Digital Photo Frames have been around a while now, like all electronics they continue to evolve in features, ease of use, quality and price.  Recent developments have taken them beyond being just a photo frame to being a media player capable of music, movies, pictures and even accessing net based content.  Before too long we will probably see the high end units turn into lower cost, corded versions of an media tablet.  If you think about it an I-pad with a properly tuned App for organizing and doing slideshows is really the ultimate digital photo frame, except it’s a tad pricey to dedicate to that application.

 

Tomtom5_thumb  Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative.  Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area.  Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels around Thailand and you can get your copy here!  I've got a copy of this book and I can tell you it's well worth it, especially for first time travelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.

When Tom agreed to become part of our small select product review team I was both excited and grateful.  I hope you enjoy this and future reviews by Tom.  For those whose plans include extended travel in Thailand and China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books.  Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at: tomsds@austin.rr.com

 

Digital Photo Frames

Digital Photo Frames have been around a while now, like all electronics they continue to evolve in features, ease of use, quality and price.  Recent developments have taken them beyond being just a photo frame to being a media player capable of music, movies, pictures and even accessing net based content.  Before too long we will probably see the high end units turn into lower cost, corded versions of an media tablet.  If you think about it an I-pad with a properly tuned App for organizing and doing slideshows is really the ultimate digital photo frame, except it’s a tad pricey to dedicate to that application.

 

Digital Photo Frames have several nice advantages.  The most obvious is the ability to look at a large number of photos in one location.  Most units except external memory which means you can have tens of thousands of photos on tap and ready to.  Adding more photos are as easy is copying them to a card or memory stick.  Higher end units even have Wi-Fi access.

 

Digital Photo Frames have several nice advantages.  The most obvious is the ability to look at a large number of photos in one location.  Most units except external memory which means you can have tens of thousands of photos on tap and ready to.  Adding more photos are as easy is copying them to a card or memory stick.  Higher end units even have Wi-Fi access.

This ability to easily look at so many gives them incredible utility and value.  Most of us have hundreds, maybe thousands (or more) of photos that would be nice to look at.  But given the time, effort, space and expense of getting printouts, finding frames and putting them somewhere most of those photos just sit around on the hard drive eventually getting lost in the clutter or data related disaster.  Even those photos that do make it to the light of day are usually restricted to the “A” list of your standard of perfection.

 

This ability to easily look at so many gives them incredible utility and value.  Most of us have hundreds, maybe thousands (or more) of photos that would be nice to look at.  But given the time, effort, space and expense of getting printouts, finding frames and putting them somewhere most of those photos just sit around on the hard drive eventually getting lost in the clutter or data related disaster.  Even those photos that do make it to the light of day are usually restricted to the “A” list of your standard of perfection.

 

With a digital frame suddenly your ability to enjoy your photos explodes.  Want to see a couple of hundred pictures?  No problem.  You’re not limited to the crown jewels or the best of a series.  Bring them all over and enjoy.  As you look a photo several times over a period of days in a different context you’ll be surprised at the little details that you’ll notice.  Your pictures will take on new value and meaning to you.

Frames also make great gift ideas for the technologically challenged.  As long as they can plug it in and flip the switch they can enjoy.  Grab a memory card, load it up with a few thousand pictures of the kids and ship it off to the grandparents.  When you visit bring a fresh card and swap it out to keep them up to date.

 

Frames also make great gift ideas for the technologically challenged.  As long as they can plug it in and flip the switch they can enjoy.  Grab a memory card, load it up with a few thousand pictures of the kids and ship it off to the grandparents.  When you visit bring a fresh card and swap it out to keep them up to date.

 

Digital Photo Frames do have their drawbacks.  One is that they require power.  In most cases this means a power cord.  Some units have an internal battery but its limited, you’re going to need a plug if you want to enjoy it all day.  That tethering restricts their use for wall mounted applications due to dangling cords and bulging power supplies.

For the discerning viewer the resolution, quality, color shift and dynamic range of the displays are like your worst cheap, glossy, oversaturated LCD monitor nightmares come to life.  These are consumer grade appliances, not professional grade tools.  Set your expectations accordingly.

 

For the discerning viewer the resolution, quality, color shift and dynamic range of the displays are like your worst cheap, glossy, oversaturated LCD monitor nightmares come to life.  These are consumer grade appliances, not professional grade tools.  Set your expectations accordingly.

 

Digital Photo Frames are best used in places where you don’t have a lot of space and a cord isn’t a problem. That makes them ideal for lamp tables, night stands and at the office. Due to their thickness and power requirements they are better off being free-standing than hanging on something.

 

Features

 

There are a number of features to consider when getting a frame:

 

There are a number of features to consider when getting a frame:

 

Size

The size of these units is measured in inches, but this measurement comes from the same people who give us monitor measurements.  What’s the diagonal distance across the frame.  You might think a 7” frame would be perfect for a 5x7 photo but you’d be wrong.  A 12” Frame gives you the same real estate as an 8x10 print.

 

The size of these units is measured in inches, but this measurement comes from the same people who give us monitor measurements.  What’s the diagonal distance across the frame.  You might think a 7” frame would be perfect for a 5x7 photo but you’d be wrong.  A 12” Frame gives you the same real estate as an 8x10 print.

 

 

Aspect Ratio

When choosing a frame you need to select one with an aspect ratio that fits your pictures.  Most frames are either 4:3 or 16:9 (widescreen).  Most point and shoots and non-SLR digital cameras use the 4:3 aspect ratio. The Widescreen 16:9 ratio is aimed at the HD Movie crowd because all the “cool” cameras these days shoot widescreen HD video (or claim to anyway).

 

When choosing a frame you need to select one with an aspect ratio that fits your pictures.  Most frames are either 4:3 or 16:9 (widescreen).  Most point and shoots and non-SLR digital cameras use the 4:3 aspect ratio. The Widescreen 16:9 ratio is aimed at the HD Movie crowd because all the “cool” cameras these days shoot widescreen HD video (or claim to anyway).

 

If you do the math 4:3 is 1.25 to 1 (every 1.25 of length is an inch of height.)

16:9 is 1.77 to 1 (every 1.77 inches of length is an inch of height).

SLR’s are 1.5 to 1 (every 1.5 inches of length is an inch of height).

You might think about this depending on your photo source.

If you have a 4:3 camera a widescreen is going to have significant black space on either side.  If you have a SLR a 4:3 is going to crop your images to something very close to a 8x10.  If you have an SLR a widescreen is going to leave black space on either side.

 

If you have a 4:3 camera a widescreen is going to have significant black space on either side. If you have a SLR a 4:3 is going to crop your images to something very close to a 8x10. If you have an SLR a widescreen is going to leave black space on either side.

 

 

Resolution

 

Related to size is resolution in pixels. Again we go back to computer monitors for resolutions like 640x480 or 800x600 or 1024x768 for the 4:3 ratio frames.

 

Related to size is resolution in pixels.  Again we go back to computer monitors for resolutions like 640x480 or 800x600 or 1024x768 for the 4:3 ratio frames.

Picking your size vs. resolution is important.  You might find a frame with a lot of real estate but without high resolution you’ll have to be further away to appreciate the view.  My personal recommendation is to get the highest resolution in the smallest screen size you can for the sharpest image.  But keep the size of your display area in mind as well.  That 15” frame probably isn’t going to go well on your already overcrowded desk at work.

 

Picking your size vs. resolution is important.  You might find a frame with a lot of real estate but without high resolution you’ll have to be further away to appreciate the view.  My personal recommendation is to get the highest resolution in the smallest screen size you can for the sharpest image.  But keep the size of your display area in mind as well.  That 15” frame probably isn’t going to go well on your already overcrowded desk at work.

 

Internal Memory/Supported Formats

 

Most frames have some degree of internal memory from a few hundred K to a few Gigs.  As long as the frame accepts a memory card you can use this isn’t all that important with multi-gig cards costing less and less.  At the resolution of the frame a single gig can hold thousands of images.  Make sure you get a unit that can read common card types (SD and its successors is the norm).

 

Most frames have some degree of internal memory from a few hundred K to a few Gigs.  As long as the frame accepts a memory card you can use this isn’t all that important with multi-gig cards costing less and less.  At the resolution of the frame a single gig can hold thousands of images.  Make sure you get a unit that can read common card types (SD and its successors is the norm).

 

Most frames have some degree of internal memory from a few hundred K to a few Gigs.  As long as the frame accepts a memory card you can use this isn’t all that important with multi-gig cards costing less and less.  At the resolution of the frame a single gig can hold thousands of images.  Make sure you get a unit that can read common card types (SD and its successors is the norm).

 

Auto Rotation

 

You’ll want a frame that has an orientation sensor and will auto rotate the pictures accordingly.  That way your 8x10 pictures of the kids won’t show up sideways and your lush landscapes will display properly as well.

 

You’ll want a frame that has an orientation sensor and will auto rotate the pictures accordingly.  That way your 8x10 pictures of the kids won’t show up sideways and your lush landscapes will display properly as well.

 

You’ll want a frame that has an orientation sensor and will auto rotate the pictures accordingly.  That way your 8x10 pictures of the kids won’t show up sideways and your lush landscapes will display properly as well.

 

Timer

 

Chances are you’re not going to have a chance to look at this thing 24/7.  Find a frame that has a timer feature on it.  You can set it to turn on and off at specific times.  This will save on electricity as well as preserve the life of your unit (LCD’s dim with age).

 

Chances are you’re not going to have a chance to look at this thing 24/7.  Find a frame that has a timer feature on it.  You can set it to turn on and off at specific times.  This will save on electricity as well as preserve the life of your unit (LCD’s dim with age).

 

Chances are you’re not going to have a chance to look at this thing 24/7.  Find a frame that has a timer feature on it.  You can set it to turn on and off at specific times.  This will save on electricity as well as preserve the life of your unit (LCD’s dim with age).

 

Ease of Use

 

This depends on how determined you are.  If you’ve ever had to adjust a monitor with only 3 buttons to access all controls you know how much “fun” this can be. Select a unit that has a thoughtful interface.  Most units come with remotes but it’s only a matter of time before you lose it.  Think about how to change things then.

 

This depends on how determined you are.  If you’ve ever had to adjust a monitor with only 3 buttons to access all controls you know how much “fun” this can be. Select a unit that has a thoughtful interface.  Most units come with remotes but it’s only a matter of time before you lose it.  Think about how to change things then.

 

This depends on how determined you are.  If you’ve ever had to adjust a monitor with only 3 buttons to access all controls you know how much “fun” this can be. Select a unit that has a thoughtful interface.  Most units come with remotes but it’s only a matter of time before you lose it.  Think about how to change things then.

 

Build Quality and Service

 

Understand that these things are basically “photo appliances” made as cheaply as possible by peasant labor in some factory in China.  If you think about it on a fundamental level you are getting a low rez LCD monitor, a card reader, some internal memory, a simple operating system and the guts to put it all together and make it run for less than the cost of a cheap LCD monitor.  Not much margin for quality there.

 

Understand that these things are basically “photo appliances” made as cheaply as possible by peasant labor in some factory in China.  If you think about it on a fundamental level you are getting a low rez LCD monitor, a card reader, some internal memory, a simple operating system and the guts to put it all together and make it run for less than the cost of a cheap LCD monitor.  Not much margin for quality there.

Check your favorite review websites to see what percentage of the reviews cover Dead On Arrival conditions (most common failure) and what luck the unfortunate consumer had dealing with support and returns.

 

Check your favorite review websites to see what percentage of the reviews cover Dead On Arrival conditions (most common failure) and what luck the unfortunate consumer had dealing with support and returns.

 

How does it look?

 

Take a good look at it; some of these units have Faux matting, snap on color frame covers, wild frame sizes compared to your screen real estate and more. Get something that fits your taste and space.

 

Take a good look at it; some of these units have Faux matting, snap on color frame covers, wild frame sizes compared to your screen real estate and more. Get something that fits your taste and space.

 

Slideshow

 

Most frames have a slideshow function, though some have a limited number of pictures or difficulties using more than one folder.  Make sure the slideshow is up to how you want it, either sequential, random or both.

 

Most frames have a slideshow function, though some have a limited number of pictures or difficulties using more than one folder.  Make sure the slideshow is up to how you want it, either sequential, random or both.

 

“Other Features”

 

Ready to go beyond pictures?  Some play MP4/WMV type movies.  Keep in mind that codecs and processing requirements for movies are all over the place, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t run your movie.  Especially that Widescreen HD movie.

 

Ready to go beyond pictures?  Some play MP4/WMV type movies.  Keep in mind that codecs and processing requirements for movies are all over the place, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t run your movie.  Especially that Widescreen HD movie.

Others play MP3 to your slideshow, that’s pretty standard but you’re going to have cheap speakers at best.  Some allow you access the net via Wi-fi to look at pictures.  Sounds cool but the interface is often problematic (enter your 16 digit alphanumeric WEP key using the up/down arrows..)

 

Others play MP3 to your slideshow, that’s pretty standard but you’re going to have cheap speakers at best.  Some allow you access the net via Wi-fi to look at pictures.  Sounds cool but the interface is often problematic (enter your 16 digit alphanumeric WEP key using the up/down arrows..)

 

It’s a lot to think about but in the end you’ll end up with something that gives life to new photos and you can enjoy every day.