New viewer makes photo-sharing easy

October 01, 2001|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

FOR THOSE WHO adopt them, new technologies such as digital photography can be enjoyable, entertaining and liberating. But sharing the wealth with others who haven't adopted or won't adopt the technology can be frustrating.

For example, once I've taken a "roll" of digital photographs, it should be easy for me to upload them to my computer and e-mail them to family and friends. But some of my correspondents, particularly those of my parents' generation, don't have e-mail. And many of those who are wired can't figure out what to do with a photographic e-mail attachment when they get it.

So I'm going to give credit to Microsoft, which has quietly released a combination of hardware and software that can put digital photography in the hands of the digitally challenged.

The hardware is a $159 gadget about the size of a paperback book called a TV PhotoViewer. As its name implies, it plugs into a television set and "plays" albums of digital photos from floppy disks. No computer required - all Grandma has to do to see the latest photos of the kids is put the disk in the drive and flick a button on a remote control.

The software is a program that creates floppy disk albums from your stored photos. It's free for downloading, which means anybody in the family can make a floppy-based album and mail it off to a PhotoViewer-equip- ped Grandma.

Correspondents who are even marginally PC-literate don't need the hardware. They can enjoy a floppy-disk album on any PC. A simple viewer that uses Internet Explorer as a medium is stored on the disk. If you prefer e-mail to snail mail, you can send an entire album as a compressed file that can be viewed by anyone who downloads a small program from Microsoft's Web site.

To use the hardware, Grandma (my term for the generic, unplugged user) will need a television with a video-in port. Most newer televisions have these for use with VCRs and DVD players, but some very inexpensive models may not. Check out Grandma's set before you buy. Once the viewer is connected to the set, make sure Grandma knows how to switch the television from the antenna or cable feed to the video port

That done, all she has to do is put in the disk. A title screen with thumbnail images appears on the set. From there, it's a matter of pushing the forward and back buttons, either on the player or on the bundled remote control. A third button will automatically display the pictures in order.

The collections of photos I prepared were certainly pleasing to the eye, although a bit washed-out compared with the originals displayed on a computer monitor. One reason is the relatively low resolution of the photos (which Microsoft's software converts to 640 x 480 pixels to match the television's resolution). The other is a format conversion problem that occurs whenever you try to make a television display a computer-generated image. But my bet is that Grandma won't care.

Microsoft's TV PhotoViewer software was a snap to use. When it runs, it displays a blank album "contact sheet" with squares for up to 40 photos (although Microsoft recommends only 20 per floppy for best quality).

To add pictures, browse through the photos on your hard drive and drag the icon of any photo into its place in the album. Add captions, if you like. When the album is ready, you can click a button to create a floppy disk or compress the album and send it as an e-mail attachment.

Once your recipient has downloaded Microsoft's viewer, she can save the album to disk or open it directly from Outlook Express or many other mail programs without searching for the downloaded file on her hard drive.

Just be aware that TV PhotoViewer albums contain low-resolution versions of your images that are fine for screen viewing but won't make good prints.

The nice thing about the hardware is that everything works, right out of the box (or off the Net), with a minimum of fuss. It isn't the slickest electronic photo album manager I've seen, and at $160 the TV PhotoViewer is a bit pricey for casual use. But it's a snap to use and delivers the goods.

Even if you're not interested in the hardware, give the PhotoViewer software a try. You'll find it at www.microsoft.com/tvphotoviewer.

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