2.51, I've clocked the P-2000 reading smaller chunks of data: 229 MB in 1000 JPEG files (0.23 MB/file) took 335 seconds, or 0.68 MB/s. Cutting the total in four (57 MB in 250 files) resulted in the transfer time of 73 seconds (0.78 MB/s).

Something is wrong here. Obviously, this is not the "raw" transfer rate, limited by the card. the hard drive, and the interface between them; the result must have been affected by the per file overhead of file system operations and, possibly, some housekeeping operations. (Just deleting those 1000 files from the device's hard drive took a whopping 131 seconds!)

I suspect the P-2000 does not limit itself to copying files from the card; it must be looking inside them. On another occasion, using the same card, copying of 239 MB in 1119 files (0.21 MB per file) took 1452 seconds (that's right: more than 24 minutes!), an effective transfer rate of 0.165 MB/s. The major difference between this experiment and the previous one was that these files were mostly interlaced JPEGs, which the P-2000 does not recognize as images.

On the other extreme, a single non-image file 842 MB in size was copied from the same card in 333 seconds, at the effective rate of 2.53 MB/s.

While copying data from the card, you may choose an option to delete the originals afterwards, which also includes, for the sake of safety, verification of what was written against the original. If this option is selected, the process will take more than twice as long.

Note: It seems like this operation is no longer available in the new Version 2.51 firmware.

Using the P-2000

The viewer is turned on by pushing down the slider switch at the right-hand side. The slider has also an indented position locking all controls: handy when you are passing it around.

All other controls are located on the front face. There is a four-directional rocker switch for thumbnail and menu navigation, with an OK button at the center, and a smaller Cancel button just next to it. Four more buttons are aligned vertically, flush with the front surface: Print, Menu, Display, and Home; and it is easy to figure out what they do.

When you turn the viewer on, you will find yourself in the main desktop screen. It has a number of icons, all except one representing folders on the hard drive:

  • Saved Data — files copied from memory cards. Each card is copied to a separate subfolder.
  • Albums — with more subfolders. A special one amongst those is named PC Data, and that's where you are supposed to transfer files from a PC via the USB interface.
  • Memory Card — shows the contents of the installed card. Only one card can be active at a time; if both are inserted, a menu will ask you to choose between them.
  • Album Shortcuts: up to three subfolders from the Albums folder can be shown here for faster access.
  • Latest Data groups the most recently transferred files.
  • Settings calls up the Settings menu, from where you can adjust the viewer to your preferences (screen brightness, energy-saving features, etc.). This is also the only place from where you can check the free space left on the disk; quite a time-consuming operation.

The operation is very straightforward. Pressing the OK button activates the highlighted menu option, opens a folder, or displays a picture; pressing Cancel backs up, reversing the operation. I won't bother you with details here; you can always refer to the manual, posted at the Epson Web site.

When you open a folder, the screen will display the names and thumbnails for all images inside it, and icons for other file types. An array of 12 (3×4) thumbnails fits in the screen, and you may scroll up and down. Unfortunately, there is no way to see the summary information (number of files, total size) for a folder.

The thumbnail display is fairly slow. The thumbnails are cached (i.e., remembered for re-use), but this helps just a little. Scrolling up and down is still quite painful, and so is the exiting an image display: you have to wait a about 5 seconds before the current 12 thumbnails (already cached) are redrawn; about twice as long if they have to be created (not shown immediately before).

My big complaint is that P-2000 is using the old 8.3 file naming system. If your file has a name, say, 2005-taos-127.jpg, it will be captioned as 2005-T~1.JPG. Hardly informative.

Image viewing

As I already mentioned, the screen is just gorgeous, and everyone seems to agree on that. When you press the OK button on an icon, it takes a few seconds, depending on image size, for a full-screen to show up, but the experience is quite rewarding.

When viewing an image, the left- and right-arrow keys are used to go to the previous or next one, and the OK button — to zoom in. The maximum magnification seems to depend on the image size, but without a clear rule: for example, I can zoom in an 8 MP image (3200×2400) up to 736%, while an XGA one (1024×768) — up to 500%. The manual does not specify what the zoom limit is and what it depends on.

For JPEG images in larger sizes (say, 5 or 8 MP) the zoomed image fragments are very nice and can easily be used to evaluate the sharpness; useful when you use the viewer to decide on the keepers. Smaller JPEGs, obviously, will be fuzzy when you zoom in excessively.

With raw formats the situation is different. The P-2000 seems to use the embedded JPEG thumbnail for display, including zooming; it does not do any raw-to-JPEG conversion. Embedded thumbnails have quite low resolution, and this limits the zoom usability for raw files.

When an image is zoomed in, you can scroll in all four directions, and a small icon displays the position of the zoomed-in area relative to the full frame, Unfortunately, the icon does not go away after, say, a second of inactivity, which would be a better solution.

Pressing the [Display] button while in the full-screen image display mode brings up the basic EXIF data (if any), embedded in the file. This includes all the basics: camera model, date and time, pixel dimensions, focal length, ISO setting, aperture, shutter speed, autoexposure compensation, white balance, metering mode, and flash usage.

Pressing that button again will display the luminance histogram; this is nice.

A related complaint is that the image number (not file name) is shown at the bottom of the screen, and it stays on all the time as well. First, the number means nothing: it cannot be used to identify the picture later, unless you go to the top of the directory, and scroll down, counting. Second, it does not go away, and there is no way to get rid of it. You have to see a <231> or so in every frame you are viewing, even if you couldn't care less. Distracting, useless, and irritating.

Pressing the Menu button while an image is being viewed brings up the context-sensitive menu. From here you can choose one of the applicable operations: copying to an album, locking against accidental deletion, rotation, slide show, copy to memory card, set print order information, or delete. Simple enough.

Other remarks and quibbles

While the storage and display capabilities of the P-2000 are very good, the underlying software is short of embarrassing, a memory trip back to the Eighties. Here are my biggest complaints, and quite a lot of them.

  1. First of all, the 8.3 naming convention. Come on, since 1995 even Windows uses long file and folder names, and Apple MacIntosh had it from day one. It has been more than ten years! True, most of camera makers stick (also for reasons unknown) to 8.3, but this can be a problem only if you copy a long-named file to a card used then in such a camera; it is hard for me to see why I would like to do that.

    What it means to me is that having a collection of pictures on my PC, with long and meaningful names, I cannot, for example to show them to friends (or clients) letting them choose the ones to print later — going back from the mangled 8.3 names to original ones is impossible. Boo.

  2. It seems like the Epson OS has problems with directories containing large numbers of files. While I was able to copy and access a folder with about 500 pictures, pressing OK on a thumbnail was showing an entirely different image. Splitting the folder into two remedied the situation, but I consider this a critical error.

    (This may be related to the 256-file limit under old versions of DOS/Windows, although a folder with 320 files worked just fine. I didn't feel like investigating the problem further, but it was clear and easy to reproduce.) Another boo.

  3. The JPEG decoding algorithm is limited. It does not read interlaced JPEG image files, commonly used for faster Web display, displaying just a "corrupted file" diagnostics. For most of my images I generate XGA versions for screen use; loading them to the P-2000 for reference purposes does not work. (Well, the loading itself does, but display does not.)

    I'm not talking anything exotic here; this is the first time in five years I discovered an application that would not handle interlaced JPEGs, another boo.

  4. The image rotation function does not work with all images. I wasn't able to rotate any of the pictures imported (after processing) from a PC, receiving only a "The image cannot be rotated" message; and the images were generated with a number of popular graphics programs. Also, files imported from a memory card cannot be rotated while in the Saved Data folder; they have first to be copied to an album. Whether you call it a bug, or an "undocumented feature", this is not right.
  5. The Copy to Album menu option does literally that, nothing else. It creates a duplicate of the selected file. Two other (better) options would be to move the file or put a shortcut. The latter would be, I think, preferable. To add offense to injury, the copied files are (once again) renamed. A big boo.
  6. The access to file system is inconsistent. Once you hook the viewer up to your computer, you are able to see and modify the contents of all directories on the viewer's hard drive. The manual, however, warns against modifying anything except the PC Data subfolder; changes in any others will either not be properly seen by the viewer, or may corrupt its operation. This is understandable, but in such case I would prefer all folders I'm not supposed to play with to stay hidden; a more robust solution.
  7. There is no mechanism provided to arrange your albums into a hierarchical structure of folders; the albums can be created only at one level within the Albums folder. (Subfolders can be created only within Albums/PC Data). The P-2000 will store 5,000-15,000 JPEG images straight from camera, even more if they were reduced for screen presentation. (Double those numbers for the P-4000). Assuming 50 images per album, this gives 100-300 albums. Having them all in a single folder makes browsing rather problematic.

    Once again, directory trees (folders within folders) have been around for more than forty years; maybe it is time to take an advantage from this technical novelty? (The sarcasm is fully intentional.)

  8. Eight, even within PC Data the nested folders are not handled quite well. While browsing a subfolder, its name displayed at the screen top is limited only to the first level; for example, if your folder, imported from the PC, is Albums/PC_DATA/2005/Wedding/Good, all you will see is Albums/PC_DATA. My complaint is not just a whim; it is often important to know where I am, and we are not talking any rocket science here. Boo, boo. boo.
  9. Nine, the support of raw image formats is limited both in width and depth. Some raw formats are simply not supported at all — for example, ORF used by Olympus; a major minus for users of those cameras. For the supported ones (at least some of them) displaying just the embedded JPEG version instead of actual conversion may be a problem for critical uses. It would be also nice to be able to view TIFF, GIF and JPEG 2000 images; I would prefer that to playing MP3 files or videos, Do just one thing, but do it right!

There is no excuse for most of these problems. I understand P-2000 is a portable device, but it has 3.5 GB of hard drive space reserved for its OS use (while the system itself is hosted in 4 MB of flash ROM). Except for the JPEG decoding and rotation, all the features I'm complaining about used to work properly in systems stored in 128 kB of ROM.

To put it short: the software seems to be a spoonful of sewage in an otherwise nice barrel of honey. Interestingly, all reviews or opinions on the E-200 have no, or at most minor, complaints about some of the points I'm raising. Is this just me? (Tastes differ, but I prefer my honey straight up.)

The bottom line

The Epson P-2000 is a well-made, well performing image viewer; thanks to the beautiful screen it does it basic job, displaying images, really well. I haven't even tried any competing models; usually the first look at the screen was enough not to proceed any further. The hard drive speed is most impressive, especially on a portable device, and the battery life is also very good.

All that said, its usability as an image storing device is seriously and irritatingly impaired by limitations and design flaws of the firmware it uses to operate. You will be well-advised to read my complaints above, to see if these will affect your usage of the P-2000. If not, you are lucky, and you will live happily with it ever after. If yes, take a second look, and at least know what you will be giving up.

As for myself, after the first, very positive impression, I started discovering things I didn't like, to the point of being ready to return the P-2000 to the store. Then I decided against doing that: first, you do not really have much of a choice: the competing models do not seem any better in capabilities (and don't offer as good a screen); second, my wife seems to be happy with the Epson, not at all detracted by the shortcomings I'm complaining about. (Well, she's not a computer person, and she may not know what she's missing.)

While I'm not a believer into any star-rating system, for me the P-2000 (or P-4000) gets four stars out of five for the hardware, but only two for the software. Take it or leave it: it faces no serious competition on the market; not yet.

Now that you've heard the good and the bad, you have to make your own decision. The chances are you'll like the P-2000; all users I know are raving about it. In either case, don't blame me.

Web links

I selected these, as you may feel a need to hear a second (or third) opinion. To be honest, most reviewers are very enthusiastic about the P-2000, which may be due to lower expectations, or more limited use, or both.

Update of March 9, 2006: Rob Galbraith wrote a preview of a storage/viewer device named Giga Vu PRO evolution [sic!] made by Philips for the Jobo photo distributor (remember their processing tanks?). According to the author, who was able to handle a pre-production unit, the GVPe has a screen even better than the P-2000 (with the same size), and significantly more powerful software (running under the Linux operating system).

The GVPe (not to be confused with the current Giga Vu PRO, which is missing evolution) is expected to be in stores in April, 2006, selling at about $500 for the 40 GB version. If it actually delivers the promised goodies, and if it shows no unexpected warts, this may become the most attractive option for a serious user, ahead of the P-2000.

(The above assumes that the serious user will not be put off by the moronic name of the product.)

Update of July 4, 2006: The release date has been moved to May, but as of today the GVPe nobody has yet seen the finished product.

Update: new firmware version

In January of 2006 Epson released an updated Version 2.51 of the firmware (still current as of this writing on July 4th).

This version offers support for larger (up to 2 GB) SD cards; it also supposedly addresses the image rotation problem I've mentioned above. I say "supposedly", because the operation failed on the very first JPEG I've tried. Not an encouraging sign.

The interlaced JPEG format still remains unsupported, neither are long (above 8.3) file names.

The upgrade documentation does not mention one thing: the copy/verify/delete option is no longer available in the new firmware. The reasons, for this change (downgrade?) remain unknown.

Support for Olympus raw images is still not implemented. The P-2000 will read and display the thumbnail embedded in ORF files, but will not show the image full-screen.

On the plus side, the upgrade process is painless and well-described in the included PDF document; I've experienced no problems with it.

Speed-wise the new firmware does not seem to introduce any changes: my 944 MB card reading benchmark resulted in the same (within 1 s) transfer time.

Overall, I find this "upgrade" disappointing. Looks like Epson missed the opportunity to use all this time to bring its software to a more civilized shape. And I don't mean introducing any missing features, just fixing the known problems. Too bad.


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Posted 2005/12/16; last updated 2006/07/04 Copyright © 2005-2006 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak.