A digital frame for all occasions

Images: Devices can call up everything from picture-perfect photos of the grandkids to rush-hour traffic reports at the push of a button.

January 29, 2001|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

"Hold on, honey, I've got to check the picture frame to see how the Orioles did last night."

For that matter, you can use your trusty frame to check the weather forecast. Or look up your stock prices. Or find out if there are any rush-hour traffic jams.

You can even use it to look at pictures.

Digital picture frames are hot items in the cyber-photography market, giving you the ability to store dozens of photos and grab more from the Web whenever you like. While they aren't cheap, at $300 to $600, they offer excellent picture quality and a variety of nifty features you won't find on those $20 frames from Target that hold photos made from dead trees.

They also make surprisingly practical gifts for parents and grandparents. With the push of a button in Baltimore, the digital frame will download pictures you posted in Seattle - or anywhere else for that matter -and the images will pop up on the screen. Grandma and Grandpa won't need a computer, email or even a photo album to take advantage of your digital photography skills.

Most digital picture frames look pretty much like their traditional counterparts - some even have wood exteriors. But the center of the frame is a liquid crystal display (LCD) capable of showing digital photographs stored in the commonly used JPEG format.

Getting the photos out of your digital camera or computer and into the frame takes a little fiddling, but once you get the hang of it, it's a snap. At least it was with the unit we tested, Kodak's Smart Picture Frame, which has a 6.4-inch diagonal screen and a capacity of 36 photos stored at 640-by-480 pixels.

One way to transfer pictures is to dump them in directly from a digital camera's CompactFlash (CF) memory card, which fits into a slot on the right side of the frame. When you push the frame's Menu button, it displays a straightforward list of options, one of which is "copy from the CF card to the frame." However, if your camera uses a different type of memory card, such as SmartMedia, you'll have to take the indirect route.

That road goes through cyberspace. Kodak and a company called Weave Innovations have set up a Web site at www.storybox.com that interactively communicates with your picture frame when you plug it into a telephone jack.

A caveat here: while the Web-based service is useful, it costs $10 a month, which might put some people off, considering the frame's $350 price tag.

Once on the Web site, you can upload pictures to your personal inbox. While the site will resize larger images, you'll get the best results by using your photo editing software to reduce them to 640-by-480 pixels.

On the other end, all Grandma has to do is hit the "Update" button on the frame to make it dial a local number and grab the pictures. It's an odd sensation to stand by while one of your picture frames makes a phone call.

The Web site also allows you to establish personal preferences for the delivery of news, sports and local weather updates, in addition to the latest photos.

Anytime you use the update button, you'll get the latest information.

Like most of its competitors, Kodak's frame allows you to display a single shot or cycle through the collection in a slide show. The Web site also allows you to authorize friends or family to upload pictures to your frame.

This is a neat idea, albeit one that requires a little caution. You wouldn't want to put the wrong people on your frame-sharing list, because who knows what pictures they might put on there. But for any one that has a far-away relative, the benefits are obvious - give them a digital frame and you'll never have to mail or e-mail photos again.

While we enjoyed using Kodak's frame, you might want to check out the competition before you buy. Among them are the Kensington Technology Group (www.kensington.com), Digi-Frame (www.digi-frame.com), and Ceiva (www.ceiva.com).

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