Chalk up another venue for the ever-versatile digital photograph
A digital photo frame could be a good idea for anyone who's tired of seeing the same old lineup of photos on the mantel. That's because you can make the pictures inside the frame change automatically. Most frames let you simply insert your camera's memory card and choose the photos you want to show, but there are other options, one of which is the use of wireless connections.
Most frames contain built-in memory, so you can store photos in the frame and then return the memory card to your camera. Some can store and play digital music to accompany photos and others can play short digital video clips, although not all of those can play audio with the video.
Frames generally range in size from about 3x5 to 10x12 inches. What's more important is the display area within the frame. We tested 7- and 8-inch frames, measured diagonally. Our tests showed that a number of models have some glitches that affect setup and use, and menus that can be confusing. But those issues can be overcome with a little effort.
Certain features, like aspect ratio and image quality, can help ensure your satisfaction with a digital picture frame long after you buy it. Here are some of the more important features to consider.
This is a frame's most important attribute. The screen surface also might affect how well you see the picture. Many models have matte, nonreflective screens. Others place the screen under a piece of glass that creates a bit of glare in some cases, even if the glass has an antiglare coating.
Display resolution is as stated by the manufacturer. It's the number of pixels, horizontally by vertically, that the frame can display. We recommend frames with a pixel resolution of at least 800x600 or 800x480, which produces a visual resolution of about 100 pixels per inch.
Aspect ratio represents the relationship between an image's height and width. Most frames use either a 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio. They work well because most digital cameras shoot at 4:3 and digital SLR cameras shoot at 3:2. But an increasing number of frames use the widescreen 16:9 ratio typical of digital TV sets. Many cameras can shoot images at 16:9, but only if you change the camera's default setting. If you shoot at the standard 4:3 or 3:2, displaying those images on a 16:9 frame can distort the images, because the frame stretches and crops to make the pictures fit. You can also select a 4:3 setting on those frames, but that leaves black bars on each side of the image. Frames with 4:3 aspect ratio provide the best view for most people.
Frames generally range in size from about 3x5 to 10x12 inches. What's more important is the display area within the frame. We tested the largest selling size category: 7- and 8-inch frames, measured diagonally.
With most frames, you insert your camera's memory card into a slot, turn the frame on, and watch your photos display in slideshow fashion. With others, though, you must decide whether to display a still image or slideshow each time you turn on the frame. The multiple layers of controls for tasks such as choosing only to view certain pictures or showing pictures from a memory card can be frustrating. Some frames have onboard software and controls for selecting images stored on a card or in the frame's internal memory and, in most cases, for setting slideshow timings, transitions, and brightness. Frames with the controls in front are easier to use. While controls placed on the side or back of the frame are out of sight, they're also harder to reach, and you're forced to tilt the frame back and forth to see the settings you're changing on the screen.
Most frames can be set to either the wider "landscape" mode or the taller "portrait" mode. But not all offer that versatility, so check before you buy. A number of frames can automatically rotate individual photos to their proper orientation, but only if the pictures were taken by a camera that records orientation as it shoots. Some frames can be hung on walls but many frames require AC power, so there is a power cord to contend with. Generally, digital frames are best suited for use on a desk or credenza. Frames with removable outside borders can be customized to match a room's decor.
Some frames have built-in memory that can store images, which is more convenient than leaving your camera's memory card in the frame. Look for at least 512MB.
Most models can accept the common types of memory card, such as SD, Compact Flash, or Memory Stick. Make sure the frame can use the same type as your camera.
If you want to transfer digital images directly from your computer, look for a frame with a USB port.
If you get a frame with Wi-Fi connectivity, you might be able to download photos from your computer's hard drive (provided that it also has a network connection). Many frames also connect with particular photo-sharing sites. Most are free, but the Ceiva, for example, lets you retrieve photos only from a website that requires a subscription fee. Some Wi-Fi enabled frames also have a unique e-mail address for sending photos you just shot on your cell phone directly to the digital picture frame.
A few frames let you connect via Bluetooth. If your camera or cell phone has Bluetooth, you might find that to be a handy way to get photos to your frame.
Audio and video extras
Some models allow you to accompany slideshows with music or narration. It's fairly simple to do with some frames and a bit more involved with others. Some models can play AVI Motion JPEG video with sound, others can play it without sound, and a few can also play MPEG1 and MPEG4 digital video formats. A few frames include a built-in iPod dock for showing photos and playing music. But keep in mind that the speakers on the frames are not the best for listening to music.
Not all frames that work with Windows computers also work with Macs. Look specifically for models that work with Macs if that's what you have.
A manufacturer of audio products and DVD players, among other things, Audiovox entered the digital picture frame market in 2007. Products include 7-, 8-, and 9-inch frames.
Ceiva currently offers two Wi-Fi-connected frames. In order to share photos, consumers must pay for PicturePlan photo membership.
This consumer electronics company offers digital frames from 3.5 inches to 14 inches at value prices.
The company currently has two frames in its lineup. Other products include photo books and other photo-storage devices.
This consumer electronics company offers a vairety of frames in its MemoryFrame, MemoryVue, NuVue, and NuTouch lines.
Giant currently offers three InTouch Wi-Fi picture frames.
Digital photo frame lines include PixPlus, Tech, Home Décor, and Value. Additionally, in 2009, they partnered with Philips, and currently manufacture Philips frames.
HP launched its first digital frame in 2007 and currently offers 7-, 8-, and 10-inch frames.
Insignia is Best Buy's exclusive brand. It's currently offering 7- and 8-inch frames.
Ipevo offers a 7-inch Wi-Fi frame and produces Skype hardware and Internet peripherals.
Kodak's series of picture frames includes OLED Wireless, Cordless, Décor, Wireless, Multimedia, and photo-only. The frames range in size from 5.6 to 10 inches.
A manufacturer of portable DVD players, scanners, and Bluetooth devices, Mustek includes 7- and 8-inch of digital frames in its line.
The company offers 3.5-to-15-inch digital frames. Its PanTouch technology uses a touchscreen for viewing and managing photos.
The monitor and LCD-TV maker has a line of 6-, 8-, and 10-inch digital picture frames.
The display manufacturer's frame offerings range in size from 7 to 10 inches.
Although the company ceased operations in 2009, consumers can still purchase OptiPix, SyncPix, specialty, and Wi-Fi digital photo frames on the Internet.
Among Sony's photo-related products are its Cyber-shot digital cameras. The company introduced its first digital picture frames in 2008, and has 7-, 8-, 9, and 10-inch models, including the Vaio brand.
Toshiba, a well-recognized electronics company, entered the photo-frame market in 2009. Currently, 8- and 10-inch Wi-Fi models are available.
The monitor and TV maker has frames as small as 3 inches and as large as 10 inches.
Media Street is the manufacturer of eMotion's digital connected frames and photo viewers.
eStarling offered its first digital frame in 2006. It currently offers 7- and 8-inch frames.
Make picture quality your top priority
After all, you're looking at your favorite family photos and memories.
Fit the frame to the recipient
Some frames require only the ability to plug in a memory card. Others might have confusing menus or require wireless setup. Make sure the person receiving the frame has some tech savvy if the model you're considering fits the latter category, or make sure you're available to help with the setup.
Skip the widescreen models
Unless you take pictures using a 16:9 aspect ratio (something most cameras allow, but not by default), stick to frames with a normal (4:3 or 3:2) aspect ratio. Otherwise, the frame will display bars above and below or on the sides of the picture, or you'll have to stretch it to fill the screen.
Get at least a 7-inch frame
This size will allow you to display a full 4x6 photo.
Consider your photo-sharing service
If you use an online photo-sharing site such as Snapfish or Flickr, choose a wireless frame that supports your site.