Canon just announced the Connect Station CS100. It's a set-top box that interfaces with your camera for viewing all your photos and videos right on your TV. The Connect Station is an attempt by Canon to establish itself as the most super-consumer-friendly camera brand around, and this new piece of hardware is clearly aimed at fumbling newbies who long for simplicity.
The Connect Station CS100 is basically a 1TB hard drive with Wi-Fi, NFC, and an HDMI port. It costs $300 and drops in April. You connect it to your TV set, and then wirelessly transmit your photos and videos from the camera to the box. Once they are stored on the drive, you can flip through them to your heart's content. You can also send your photos out into the internet wild with the Canon Image Gateway service built right in.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to this device, such as the ability to view RAW formats on your TV (only Canon RAW files will work), and Canon's very own special sauce of Wi-Fi and NFC that makes wireless transfer very quick and simple. However, we are left with a bit more skepticism than excitement.
First off, the Connect Station only supports playback at 1080p. That leaves a great deal of sparkly new 4K TVs out in the dust. Viewing your high-res photos in 4K is sublime, and you simply can't do it with this device. Then you have the simple question of whether people really want another piece of hardware sitting below their TV for a task that isn't all that hard to do without the extra baggage. Most TVs now come with a USB slot, some even with an SD card slot, where you can plug in and view your photos directly. Sure, you might have to first transfer the photos fro the camera to a USB stick, but even the fairly unseasoned computer user can figure that one out.
Still, the Connect Station definitely adds a hearty layer of convenience to the task of viewing photos on your TV, it has USB and SD card slots of its own for those with non-Canon cameras, and it can backup your data to an external hard drive. That's cool. One huge factor in a device like this is the software. If the interface isn't well designed and intuitive, the Connect Station has no chance of succeeding. We won't know how well it does until the box is released in April.
It's clear that Canon is trying to tie its camera-owners into an ecosystem of not just cameras and lenses, but software and peripherals like the Connect Station. That may be great business strategy, but it's usually a headache for consumers who want the freedom of switching brands without rendering their prior investments moot. The Connect Station will have to offer enough enough of a usability advantage to convince people to shove another black brick underneath their TV.