We finally got a chance to get a pregnant woman in the office to check out the Voluson i... GE's portable 4D machine. I had to see how the imaging was on live patients and if it's as good as the large console units. I posted portions of a video of the scan on the GPS Medical Website.
First off, when you see this unit you can't help but wonder if something so small can be any good. You can see here that I've taken pictures of the Voluson i sitting next to my business laptop and also sitting on top of the monitor of a BT05 Voluson 730 Pro. You can see that this system is small.
When we tested this unit on our baby phantom, it was hard to what the true 4D image quality would be. So we brought a friend in to see how the system would do. She was 37 weeks pregnant, so we were a bit nervous to see what would come of it. The baby's face was also in the placenta for much of the scan, but we were able to get some good shots as you can see from the images here on this page. We also have the Voluson i video at our website.
In the video, you'll hear us talking and you'll hear the baby's big brother talking. It's hard to tell from these shots, but the baby would react when the boy would talk to her. It made for an awfully great moment.
Regarding the system, we found that the 2D image quality was much like the GE Logiq e, with which we were also very impressed. This image was very similar and had surprisingly good penetration for such a small machine. In 4D, however, the our initial experience showed that image quality wasn't quite up to par with even the oldest version of the Voluson 730. We didn't think this could be right, so we started making adjustments and tweaked our way to some solid image quality in 4D for "babyface" type images. And this wasn't a simple threshold/gain/mix adjustment. We needed to get into some deeper settings to really show improvements over the factory defaults. But this thing does good 4D for those of you who are looking to add 4D to your practice. I didn't take any shots of the 2D, but believe me that it's impressive. The quality is better than you would find on anything up to BT04 in the Voluson line (although I haven't had a large patient to really test this unit on so I can't truly speak to its penetration in 2D). I was as impressed with this as I was with the Logiqe. It's amazing how much this has become software-driven and not hardware-driven... we're seeing technology from a 400lb machine compete with with an 11lb machine. It's crazy. Please email me if you have questions or would like to see something specific that I'm not covering here.
Moving on to the console, I'm fairly disappointed that they didn't make this more truly laptop-like in its connections. It has some standard outputs, but connecting this to a DVD/RW was not as easy as you'd hope. Available connectors include one VGA out, an RGB Connection for a color printer that must be from another planet. You'll need a video converter if you want to connect this to a DVD-Recorder or VCR. Who wants to haul all that around? We were able to connect the machine to extermal S-Video Connections, VGA, a DVD-R, and DVD-Recorder successfully and simultaneously, but it takes a bit of work and research. Plus, when attaching the CD/DVD writer via the USB, the machine gave us some fits, but we eventually got it worked out. Yes, the setup on these is difficult, but once you know what to do and the specific things to purchase, it's not too bad.
What's really cool, though, is the USB connectors. You can connect to a bluetooth printer, usb printer, and I transferred files to my USB memory stick in seconds. It was very cool. So if you have two offices, you can just purchase two different USB or Bluetooth printers and not have to carry the printers with you.
The keyboard is about as good as it can get without making it overly complicated. Plus, it's backlit, making its sometimes-hard-to-read keys just a bit easier. They don't have much real estate to fit in all the controls and still make it user-friendly. So I guess there's not much to critique here, but it definitely takes some getting used-to. There are many functions for many different buttons (some inconsistencies with them, as well) and it's not as intuitive as they've done in the past. I thought I could figure most of it out on my own, but I ended up spending an hour or so with the manual to find all those things that seemed to be hiding while I was doing the scan. Lesson: get apps training on this one... for presets and for the hidden stuff.
The bottom line: this thing is really incredible. Yes, it has its drawbacks... but look at the size of it. I'd have to say GE got it right again on the so-called "HCU" or Hand Carried Units (I don't know how a laptop is truly hand-carried, but whatever). There's obviously room for improvement here, but the price, performance, and flexibility of this unit is pretty darn awesome. These things are impossible to find on the used market... ours was sold within a day of receipt. They're hip and hot right now. However, if I were in an office setting and this unit didn't need to move much, a large console is easier on the RSI factor, it's more flexible, easier to use, and a bit more powerful. All that said, if a machine needs to move between rooms or offices, you couldn't beat this unit if you are even considering 4D capabilities. You're not sacrificing much for the convenience.