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Buyers Guides > Digital Photo Frames - Clever Thinking

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Introduction

A digital photo frame is actually a rudimentary computer; it contains the same components – CPU ("Central Processing Unit"), memory, etc. – as a personal, or laptop, computer, but in much simpler form. The principal difference, of course, is that all of the components are dedicated to one, single task, that of displaying still, and moving, digital images to maximum effect. Digital photo frames, nowadays, are neither gimmicky – they are typically engineered to the highest quality, with high resolution displays, multiple memory expansion card readers, Bluetooth®, etc. – nor complicated to configure, and use. The process of transferring digital photographs, or video clips, from a digital camera can be as simple as transferring the memory expansion card, lock, stock and barrel, to a digital photo frame. Once loaded into the frame, your photographs can be displayed singly, or one after another in a slideshow, possibly accompanied by a selection of your favourite music, or sound effects – in MP3 format – and professional transition effects between photographs.

Digital Photo Frame Features, Benefits & Considerations

Popularity

Digital photography has made taking photographs of our loved ones, or momentous occasions in our lives, simpler than ever before. We can take digital photographs – viewing them, and discarding the images we don't want, instantaneously – and download them to a computer for editing, manipulation and distribution. We can share them with our family and friends via CD, DVD, electronic mail or photograph albums on the Internet. Digital photo frames, on the other hand, allow us to share digital images with people without access to the Internet, or even a computer, or simply to display them for our own enjoyment. It is therefore easy to see why digital photo frames have permeated into the everyday lives of many consumers – sales of digital photo frames, in Europe, for example, increased by more than 600% between 2006 and 2007 – in many different guises.

Size

The smallest digital photo frames have screens as small as 1½" across, measured diagonally, and are often incorporated into keepsake, or memento, items, such as key rings, or fridge magnets. These very small digital photo frames are capable, nevertheless, of storing anything up to 180 individual digital photographs – depending on resolution – and up to 8 hours' operation on a single charge. Charging can often be performed by plugging the frame into a USB ("Universal Serial Bus") port on a laptop, or PC. At the other end of the scale, the largest consumer digital photo frame measures fully 32" diagonally, and has a resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, making it suitable for mounting on a living room wall, for example, very much in the style of an LCD ("Liquid Crystal Display") television screen. The vast majority of digital photo frames, however, tend to occupy the "middle ground", and range in size from 5", or so, to 15", measured diagonally, with 7" or 8" – and a resolution of, at least, 800 x 600 pixels – being typical for desktop, or mantelpiece, models.

Style

A digital photo frame is obviously something that is intended to be looked at – whether it is switched on, displaying a photograph, or not – and is therefore likely to occupy a prominent position on your desktop, mantelpiece or wall. You may like to give some consideration, therefore, to the style and quality of the frame, itself; a digital photo frame is unlikely to be switched on for 24 hours a day, and you want something that looks attractive, and compliments your existing décor, even when it's switched off. This shouldn't really be a problem, however, because digital photo frames are available in styles and colours ranging from plain white plastic to rich leatherette, natural or stained wood, etc..; some digital photo frames feature interchangeable bezels, or fascia, that allow you to change the "look" of the frame, if you move it from one location to another.

As a side point with regard to style and aesthetics, do bear in mind that some digital photo frames can only operate on mains power. This is unlikely to be a problem if a frame is to be positioned on a desktop, for example, but, if you want to hang the same frame on a wall, a trailing power lead is unavoidable. An increasing number of digital photo frames, however, are capable of operating on AC power and on rechargeable batteries. Lithium rechargeable battery technology, in particular, has given digital photo frames a fighting chance of operating for adequate periods on battery power, but battery life still varies widely – from less than an hour, to more than 10 hours, depending on the size of the display, and its mode of operation – from frame to frame. Rechargeable batteries obviously require recharging, periodically, and this can be accomplished via a mains power outlet, or a USB port, in some cases.

Screen Characteristics

Interestingly, a typical digital photo frame buyer has only passing interest in some of the more "technical" aspects of a digital photo frame – resolution, aspect ratio, etc. – if the results of a recent survey are to be believed. Design and price were cited as the principal factors determining the choice of a digital photo frame, and, while these are obviously important, it is advisable to look more closely at the specification of a frame, if satisfaction is to be guaranteed.

One of the criticisms levelled at early digital photo frames, for example, was that they were constructed from poor quality off-cuts from other LCD manufacturing processes, which was reflected in the – often dreadful – quality of the image displayed. Thankfully, these problems are in the past and high quality, yet low cost, LCD panels are available for the manufacture of digital photo frames, in their own right.

The "resolution" of an LCD panel is, quite simply, the number of individual picture elements, or "pixels", it contains. LCD panels are what is known as "fixed pixel arrays" – that is, they contain a finite number of rows, and columns, of pixels – so you may see the resolution quoted in these terms, e.g. "800 x 600". Generally speaking, the higher the total number of pixels, the higher the clarity of the displayed image.

The "aspect ratio", on the other hand, is simply the relationship between the width and height of a displayed image, expressed as a ratio. Digital photo frames can have a "standard" aspect ratio off 4:3, or 1.33:1 – suitable for displaying digital photographs taken by the majority of point-and-shoot digital cameras, by default – or a "widescreen" aspect ratio of 16:9, or 1.78:1. In addition, some digital photo frames are capable of detecting whether a digital photograph should be displayed in "portrait", or "landscape", orientation, if this information is recorded by a digital camera.

The latest in digital photo frame screen technology is OLED, or "Organic Light Emitting Diode", technology, which – unlike LCD technology – requires no backlight, but automatically adjusts the brightness of the display, according to the level of ambient light.

Other Considerations

Most digital photo frames, nowadays, feature some kind of "slideshow" capability, allowing multiple images to be displayed, in sequence. Images can be accompanied by narration, sound effects or music – recorded, downloaded, or "ripped" from a CD, in MP3 format – provided that a digital photo frame supports this and, of course, has an integral speaker, or speakers, to reproduce the sound. Transition effects, such as "dissolving", or fading, one image into the next may be a possibility, and some digital photo frames also support MPEG and AVI video clips.

Many digital photo frames also include the capability to connect, wirelessly, to your mobile phone, laptop, or PC, such that it is possible to transfer digital photographs to the frame without any physical connection to it. This can be accomplished via a Bluetooth® "dongle", which plugs into a USB ("Universal Serial Bus") port on a laptop, or PC, or directly from a Bluetooth® enabled mobile phone. "Wireless Fidelity", or "WiFi" technology – the generic name for wireless networks which comply with the IEEE 802.11 family of standards – is another possibility, allowing digital photographs to be transferred via the Internet,. This can also include streaming online galleries from photo sharing sites, such as Flickr, along with other Web-based content, such as RSS ("Rich Site Summary", or "Really Simple Syndication") feeds.