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December 6, 2008

2008 Digital Picture Frame Review


It’s been a year since my last digital picture frame round-up, and the crop of new digital picture frames for 2008 can best be described as, "Bigger and Cheaper!" because there is more selection in the over 11 inch sizes and because a there has been a general reduction in the prices of all sizes. Below are my selections for best of breed and, as always, I use Amazon as a pricing reference, but you may find better deals elsewhere.

Large digital picture frames (11 inch and larger):

Recall that the stated sizes of digital picture frames are measured diagonally across the screen, but even so an 11 inch model is rather large and almost makes you want to put it on a wall. That’s fine and doable for most units, but remember there will be a power cord hanging down so a better location is on a credenza or shelf or a large desk.

In the large size frames, Opteka seems to be the best vendor with their 11.3 and 15 inch models which are reasonably priced and which get very good reviews:

 

The Opteka units have wood frames, are easy to set up, and have great pictures as well as 128MB of built-in memory so you don’t have to leave a memory card in the frame unless you want to, although you will need a memory card to hold a large number of pictures. You can also add pictures via USB from your computer.

Be aware that, as with all digital picture frames, the integral speakers for playing MP3 tunes don’t have very good sound quality, but I still regard sound as a dubious feature for digital picture frames – they aren’t intended to be sound systems.

Standard desk size digital picture frames (6 – 8 inches):

Digital picture frames got their start as desk accessories and while you can go smaller or larger, the best size is in the 6 inch to 8 inch range. Many of these will have battery power, but the battery life is usually on the order of an hour so it would only be usable for briefly handing the frame around.

I see that there is a new version of the venerable Philips 6.5-Inch Digital Photo Frame selling for around $75 when it was $168 in 2006 and $130 last year, but the Philips frames have been getting less favorable reviews lately, so I would instead choose one from Sony, Kodak, or Opteka.

Sony has the DPF line of desk size frames with great pictures, but be aware that they are rather pricey.

  

Kodak as always has its EasyShare digital picture frame line which is well regarded and competitively priced, but also offers more expensive versions that can be accessed wirelessly via Wi-Fi:

  

Finally, Opteka has a highly rated 8 inch frame with features similar to its larger cousins:

Portable digital picture frames:

There are a variety of digital picture frame gadgets available that allow you to hold and display your pictures on a keychain or a necklace or something else similarly small and portable. In principle there is no reason why this should not work and be a useful niche, but I have yet to see one of these with good reviews.  You would be better off putting the pictures into your MP3 player with a screen. Maybe next year this will change.


Posted at 1:35 am. Filed under Companies, Digital Picture Frame, Kodak, Opteka, Philips, Sony

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December 2, 2007

2007 Digital Picture Frame Update


It’s been a year since I last took a look at digital picture frames and not unexpectedly there have been a number of advances. Here’s a summary of new and interesting offerings where I will, as usual, use Amazon as a pricing reference. You may find better deals elsewhere.

Old favorites at lower prices

Last year I mentioned the Philips 6.5-Inch Digital Picture Frame (Clear) w/3 Additional Colored Frames which was selling for $167.92. It’s still a highly rated digital picture frame, but now it is going for $129.99 at Amazon (Other colors choices are slightly more or less). As always, bear in mind that the 6.5-inch is a diagonal measure and that the screen is actually 3.6 x 5.4-inches (9 x 14-centimeters).

Note also that the Philips has a screen resolution of 720×480 and a 170 degree viewing angle. If you are willing to compromise on those you can find cheaper frames like the $69.99 Matsunichi Photoblitz 7-Inch Digital Picture Frame which only has a screen resolution of 480×234. That may well be fine for some users, but others find the display pixilated or grainy (see the Amazon user reviews).

Larger sizes

If you want a little more size than 6.5-inch diagonal, there’s the similar but larger Philips 8.5-Inch Digital Picture Frame (Clear) w/3 Additional Colored Frames for $199.40 and again other color choices will raise or lower the price a bit with the white version cheapest at $179.99.  You may also find bigger bargains like the Westinghouse 8-Inch LCD Digital Photo Frame with 800×600 resolution which Amazon lists for $80 off at $119.99, but it is currently out of stock.

I don’t have a recommendation for even bigger sizes, but one that seems to be popular is the Opteka 11.3″ Digital Picture Frame which has been reduced a massive $150 to $169.95 and also plays video and MP3 audio.

Multimedia capability

With the Opteka frame mentioned immediately above as an example, the ability to play audio and video is increasingly being built in to digital picture frames and it’s not surprising since a digital picture frames is basically a personal media player in a different form factor. However, bear in mind that you could get real tired of a picture frame that endlessly loops the same audio tracks and that the speakers on the frames tend to be pretty basic. I’ll save a more detailed discussion of this one for a later post.

Wireless connectivity

You load most digital picture frames with a USB cable connected to your PC or a memory card or flash drive, but some are now offering Wi-Fi for those users who have a wireless home network. That’s probably not so good for grandma, but will attract some users despite the price bump. An example is the $229 Kodak Easyshare EX-811 8-inch Digital Picture Frame which seems to be popular and a good enough picture frame for the more technical user (requires firmware updates to get some features), but doesn’t support encryption on your home network which is definitely foolish. There may be some better Wi-Fi digital picture frames out there, but I don’t currently know of one.

Other form factors

Manufacturers have taken the basic digital picture frame function, coupled it with small LCD screen technology and have put it into every kind of gadget from keychains to wallets to Christmas tree ornaments. There’s nothing the matter with that, but before you get too excited, bear in mind that the displays are fragile and the units will need battery replacement.


Posted at 2:54 pm. Filed under Companies, Digital Picture Frame, Kodak, Opteka, Philips

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January 3, 2006

Skype partners roll out the hardware at CES


The International Consumer Electronics Show starts Thursday, but to get ahead of the cloud of press releases some vendors have “launched” early and Skype is no exception. Their big news isn’t with Skype’s base VoIP service, but with the hardware partners they have signed up – Alliances with Creative, D-Link, IPEVO, Kodak, Netgear, Panasonic, and VTech Illustrate Skype Market Leadership.

The emphasis seems to be mostly on integrating Skype with normal phone equipment:

VTech USB7100 Phone – availability of the previously announced VTech USB phone, expandable with up to four handsets and allows users to view their online contacts. It’s dual line for both Skype and regular telephone service and has cordless handsets.

D-Link Skype USB Phone Adapter (DPH-50U) – a Skype phone adapter that enables the use of Skype on a traditional phone.

The D-Link Skype USB phone adapter (DPH-50U) lets users accept both regular telephone and Skype calls from the same phone for added flexibility. When consumers are talking on a traditional telephone line and receive an incoming Skype call, they can easily switch lines to take the Skype call or vice versa, just like a typical call-waiting feature.

Conference calls can also be connected between ordinary telephone lines and Skype. For added convenience, the D-Link Skype USB phone adapter includes a lighted display to indicate whether an incoming call is from a traditional telephone or from a Skype user.

Panasonic – a cordless telephone product that interfaces directly with Skype, allowing users to make and receive Skype calls and traditional calls using the same device

As its initial offering, Panasonic plans to launch a Skype compatible cordless telephone product that will enable select Panasonic cordless telephones to interface directly with Skype. With the new product, consumers will be able to make and receive Skype and traditional calls using the same Panasonic cordless phone.

There are also the more usual Skype phones:

Creative Skype Internet PhonePLUS – a standalone phone that enables anyone to make free Skype calls over the Internet without a PC connection. (That’s all the details so far.)

IPEVO Fly-1 Cordless Handset and Xing Speakerphone – PC and Mac compatible IPEVO Fly-1 cordless Skype USB handset and an IPEVO Xing Skype USB speakerphone.

FLY.1 is a USB cordless handset with a speakerphone that works exclusively with Skype. It is designed to integrate the Skype experience with the operational familiarity of a telephone. The cordless handset offers portability and enables communication using Skype away from the user’s PC or Macintosh through a wireless USB dock.

The Xing USB speakerphone is the first device from IPEVO designed for business teleconferencing using Skype. The cross-shaped device is designed to sit atop a desk or boardroom table allowing for multi-user participation through four separate speakers. The device is not restricted by a phone jack, allowing for increased mobility and user convenience.

And some items that are hard to categorize:

NETGEAR – a new communications device to be unveiled at CES on Wednesday, January 4th and no details have been revealed.

KODAK Photo Voice – a beta version of the first Skype certified online photo sharing service.

Eastman Kodak Company and Skype™, the global Internet communications company, announce the availability of the latest innovation in digital storytelling ― KODAK Photo Voice ― that combines live voice and online photo sharing. The beta version of KODAK Photo Voice, the first Skype certified online photo sharing experience, is now available as a free download at www.kodakgallery.com/photovoice.

“Today’s families and social networks are scattered around the globe. Staying connected through photo sharing remains an important element in maintaining closer personal relationships,” said Sandra Morris, general manager of Consumer Imaging Services at Kodak. “Traditional social gatherings that once took place around the radio, television or telephone are now happening around the computer, mobile phone or camera. KODAK Photo Voice marks the next step in this evolution.”

KODAK Photo Voice is a brand new way to relive memories, empowering two people to simultaneously view a customized slideshow, and to reminisce and react to each picture. Imagine if Grandma could see pictures from her grandson’s first day at school while he narrates every moment of the experience over Skype. Perhaps an old roommate could share detailed photos and recount stories of his new life in London, as his friend back home in California reacts to each picture.

Sorry, but this last one seems like a solution in search of a problem, but it is free.

Update 1/04: They had some trouble with the demo, but Netgear announced a Skype WiFi phone:

The NETGEAR WiFi phone will make mobile Internet telephony a reality for Skype users. Unlike other devices that must connect with a PC, NETGEAR’s Skype WiFi phone will work wherever a consumer is connected to a wireless Internet access point — be that in a home, office, cafe, open public hotspot, or any open municipal wireless access point being deployed worldwide.

The NETGEAR phone is pre-loaded with Skype’s software, ready out-of-the-box to use with a wireless network. All a user needs to do after turning on the phone is enter a Skype username and password. The Skype software pulls up the user’s full contact list, displays the connection status on the phone screen, and allows the consumer to connect to any other Skype user for free. The phone will also allow users to connect to non-Skype users with the SkypeOut™ feature. More information on NETGEAR’s Skype WiFi phone, including pricing and availability, is planned for the first quarter of 2006.

In addition to the Skype Wifi phone, NETGEAR and Skype also announced that the NETGEAR RangeMax Wireless Router (WPN824) with Smart MIMO technology, a 2006 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award honoree and the industry’s #1 selling MIMO-G product, will be equipped to optimize Skype.

The phone seems similar to the Accton Skype phone and the UTStarcom Vonage phone I’ve mentioned previously.


Posted at 7:44 pm. Filed under Companies, Creative, D-Link, Internet, IPEVO, Kodak, MIMO, Netgear, Panasonic, Skype, VoIP, Vonage, VTech, Wi-Fi

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