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Buyers Guides > What can you really do with a Digital Photo Frame?

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What is a Digital Photo Frame?

A digital photo frame, or digital picture frame, can be likened – fundamentally, at least – to a very simple laptop computer. Like a laptop, a digital photo frame consists of an LCD ("Liquid Crystal Display") panel,
a CPU ("Central Processing Unit") and a PCB ("Printed Circuit Board"), incorporated into what looks, for all the world, like a traditional, analogue picture frame.

However, instead of the operating system – the set of programs that directs traffic, and controls resources, in a computer system – having to allocate "slices" of CPU time to low priority background tasks, the system, as a whole, is dedicated to the single task of displaying digital images. This, in turn, makes digital photo frames easy to use; one of the reasons why they are so popular with consumers, even those less technologically minded. Digital photo frames essentially allow personal digital content – that might otherwise remain hidden away on digital cameras, computers and other storage devices – to be freed, and viewed easily, in the same way traditional photographs, or photograph albums.

Aside from their technical capabilities, most digital photo frames are aesthetically pleasing items in their own right, even when switched off. Basic frames in white plastic can still be acquired fairly cheaply, but manufacturers have tended to move towards more attractive colours and finishes – brushed stainless steel, natural woods, such as cherry, black piano, leatherette, etc. – such that digital photo frames can blend, congruously, with all forms of interior décor.

Indeed, the market for digital photo frames is booming, with nearly 4 million units sold in Western Europe in 2007. The future, too, appears rosy, with retail prices expected to fall by up to 30% in the next 3 years – but, nevertheless, to be accompanied by increases in screen sizes, and functionality – such that 33% of households in the United Kingdom will own a digital photo frame by 2011.

Displaying Digital Photographs

The simplest way to display digital photographs in a digital photo frame is to physically remove the memory expansion card, in its entirety, from your digital camera and plug it into the frame. This does, of course, rely on the memory expansion card being compatible with the slot(s) available on the frame, or on the frame having a multiple memory card reader, but, provided that you choose your digital photo frame carefully, this is unlikely to be a problem. Digital photo frames with compatibility with all the popular memory card types – CF ("CompactFlash"), SD ("Secure Digital"), Memory Stick, and many others – are available. It may, ultimately, be more practical to find a digital photo frame with an individual slot appropriate to your memory card type, as universal card readers can sometimes be awkward to use.

USB ("Universal Serial Bus") memory sticks, or thumb drives, are an increasingly popular means of storing digital photographs, so you may like to look for a digital photo frame with at least one, and preferably two, high speed USB slots. This means that you can connect your digital photo frame directly to a USB port on your personal, or laptop, computer as a means of transferring digital photographs, or connect a universal card reader, effectively allowing compatibility with all types of memory expansion card.

You may well find that – regardless of the resolution, in megapixels (Mp), at which you take your digital photographs – your digital photo frame can scale, and crop, your images so that they appear at the correct size, and orientation, in the frame with no work whatsoever on your part. Some digital photo frames have internal memory – normally limited, to a maximum of 128MB, or so – in which a small number of digital photographs can be stored, and this kind of manipulation can be performed. If you wish to perform more sophisticated editing and manipulation on your images – using Adobe Photoshop™, or a similar product – there is, of course, nothing to stop you downloading photographs to your computer, and then uploading them to the frame, using USB, or wirelessly, once editing is complete.

Digital photo frames support the JPEG picture format, as standard, but if you want to display photographs in one, or more, of the less common formats, such, as GIF, PNG, or TIFF, for example, you may need to check that these formats are actually supported.

Video Clips, Sound, and More

At the very least, a modern digital photo frame should allow you put your digital photographs together into a "slideshow", whereby multiple images are displayed one after another, at time intervals that you decide. If you have a multimedia photo frame you may also be able to add atmosphere to such a slideshow, by accompanying your images with an appropriate music track, sound effects or narration – "ripped" from a CD, downloaded from the Internet, or recorded yourself, in MP3 format – and adding professional looking transition effects between images. Some digital photo frames also support other audio formats, such as WMA, or WAV; be aware, however, that WAV is an uncompressed format, resulting in very large file sizes, which are likely to be unsuitable for this type of application.

Fully moving pictures – that is, video clips, or movies – may also be supported, in MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, or AVI formats, although do exercise a little caution when it comes to purported support for MPEG4, or AVI; strictly speaking, both describe a file container, rather than a specific format, or "codec" ("compression/decompression") algorithm, and the content of the container may still be unreadable to the frame. If you want sound to accompany your moving pictures, obviously make sure that your chosen digital photo frame also has an integral speaker on which to reproduce that sound.

Wireless Connectivity

One of the difficulties involved with a digital photo frame without wireless connectivity is that, if you want to update its content, you need to physically move the frame from its location – say, on a desktop, mantelpiece, or wall – and connect it to a computer, mobile phone, etc.. This can be tiresome, and awkward, particularly if a digital photo frame is mounted on wall, out of reach without climbing a stepladder, or standing on a chair. A more convenient solution, therefore, may be a digital photo frame equipped with Bluetooth®, or WiFi (short for "Wireless Fidelity") capability.

Both technologies provide wireless connectivity via radio waves, but Bluetooth® has a much shorter range – typically just 30' or so – and requires much less power than WiFi; this does, however, mean that is also less battery "hungry", if you are considering operating a digital photo frame on rechargeable batteries. Many mobile phones are Bluetooth® enabled. WiFi, on the other hand, refers to a family of IEEE ("Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers") 802.11 wireless networking standards. WiFi is designed more for high speed access to the Internet, or a local area network, and is therefore faster than Bluetooth®, with a typical range of up to 300'.

Once a WiFi connection has been established, digital content – which can include online content, from photo sharing sites, such as Flickr, or Picasa, RSS ("Rich Site Summary") feeds from Yahoo, MSN, BBC, etc. and other useful information – can be streamed to a digital photo frame. Unfortunately, Bluetooth® and WiFi are not compatible. look for a digital photo frame with at least one, and preferably two, high speed USB slots. This means that you can connect your digital photo frame directly to a USB port on your personal, or laptop, computer as a means of transferring digital photographs, or connect a universal card reader, effectively allowing compatibility with all types of memory expansion card.

You may well find that – regardless of the resolution, in megapixels (Mp), at which you take your digital photographs – your digital photo frame can scale, and crop, your images so that they appear at the correct size, and orientation, in the frame with no work whatsoever on your part. Some digital photo frames have internal memory – normally limited, to a maximum of 128MB, or so – in which a small number of digital photographs can be stored, and this kind of manipulation can be performed. If you wish to perform more sophisticated editing and manipulation on your images – using Adobe Photoshop™, or a similar product – there is, of course, nothing to stop you downloading photographs to your computer, and then uploading them to the frame, using USB, or wirelessly, once editing is complete.

Digital photo frames support the JPEG picture format, as standard, but if you want to display photographs in one, or more, of the less common formats, such, as GIF, PNG, or TIFF, for example, you may need to check that these formats are actually supported.

Video Clips, Sound, and More

At the very least, a modern digital photo frame should allow you put your digital photographs together into a "slideshow", whereby multiple images are displayed one after another, at time intervals that you decide. If you have a multimedia photo frame you may also be able to add atmosphere to such a slideshow, by accompanying your images with an appropriate music track, sound effects or narration – "ripped" from a CD, downloaded from the Internet, or recorded yourself, in MP3 format – and adding professional looking transition effects between images. Some digital photo frames also support other audio formats, such as WMA, or WAV; be aware, however, that WAV is an uncompressed format, resulting in very large file sizes, which are likely to be unsuitable for this type of application.

Fully moving pictures – that is, video clips, or movies – may also be supported, in MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, or AVI formats, although do exercise a little caution when it comes to purported support for MPEG4, or AVI; strictly speaking, both describe a file container, rather than a specific format, or "codec" ("compression/decompression") algorithm, and the content of the container may still be unreadable to the frame. If you want sound to accompany your moving pictures, obviously make sure that your chosen digital photo frame also has an integral speaker on which to reproduce that sound.

Wireless Connectivity

One of the difficulties involved with a digital photo frame without wireless connectivity is that, if you want to update its content, you need to physically move the frame from its location – say, on a desktop, mantelpiece, or wall – and connect it to a computer, mobile phone, etc.. This can be tiresome, and awkward, particularly if a digital photo frame is mounted on wall, out of reach without climbing a stepladder, or standing on a chair. A more convenient solution, therefore, may be a digital photo frame equipped with Bluetooth®, or WiFi (short for "Wireless Fidelity") capability.

Both technologies provide wireless connectivity via radio waves, but Bluetooth® has a much shorter range – typically just 30' or so – and requires much less power than WiFi; this does, however, mean that is also less battery "hungry", if you are considering operating a digital photo frame on rechargeable batteries. Many mobile phones are Bluetooth® enabled. WiFi, on the other hand, refers to a family of IEEE ("Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers") 802.11 wireless networking standards. WiFi is designed more for high speed access to the Internet, or a local area network, and is therefore faster than Bluetooth®, with a typical range of up to 300'.

Once a WiFi connection has been established, digital content – which can include online content, from photo sharing sites, such as Flickr, or Picasa, RSS ("Rich Site Summary") feeds from Yahoo, MSN, BBC, etc. and other useful information – can be streamed to a digital photo frame. Unfortunately, Bluetooth® and WiFi are not compatible.