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Multimedia Handheld: 
    Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC (12/2000)

    by Douglas Dixon

"Pocket PC" is Microsoft's new name for its most recent design for a handheld system based on the Windows CE operating system. The "Windows-Powered" Pocket PC system goes beyond the basic organizer functions of Palm handhelds by including built-in Pocket versions of Windows applications and multimedia. With removable storage and even earphone jacks, a Pocket PC handheld is also a portable music player. And with a color display and audio output, it can even serve as a portable video player.

            Self-portrait of Cassiopeia E-115 with Digital Camera

Casio's product based on the Pocket PC design, the Cassiopeia E-115, goes a step further to offer an Digital Camera Card attachment. With the digital camera, the Cassiopeia can serve as not only a digital camera, but also as a video camera and player. That's a lot of multimedia power in your pocket!

Pocket PC

The Pocket PC is Microsoft's latest release of the Windows CE operating system and built-in applications for small pen-based handheld devices (see www.pocketpc.com). Microsoft coined the Pocket PC name to emphasize that the device goes beyond a simple Palm-like organizer to support more PC-like capabilities in a pocket device.

The power of the Pocket PC design is that it goes beyond the organizer functions of the Palm handheld to also serve as an audio player, a portable color game player, and an eBook reader. And the use of a Windows-based operating system also provides better integration with the Windows desktop and Microsoft's Windows-based applications. But this additional capability comes at a cost, in size and weight, and also in complexity compared to the simplicity of the Palm architecture.

The Pocket PC offers strong integration with the Windows desktop and applications. When you dock the Pocket PC handheld to your computer (via a cradle attached to your serial port), the Pocket PC appears as a new device on your desktop, complete with its own directory structure and files. You can simply drag and drop files to transfer them between the handheld and the desktop, and even reorganize files in subdirectories. Unlike the Palm, where you simply synchronize files with your applications without having to know about directories, the Pocket PC offers the flexibility (and additional complexity) of its Windows-based heritage.

The Pocket PC provides even tighter integration with Microsoft's Windows applications. For organizer functions, it ships with a pocket version of Microsoft Outlook, with calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes. For your other documents, the Pocket PC includes Pocket Word and Pocket Excel, plus Money for Pocket PC and Pocket Streets. You can view and edit your desktop files on your handheld, and then synchronize them back to your desktop.

For communication, Microsoft Outlook provides e-mail, and Pocket Internet Explorer can access Web sites. The Pocket PC also ships with Microsoft Reader for reading electronic books with Microsoft's ClearType technology for crisp text. You can also listen to recorded eBooks on the Pocket PC, from sources like Audible.com.

While you can provide most of these functions on the Palm, they are not integrated, and require a mix of third-party solutions. As I described in my article in last month's C&CV, you can even play audio and video clips on the Palm, but its basic design is focused on preserving simplicity for organizer functions.

Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC

The Casio Cassiopeia is one of several new slimmer and sexier Pocket PC systems now available. Others include the Compaq iPAQ (around $499) and HP Jornada models (from $499 to $599). For this article, we will concentrate on the Casio Cassiopeia E-115 (around $499), since Casio offers the Digital Camera attachment. The basic capabilities of these products are very similar, with the Windows CE operating system and Microsoft's Pocket applications. They differ mainly in the details of their industrial design and user controls, built-in memory, expansion capabilities, and additional applications.

The Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC E-115 is a palm-size Pocket PC unit that still can fit into a shirt pocket, at 9 oz. and 3 1/4" wide by 5 1/8" long and 3/4" deep. It has a bright TFT color LCD, with 65,536 colors and 240 x 320 resolution. It is powered by a 131 MHz MIPS VR4121 processor, with 32 MB of base memory. Casio estimates the battery life with the rechargeable lithium-ion battery at 6 hours. For expansion, the Cassiopeia E-115 includes a CompactFlash slot for 3.3V Type I / Type II cards.

Casio also offers an optional digital camera, the Casio Digital Camera Card, JK-710DC ($299 SRP). The camera is only 1.6 oz., with a rotating lens mounted on a CompactFlash card. It is inserted in the slot on top of the Cassiopeia, and can point out the top, towards you, or away from you. The camera has a fixed focal point F2.8 lens with macro position, and a focus range from 30.7 inches to macro 3.9 inches. The CCD has 350,000 pixels, so the camera can capture still image snapshots at VGA (640x480) or 1/4 VGA (320x240) resolution. But you can also use the camera to capture short movie clips, at 1/9 VGA (208x160) and 1/16 VGA (160x112) resolution.

Pocket PC Audio

The Pocket PC platform has strong support for audio, serving both as a portable music player and as an audio recorder. The built-in Notes application not also lets you enter notes by typing or by capturing your pen strokes as digital "ink," but it also supports a Voice Recorder function to capture your notes as audio files. You can also set the input audio quality, including compression rate, sample rate, 8 or 16 bits, and mono or stereo.

As a portable music player, the Pocket PC includes a built-in version of the Windows Media Player. The Pocket PC player works with the new desktop Windows Media Player version 7, described in my "Video Jukeboxes" article in the October 2000 C&CV. The Pocket Media Player interface has nice big controls you can operate with your finger tips for playing and skipping through your songs, as well as options to organize your music into playlists.

Like the desktop Windows Media Player, the Pocket Media Player is designed to play files in Windows Media, and not MP3, compressed format. Microsoft provides a desktop tool, the Windows Media Manager for Pocket PC, that converts files to Windows Media format and downloads them to the Pocket PC. Windows Media Player 7 also has built-in support for downloading songs and playlists directly to supported portable devices.

Casio Video Capture - Mobile Camera

The Casio Cassiopeia E-115 extends the audio capabilities of the Pocket PC platform through the Digital Camera Card for capturing and displaying photo images and video movies. Casio also provides Pocket PC software applications to capture and play images and video, and Windows desktop software to play and convert video files.

The main Casio Pocket PC application is Mobile Camera. Version 2.0, described here, combines the functions of capturing still images, capturing video, playing photo slideshows and video clips, and organizing your captured media files into albums.

The Mobile Camera application has two basic modes, Photo and Movie. In Photo mode, you can record snapshots at resolutions of 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. You can also capture stop-action images every 5, 10, or 15 seconds at down to 212 x 160 or 160 x 120 resolution, and use a count-down timer to start recording. Photo images are stored in JPEG format, at three different quality settings.

                      
    Casio Mobile Camera application - Live Video capture screen
            Casio Mobile Camera application - Snapshot index screen
                    Casio Mobile Video Player Application - On Windows desktop

In Movie mode, the Mobile Camera application can capture movies at 212 x 160 or 160 x 120 resolution. You can also record audio along with the video clips. The length of the clips that you can record is limited by the available free memory, and typically can be under a minute. After you record a movie clip, the application processes the data to compress and store it, which can take approximately twice as long as the original capture.

Mobile Camera also provides other helpful options, including setting white balance for outdoor, incandescent, and florescent lighting, or disabling white balance for shooting documents and business cards. It also provides a screen brightness control for adjusting the brightness level of the display for battery and AC powered use. You can even choose the background pattern to be displayed around the playback screens.

Once you have captured your photo stills and video clips, the Mobile Camera application provides a thumbnail index screen to scroll through your material. The captured media is stored in files with default names composed from a prefix (i.e., PIC for pictures, MOV for movies), the date, and a sequence number (i.e., MOVmmddyynn). You can view the images or video clips, display properties, rename or delete files, and move files to a different folder. You can view your photos reduced to fit in the display window, or full-screen and rotated to fit the entire display, or scroll around in them full-size. As you view the images in a selected folder, you can also display them as a slide show. The Slideshow screen also has a nice video-like slider control for flipping rapidly though a collection of images.

When you play back movie clips, the Mobile Camera application provides extensive controls for moving through the material. You can play forwards and backwards, change the playback speed, skip forward and back, and use a slider to scroll through the full clip. It also has a handy frame capture function that captures a still image of the current movie frame.

The Mobile Camera application also has a built-in Album function, so you can create organize albums that include both your images and video clips. You start an album by importing all the files in a specific folder, and then add and delete other files, and add your own text annotation. Albums can have different formats, with font and back covers, index pages, and album pages with one, three, or six images per page.

Casio Video Player and Converter

Beyond capturing and playing back recorded video, you can also use the Cassiopeia E-115 as a portable movie player for clips that you have converted and download from your desktop Windows PC.

Casio provides a separate Mobile Video Player application for the Pocket PC to play downloaded clips. Version 2 is essentially the player function from the Mobile Camera application. It provides a file list screen to view the contents of the folders on your Pocket PC handheld, and a movie playback screen with a full range of play controls to view each movie file, including playback speed and auto repeat. It also provides controls to rename, move, and delete files.

Casio uses its own Casio movie format (.CMF) video file format, based on MPEG 1. In order to download and play a clip on the Cassiopeia, it must be converted to CMF format. To do this, Casio provides the Mobile Video Converter application for Windows. Mobile Video Converter version 1.0 can convert AVI, QuickTime, and MPEG 1 video files. The application has a very simple interface: You select the input and output files, specify the video resolution (208 x 160 or 160 x 112), and sound quality (normal or high, for stereo), and then press Convert. The application then converts your movie to a CMF format file, that you can then download to the Cassiopeia.

To view your CMF movie files on the PC, Casio also provides the Mobile Video Player for PC. Version 1 is a very simple application, without fancy controls. Using the menu or keyboard keys, you can open a file, play, stop, repeat, step forward and back, and skip to the beginning or end of the file. Casio does not provide a tool to convert files in the other direction, from CMF back to Windows formats.

Video in a Handheld

The Microsoft Pocket PC platform, with color display and audio capture and playback, extends the concept of simple Palm-like handheld organizers to a more extensive handheld multimedia platform. With the Pocket PC, you do not need to carry a separate MP3 player device when you can use the Pocket PC as a media player.

The Pocket PC can also serve as a portable movie player, albeit for short low-resolution clips. Products like the ActiveSky player (www.activesky.com) and MpegTV PocketTV player (www.mpegtv.com) let you download clips from the Web and your desktop to play on the Pocket PC.

The Casio Cassiopeia E-115, with the Digital Camera Card attachment, turns the Pocket PC platform into a photo and video recorder. Using the Casio software, you can capture snapshots, time-lapse, and movie clips, and organize them into slide shows and albums to present right on your handheld. You can also convert and download other files from your desktop PC, and upload the captured files for viewing on your PC. This is the kind of multi-function capability that the Pocket PC platform was designed to support.

References

Microsoft Pocket PC 
    www.PocketPC.com

Casio Cassiopeia Pocket PC 
    www.casio.com

Compaq iPAQ 
    www.compaq.com/products/handhelds

HP Jornada 
    www.hp.com/jornada

ActiveSky player 
    www.activesky.com

MpegTV PocketTV player 
    www.mpegtv.com