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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Misinformation: What’s With XQD?

New memory cards and a brand-new format stir up the battle over storage of your images

Nikon's flagship D4 DSLR is the first camera to offer compatibility with the new XQD memory card format.
Announced originally by the CompactFlash Association as a successor to the CompactFlash format, Sony also released details on the same day about the first cards that will hit the market. Promising up to a blazingly fast 1 Gb/s data read and write speed that translates into an approximate 125 MB/s transfer of files, Sony says the cards (with 16 GB and 32 GB capacities at $129 and $229, respectively) will be capable of a burst rate that can last for about 100 consecutive RAW frames in continuous shooting mode on the D4. The memory cards are sized smaller than CompactFlash, but larger than SD cards, and they're based on a PCI Express (PCIe) interface with a theoretical throughput as fast as 5 Gb/s and possible capacities above and beyond 2 TB.
Myth: The Single Memory Format
Not too shockingly considering new video file limitations in the EOS-1D X of just under 30 minutes, Canon also has endorsed the new format, although as of this writing no cameras have been announced that will in-corporate the design. Interestingly enough, SanDisk and Lexar, two major names in the memory card manufacturing biz, have remained noncommittal. Instead, at this year's CES, Lexar announced a new line of CompactFlash cards. The Lexar Professional UDMA 7 CF cards ($169 for 16 GB, $299 for 32 GB, $529 for 64 GB and $899 for 128 GB) include speeds of up to 150 MB/s and support of the VPG-20 specification, which means that the cards have been tested to withstand demanding sustained writing of video files at a minimum of 20 MB/s without dropped frames. In other words, XQD is offered as the successor to the CompactFlash format while CF cards are still growing with ever-larger capacities and increasing rates of data transfer.

Meanwhile, on the ubiquitous SD card front, SanDisk and Lexar also announced large-capacity 64 GB and 128 GB SDXC/HC cards at this last CES. SD cards are tiny, which makes them ideal for use in modern electronics, which is why SD cards find themselves embedded in a large variety of consumer electronics and the majority of digital cameras. The SD Association also announced a new standard for wireless communication to and from SD cards, a feature sadly lacking in pro camera gear. The "intelligent SDIO" standard (iSDIO) offers this definition of the two interface types: 'W' for server upload and peer-to-peer function and home network cards designated by a 'D'. The Wireless LAN SD standard is applicable to both full-sized SD/SDHC/SDXC and microSD/SDHC/SDXC cards (primarily used in cell phones). Images can be shared peer-to-peer and the cards will be able to receive images and files, too, even in smartphones and tablets. Another entrant in the market, Toshiba's 8 GB FlashAir SDHC card is the first card designed to meet the new standards. It uses a browser interface for receiving and transmitting files, with larger capacities planned for the future. (Though 8 GB may not seem like much, wirelessly streaming of images also can clear space up as needed while shooting.)

Despite the economy, the last year has seen an explosion in video creation, with estimates claiming that more than 50% of video created was in high definition. That translates to a lot of storage space and a need for a lot of bandwidth to handle such large throughputs of files with sustained data transfer. Spurred largely by the capacity-hungry needs of video files and now 3D video needs, as well, memory cards are evolving to meet the needs of cameras and other digital technologies. And as USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt interfaces begin to take a foothold, as well, basics to a workflow are continually improving, which will produce even more efficient cameras, faster computers and more capable gear in the near future, plus cards that are capable of more than just storage.


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