The Canon Connect Station CS100 finally went from concept to reality at CES 2015. Canon originally showed the prototype device at Canon Expo 2010, a once-every-five-years event that showcases new technologies and upcoming concept designs. Now, nearly four-and-a-half years later, the Connect Station makes its debut. But is it it too little too late?
Maybe. And maybe not. While we've seen numerous attempts at media stations and media streaming devices that connect to our televisions, the Connect Station one is the first to support wireless transfers using NFC as the hand-off mechanism. While the wireless connectivity may sound gimmicky, the truth is it's a highly useful feature that considerably opens up the appeal of the CS100.
The CS100 is set to cost $299.99 (£199, about AU$370) when it launches in June. The compact, square device weighs 20.11 ounces (570g) and measures 6.13 x 2.01 x 6.13 inches (155.6 x 51.1 x 155.6mm). It's designed to look like it fits right in with the black components of your living room stack.
Inside sits a 1TB hard disk drive, and presumably a processor of some sort, though Canon's not talking about what the guts of the box are beyond the disk drive itself. At front, behind a rubberized flap that you can pull off, sits the CompactFlash and SDXC slots. At the rear are a gigabit ethernet connection, an HDMI port and a USB 2.0 port.
The USB 2.0 port is intended for backing up the contents of the Connect Station to another drive only; select the Backup option from the menu, and the CS100 will create a mirror image on the external hard drive, an image that can be read by your PC, for example, or restored to the CS100. Regrettably, Canon chose not to make this port a USB 3.0 port, in spite of the fact that just about all hard drives sold today are USB 3.0 drives. Another unfortunate design choice: The Connect Station's USB port cannot be used for expanding the storage capacity, as is common on network-attached storage drives; nor can it be used to import images from another hard drive.
Ultimately, the CS100's intent is to solve the perpetual problem of consumers leaving everything on their memory card or camera roll, sometimes for months at a time. By ditching the wires, the CS100 makes it far easier to get photos out of the camera, and onto a drive.
Chuck Westfall, technical advisor at Canon, explained the CS100 uses NFC to make the initial handshake between the device and the Canon camera, and thereafter, images are transmitted via Wi-Fi (the CS100 supports 802.11b/g/n). NFC active tags, ratified late last year, are the key to making the timing work for the CS100 to finally come to market, Westfall said.
When I tried the device out, I held one of Canon's new point-and-shoot models with NFC over the cross hairs that mark the magic NFC spot on the top surface of the CS100. I held it in place, waited for a beep, and then saw the a blue LED light blinking at the left corner of the box. The blue light at left blinks to indicate the NFC communication has started, and continues blinking while the file transfer occurs. Once the connection is made, you don't need to leave the camera on top of the CS100; it can rest alongside the device, and it will still transfer files
Once images are inside the CS100, you'll see the new transfers appear under a folder dubbed new images received. From there, you can manually place images into albums. In addition to sorting images by albums, you can also sort them by device type (for example, the camera used to capture the image) and the date taken (default view is by month, then you can drill down to date). The former option may appeal more to photo enthusiasts and professionals, two types of users who might have multiple cameras and might remember shooting an image or set of images with a specific camera.
I would have liked the option to have an entire card imported into the CS100, and then automatically assigned to a folder by import date or an album name assigned at import. However, Canon does offer the ability to mark all imported images and send them to a folder after importing. If your image has geolocation data, the CS100 doesn't show that; nor does it have a way to search images.
Images are displayed in Full HD, though the thumbnails are clearly scaled down for speedier navigation. The CS100 supports viewing JPEG and Canon RAW files, and MP4, MOV,and AVCHD movies.
Just because the Connect Station supports NFC doesn't mean all NFC devices - such as your smartphone - are supported. Said Westfall, "You're not going to put an Android phone next to [Connect Station] and suck [images] in. Station will not support importing images via NFC, but you can transfer images via the image browser on your device. You'll log into the Connect Station via Wi-Fi, and log into Connect Station like it is any other network, then can connect back and forth." For Connect Station to work, the device you're using it with via NFC has to have specific code in the device.
The basic menu design for the CS100 is clean and pleasing, with options for Images, Albums, New images received, Printer, Send/Receive Images, and settings. Printing works via Google Cloud Print, Apple iPrint or via Wi-Fi. You can send and receive images via Canon's Image Gateway to sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Drive and Flickr. Or, you can share images with another Connect Station - a compelling approach for sharing images among families, for example, and a tangible alternative to connected photo frames.
You can create slideshows from images, and even set one of the provided audio tracks as the background music (but you can't import your own audio). The CS100 will show core EXIF image data, such as shutter speed, lens, rating, aperture, ISO, exposure, metering and color space. However, it took several menu clicks to get to this data; as a photo enthusiast, I would prefer to have such information a single click away.
Like all devices designed to work with your television, Connect Station comes with a remote control. I liked how the remote handled, and found it responsive and well-designed.
For as much potential as the Connect Station has, I found so much more I'd like this gadget to do. Fortunately, as is common with such devices, Westfall expects consumer will see firmware updates to add features, though he wouldn't commit to a timeframe or frequency. He noted market feedback will play a role in what features Canon adds down the road.
More features, plus a lower selling price (the quoted price is Canon's MSRP), will go far to make the Connect Station CS100 more appealing.