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Buyers Guides > Getting the Most from Your Digital Photo Frame

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Introduction

Digital photography has made vivid, high resolution photographs available to us, almost instantaneously, yet 65% of those photographs never see the light of day, and remain hidden on the memory expansion card of a digital camera, or the hard disk drive of a computer. A digital photo frame (sometimes known as a digital photo album, or digital picture frame) is actually a very simple computer, devoted to the task of displaying digital photographs. A digital photo frame allows photographs (one, two, or a whole collection) to be transferred easily, from a computer, or directly from a digital camera, and displayed singly or as "slideshow" series, perhaps accompanied by music, sound effects and professional transition effects. A digital photo frame is a cost-effective, high resolution alternative to a traditional analogue photo frame as a means of displaying and sharing precious photographic memories.

Digital Photo Frame Features, Tips & Techniques

Style, Size & Display Options

A digital photo frame is obviously something that is intended to be looked at, so the size of the display, and other characteristics, such as its resolution, brightness, and contrast ratio, are important factors in determining its satisfactory operation. It is often overlooked however, that the display itself may be switched off for long periods, and if this is the case, you may well want a digital photo frame that is attractive and fits in with your existing décor, even when no photograph is actually displayed. Digital photo frame fascias, some of which are interchangeable, are available in a wide choice of materials and finishes; from plain, white, plastic, to natural materials, such as leather, or wood, in light, or dark stains. The effect of even the most stylish frame can be diminished by the imprudent positioning of a brand name or controls, so controls are typically positioned on the rear of a frame where they are accessible, but not obtrusive.

In terms of the actual physical dimensions of the display, digital photo frames are available with displays measuring from 1", or 1½", diagonally (usually the preserve of those designed for attachment to a key ring, for example) through more practical 7", or 8", models, to 10", or larger models. The most appropriate size for your digital photo frame will depend largely on where it is to be positioned, and from what distance it is to be viewed. Do bear in mind that, although an increase of 1" in screen size, say between a 7" and an 8" frame, may not sound hugely significant, the fact that the measurement is take diagonally means that such an increase does make quite a difference to the total viewable area.

All digital images are composed of hundreds of thousands, or millions, of picture elements or "pixels"; each of which effectively contains information relating to the colour, and intensity, of a single point in the image. The total number of pixels in a display (otherwise known as its "resolution") is a determining factor is the clarity, and overall quality of the image displayed, and generally speaking, the higher the total number, the better. Resolution is often quoted in the specification of a digital photo frame, as the number of rows and columns of pixels; so a typical, popular frame in the 7" to 10" range, may have a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, 720 x 480 pixels, or 800 x 600 pixels. The total number of pixels can be calculated by multiplying the two figures together; for example, 800 x 600 = 480,000 pixels, or 0.48Mp.

Resolution however, is not the only important consideration. Contrast ratio (the difference in intensity between the lightest and darkest colour that can be displayed, simultaneously, expressed as a ratio) is similarly important, and the higher the ratio, the better. Typical values may be 300:1, or 500:1. Brightness is measured in cd/m2, or "Candela per square metre, and also varies from frame to frame; a brightness rating of 200cd/m2, or 250cd/m2, while lower than that of a typical TFT ("Thin Film Transistor") flat panel, is sufficient for a digital photo frame to be viewed clearly, without looking like an electronic screen. Indeed, some digital photo frames are equipped with backlights that adjust automatically via an optical sensor, to the level of ambient light in a room.

Storage Options

The vast majority of digital photo frames, are equipped with some internal memory, so that digital photographs can be stored and displayed without the need to insert an external memory expansion card. The larger the amount of internal memory, the higher the number of photographs (of an equivalent resolution, and therefore an equivalent file size) that can be accommodated by a digital photo frame.

It is probably fair to say that the amount of internal memory (if any) provided by a digital photo frame pales into insignificance when compared to the amount available on memory expansion cards. Many digital photo frames support some, or all, of the popular memory expansion cards used by digital cameras; CF ("Compact Flash"), SD ("Secure Digital"), Memory Stick, and xD Picture Card, amongst others, either via individual card slots, or a multiple card reader. Choosing a digital photo frame that is compatible with the memory expansion card in your own digital camera is obviously a good idea, but compatibility with other card types may be important if you wish to transfer photographs from the cameras belonging to friends, or relatives.

The size of memory expansion card that is sensible depends largely on the total number of digital photographs that you wish to store in a digital photo frame, and the resolution of each photograph. The higher the resolution of a digital photograph, the more physical storage space it requires, but by dividing the total storage capacity of a memory expansion card by the average file size of the photographs that you wish to take, the total number of photographs that can be stored can be calculated. If, for example, the average file size is 256kb, a memory expansion card with a capacity of 64MB can store 256 photographs approximately, whereas a 2GB expansion card can store more than 8,000 photographs, of the same size. Be careful when assessing the storage capacity of a digital photo frame; some manufacturers may quote a large number of photographs that can be stored, but this may be based on photographs of very low resolution, so rely on the storage capacity in "Megabytes" (MB), or "Gigabytes" (GB), instead.

Other Considerations

"Cropping" is the process of removing portions from the edge, or edges of an image (typically, perhaps, areas of sky, or other background, which detract from the main subject) to reduce the image to a more manageable, and/or effective size. This process is often performed by image manipulation software, such as Adobe Photoshop or similar, but if you are in the habit of editing digital photographs (or taking panoramic photographs) you will want to know how those photographs will look, when displayed in a digital photo frame. Most digital photo frames will attempt to resize a photograph of non-standard dimensions by cropping or "squashing", and the results may not always be entirely satisfactory.

All digital photo frames support images in JPEG ("Joint Photographic Experts Group") format, but if you want to add music, or sound effects, to your images (or possibly upload short video clips to a digital photo frame) look for support for other, extended formats, such MP3, MP4, AVI, DivX, and WMA. Sound of course, will be dependent on the inclusion of a tiny loudspeaker situated in the digital photo frame itself.

You may also like to consider a digital photo frame with "Bluetooth", or "WiFi", capability, which allows digital photographs to be transferred to the frame using the 802.11b, or 802.11g, wireless networking protocols, from a PC in your home, or office, or indeed any PC with an Internet connection, or from a camera 'phone. If you so desire, it may also be possible to stream RSS ("Rich Site Summary"); a format used for sharing content amongst websites which feeds directly to a digital photo frame, so that it can be used to visibly relay news stories, share prices, etc., from the Internet, as well as displaying your favourite photographs.

If a digital photo frame is to be positioned, for example, on a wall where a trailing power lead is likely to be obtrusive, look for a model that is capable of running, for lengthy periods on rechargeable batteries, rather than mains power. In this case, a remote control unit may also be a useful option to look for, so that you can change the photograph, or any of the display settings, without having to physically handle the frame.