What Are Digital Picture Frames And How Do They Work

A relatively new product in the digital imaging industry is what has become known as the digital picture frame. These clever devices use a flat-panel TFT (usually just referred to as LCD) screen to electronically store and display digital photos, which can be transferred directly between the picture frame and your digital camera. They can be powered by either batteries or an AC adapter power supply that plugs into your mains wall socket, and are capable of storing between thirty and more than a thousand digital photos, depending on the frame, the size of the files, and the capacity of the memory card being used. While most people are probably aware of the numerous advantages of digital photography, there have always been a few areas where modern digital imagery simply didn't offer what people wanted out of their photos. With only a slightly wider profile than a normal picture frame, a digital picture frame retains all the benefits of digital photography, combining them with the convenience and most of the features people liked about conventional paper photos.

Digital picture frames solve most of the remaining problems people have about digital photography in a simple, easy to use, and cost effective manner. One of the main problems people have is that they don't have the time, opportunity, or knowledge required to view their pictures on the computer any time they feel like going through their albums. Digital picture frames solve this easily, as all prominent models on the market can store multiple images, and display them as a slide show. Most models allow the user to flip through each photograph one by one, much like they would with an old photo album. Older users, or the very young, who may not be familiar with computers, or may have no desire to learn, will enjoy the practical and straight-forward interface offered by these products. Learning how to use one could be compared to learning just the basic functions of a new television remote-control.

Digital picture frames allow the user to leave a photo on display for the long term, much like a conventional picture frame. This eliminates the cost of maintaining a printer and buying consumables, and allows you to have your picture of choice on display without tying up the computer.

When making a purchasing decision, you should compare the feature set offered by the different models available, with regard to your budget, and what you want from digital picture frames. Some things to consider include:

ยท Media types: The number of different storage media that a single device can use - for example, SmartCard(TM), CompactFlash(TM) etc, and whether the device can accept multiple types. Remember to check which media type your existing digital camera uses.

ยท Power options: How long the photo viewer's batteries last, what type of batteries it takes, and whether it has a power supply to run plug straight into the wall socket are all important to consider.

ยท Physical dimensions: What size it is, how heavy, the look you're after, and how you intend to use it. If you want to carry a digital picture viewer around in your briefcase or pocket, you'll want a smaller, lighter model.

ยท Data transfer interfaces. Some models allow you to transfer pictures between your computer and picture frame via serial or USB interface, in addition to the normal camera memory cards.

ยท Various advanced features: The ability to connect the device directly to the Internet, and use it to send pictures to someone else who also has one is an example of just one deluxe feature.

Having laid down the criteria, it is possible to have a quick look at some of the products on the market today. The very cheapest digital picture frames start at about $85. These offer a very narrow feature set, with a tiny viewing area, rarely no larger than 3", with relatively low quality image reproduction. For something of this size, you're probably better off simply viewing with your existing digital camera, or viewing its image on your television, a task most digital cameras are capable of doing to some capacity. Most of the frames on the market, however, fall between $200 and $450, so we'll have a very brief look at three such items.

VideoChip Wallet

While being a smaller model, the VideoChip Wallet has an appealing set of features, and is probably the choice for portability. If you prefer to carry your photos around with you wherever you go rather than setting a frame up on a side-table, then this is probably the one for you. The Wallet uses only CompactFlash card media, meaning that the number of photos you can store is limited only by the size of the JPEG or Bitmap files (.jpg, .bmp), and the storage capacity of your CF card. While the viewing area is just 4" with a 230x200 pixel display, it still manages to impress, weighing in at less than 11 ounces! It can be run directly off the included AC adapter, which also charges the internal 3 volt lithium batteries. This allows 3 hours continuous viewing between charges, and you don't have to worry about changing batteries, as you can simply just plug it in again to recharge, much as you would a cell-phone. VideoChip Wallets offer rudimentary viewing options, either as a static image, a slide-show, as well as the option of several animated image transitions. They can be bought for about $350, making a Wallet a hefty purchase, considering that the main feature is its compact profile. But if you're always on the move, or delight in showing your friends and family your photos wherever you are, then maybe this is the one for you.