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Digicams get Wi-Fi-connected with SD card

Posted: 06 Oct 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Wi-Fi in digicam  SD card Wi-Fi  Wi-Fi connectivity camera 

Eye-Fi offers Share, a Wi-Fi-enabled Secure Digital (SD) card that makes it easy and affordable to add Wi-Fi connectivity to any digital camera with an SD card slot. Eye-Fi's product line-up includes five Wi-Fi SD card/service combinations between $50 and $150.

The only marketed hardware difference is the inclusion of either 2Gbyte storage in the Home and Share versions or a 4Gbyte storage in the Share Video, Explore Video and Pro versions. Photo sharing Website uploads, Wi-Fi triangulated geotagging service, free Wi-Fi hotspot uploads, and the ability to upload RAW files provide the remainder of the differentiation between the five solutions. For this teardown, we paid $60 for the 2Gbyte Share version, which includes the ability to upload pictures to photo sharing Websites.

Combining Wi-Fi and a digital camera dates back to 2003 when Nikon introduced the WT-1 wireless transmitter, which attached to the bottom of a Nikon D2H DSLR. With the transmitter at a cost above $700 combined with the $3,500 Pro D2H, the benefits of bringing the two technologies together were well out of reach of the average consumer. The 2006 availability of the $350 Nikon point-and-shoot 5Mpixel P2 featuring integrated Wi-Fi enabled consumers to finally afford and realize the benefits of a wireless camera. Other camera manufacturers including Kodak, Canon and Sony soon released their own point-and-shoot digital cameras with integrated Wi-Fi.

A Wi-Fi-enabled SD card makes it easy to add Wi-Fi connectivity to any digital camera with an SD card slot. (Click to view full image)

DSLRs benefit, too
Spotting an opportunity to provide wireless connectivity while letting the consumer choose the camera, Eye-Fi was founded in 2005, the same year that the affordable Nikon P2 made its debut. Any camera, including high-end DSLRs, can benefit from Eye-Fi's solution as long as it has an SD card slot. Immediate Wi-Fi connectivity is not required since the embedded 2Gbyte or 4Gbyte on the card can store the images until the camera comes within range of a wireless access point.

After unwrapping the 2Gbyte Share version, the SD card was inserted into the included USB card reader and connected to a laptop PC. The Eye-Fi software comes pre-loaded on the card and self-installs on the PC. After registering on the Eye-Fi website and setting up Picasa as the on-line destination for photos, the card was placed in the SD slot of an old, 4Mpixel Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z2 camera. In no time, I was taking pictures in my office and watching the images get uploaded to the Eye-Fi Website and into the selected Picasa album. I was thoroughly impressed with Eye-Fi's technology and implementation.

Considering battery life
The honeymoon phase faded a bit once the flashing red low-battery indicator appeared on the camera's LCD. My primary concern going into this experiment with the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card was the impact it would have on my camera's battery life and the red flashing light was confirming my fear. Since I didn't place a fresh set of AA batteries into the camera prior to the test, it wasn't fair to place all of the blame on the newly inserted Wi-Fi card. The only way to truly understand the impact of transmitting each photo via Wi-Fi was to bypass the power supplied by the four AA batteries and connect the power and ground leads of the Wi-Fi card to the Portelligent source measure unit while inserted in my camera.

The power consumed by the Eye-Fi Share card could then be compared, using the same methodology, against the power consumed when storing the picture on a standard SD memory card.

With the camera in standby or turned off, the Eye-Fi card consumed an average of 72mW while keeping the onboard Wi-Fi in a low-power mode pinging for a Wi-Fi host. Brief power spikes of 585mW every 60 seconds indicated the Eye-Fi was attempting to keep an active connection with an access point. The standby power consumed by a standard SD memory card was less than 1mW with a brief spike to 30mW at camera startup.

After taking a picture with the Eye-Fi installed in the DiMAGE Z2, the camera LED, indicating the image was being stored to the 2Gbyte of NAND memory provided by a Samsung K9LAG08U1M, blinked for approximately 15 seconds while saving the 1.7Mbyte picture. Data flow from the camera to memory and memory to Wi-Fi is managed by a Hyperstone S4-LDK01 flash memory controller. The average power consumed during the save to non-volatile memory was 170mW on the Eye-Fi card. The same resolution image stored on a standard SD memory card took approximately 2.5 seconds with an average power consumption of 44mW�a far lower total integrated power for the simple act of storing an image.

Once the picture was captured and stored in the non-volatile memory, the Eye-Fi manager located in the Windows system tray began blinking indicating communication between the Eye-Fi card in my camera and my laptop. Nineteen seconds later, the image I captured with my camera appeared in a small window on my laptop with a percent bar. According to the status bar, the 1.7Mbyte image required approximately 39 seconds to transfer from the camera to the laptop at a rate of 45KBps.

Examining the power consumption results from the source measure unit reveals the Wi-Fi chipset, an Atheros AR6001G-BC1E ROCm (Radio-on-a-Chip) mobile WLAN solution combined with an Epic FM2422 2.4GHz front-end module, consumes an average of 160mW over a 75-second time period (19 seconds setup, 39 seconds Wi-Fi transfer, 17 seconds closing operations) during an image transfer. All ICs, including the memory components, are single-side mounted on a Wintec PCB with a 2007 date stamp. Again this total power consumed for wireless transfer is an additional burden on the camera battery over traditional card-based download.

- Jeff Brown

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