What Is A "Frame"?
Digital Photography Has A New Definition
By Richard Lewin
February 2001Weave's StoryBox cyber frame
In 1989, Bill Gates described a vision of a living room where a
framed picture on the wall could be a Van Gogh in the morning that
turned into a Rembrandt in the afternoon. How would this be done?
The homeowner would log onto the Internet and download their
selected image to the frame (for a fee, of course). The concept of
an electronic frame has now become reality in the consumer
marketplace, and every manufacturer in the category has a different
idea of what consumers want. It will be interesting to see how
these new products evolve.
The digital frame is such an obvious extension of digital photography that, when you first see one, and experience its magic, you will probably say to yourself, "Now, why didn't I think of that?"
Those who rely on the profits from photofinishing might have mixed feelings about these frames, since, when combined with a digital camera, they bring us closer to a computer-free, processing-free world of home photography. This is still a young category, however, with many questions to be answered. Even agreeing on a name for this new technology has been a difficult task. Are they JPEG Image Viewers?; Digital Photo Frames?; Digital Picture Frames?; or Digital Photo Albums? What follows here is an overview of each of the major players' concept of whatever they are.
Sony Digital Photo Frame PHD-A55. ($899.00) Also known as "CyberFrame," this was the first consumer product of this type. The CyberFrame accepts only Memory Stick media, but it comes with Picture Gear Software to handle all types of image files for the display. It has a 5.5-inch Active Matrix TFT LCD screen, capable of playing back up to UXGA (1600x1200) size images, and MPEG clips, with sound. In case you want to doze off while staring at your CyberFrame, there is a sleep timer built in. It is AC powered only.
Hagiwara Lukis Digital Photo Frame. ($279.99) Lukis, also known as a "JPEG Image Viewer," has a 4-inch TFT LCD screen, and accepts JPEG images only on SmartMedia. One of its unique features is a standard RCA jack for output to a TV monitor. The frame itself is an easily identifiable shape, with a lot of frame area, considering the size of the screen. AC only.
VideoChip's "The Wallet. "The Wallet," the "Digital Photo Album that fits in your hip pocket," is a battery operated (2-123A's) viewer with a 4-inch, 320x240 display for JPEGs only. The controls are very basic and simple: Forward/Back/View (thumbnail display/search). It accepts CF cards or IBM MicroDrive C2, or SmartMedia, with the clever Pretec SmartMedia CF Card Adapter, available online from www.pretec.com.
Digi-Frame DF-390 ($399.00) and DF-560. Digi-Frame's DF-560, with a 5.6-inch Active Matrix 640x480 LCD display, adds a new major feature to the product category: PC connectivity. If you have a JPEG on your PC, you can use the supplied "Digi-Link Software" to copy it to the Frame via a supplied serial cable. Up to 500 pictures can be saved and arranged into customized "slide shows." If you feel the need to match your room décor, three replacable frame overlays come with the unit. The screen area has two unique features: automatic orientation of vertical and horizontal images, and "Auto Color Fill" mode. In this mode, the screen cleverly fills in unused background area around the digital image with a color taken from the image itself!
The Pocket (3.9" screen) Model DF-390, like the DF-560, has a SmartMedia and a CF card slot, with serial connectivity to a PC or Mac. It runs on 4 supplied NiMH batteries.
Ceiva, "The world's first Internet-connected digital picture frame." ($249.00) Ceiva is a plain black 8x10-inch frame with a 5x7-inch VGA screen area in the center that adds yet another dimension to the digital frame story: standard phone line/PC-free downloading of JPEGs. The Frame stays plugged into AC and a standard phone line. Nightly, the Frame automatically dials a local phone number ($2.99/month fee) or an 800 number ($7.99/mo.) to download 10 pictures. Pictures, up to 250, are stored at www.ceiva.com in a private account. Uploading pictures obviously requires Web access. The instruction manual is glorious in its simplicity and clarity.
Artpix Digital Album Display Model dgAlbum120. This is the smallest of Artpix's 3 wall-mountable frames (12-inch screen). Others are 15-inch and 18-inch. Input of images can be via PC Card/CF or SmartMedia with appropriate adapter/Floppy Disk or CD via PCMCIA slot. Stereo speakers and an internal 2.1 GB hard drive round out this vision of what a digital frame should be. Some interesting industry alliances have developed with Artpix's products, with Polaroid marketing the dg120 as the "dgColorShot120," and Kodak selling the 15-inch model for $1,999 on its website.
StoryBox Connected Frame. ($299.00) StoryBox by Weave Innovations is the most complex story to be told here. Many of the current principals of Weave Innovations have come from the Family Room Products and Technologies Division of Intel Corporation. Their experience has told them that people will want more than just pictures on their digital frames. So, the StoryBox Network has made alliances with E! Online, Sportsline.com, The Weather Channel, Kodak, etc. to broaden the Frame's capabilities. The Frame itself is a classic wood frame (approx. 7"x8") with a 4"x5" VGA screen, CF Card (SmartMedia with the Pretec Adapter) input for up to 1,500 pictures, and telephone jack. Pictures are stored for download at www.storybox.com for between $5 and $10 per month, for online sharing with others.
Capture & Display
Casio, (which has already delivered radio, GPS, MP3, stock quote and data downloading watches) who recently announced the Wrist Camera WQV-1, which at 40x52mm, on your wrist, can store up to 100 images in a 1MB on-board memory band. Throw in the fact that this thing really is a camera too, with a 28,000 pixel CMOS lens, 120x120 monochrome display with Infrared (IR) downloading capability (to PC or another watch). Dick Tracy was clearly way ahead of his time.
On the lower-end side of the equation is a slip-in imager module dubbed the "Eyemodule" for the new Handspring Visor handheld devices, from the IDEO design house. Expect to see Handspring's Eyemodule selling in the $100-$150 range by the time you read this. It offers 320x240 resolution, and handles up to 25 color and 500 small black-and-white shots attached to an 8MB Visor Deluxe; it uses the Visor black-and-white display as the viewfinder. They expect to bundle image editing, note attaching and e-mailing software with the point-and-shoot, fixed-focus unit. Throw in Kodak's higher-res little docking unit for the Palm Pilot dubbed the "PalmPix" camera. The PalmPix, married to the Palm Pilot via the HotSync cradle, starts with a relatively impressive color VGA (640x480) resolution, and adds a 2X digital zoom and a fixed lens. Image editing, transmitting, display and storing software will be bundled - and the unit is expected to be available at computer dealers for between $150-$180. The images look pretty solid on screen.
All of these last three devices - from Casio, Handspring (IDEO) and Kodak - add the ability to take, as well as display, pictures so you can see this category will be a fun one to keep an eye on as the months roll by. Expect prices to drop and innovation to continue.
This is a product area that is truly new, not an adaptation of an existing technology. It will be interesting to see how the category evolves. We will certainly keep you posted.