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Photography has certainly come a long way since the days when you needed to shoot a whole roll of 24, or 36, exposure film, and the secure the services of a professional developer, before you could see your results. Digital photography, nowadays, means that you can see your photographs instantly, and download them to a computer, almost as quickly, for editing and distribution via email, or the Internet. Similar advances in LCD, or “Liquid Crystal Display”, technology mean that it is now possible to download one, or more, photographs to a digital photo frame, directly from your digital camera – without the use of a computer, or a printer – where they can be displayed in bright, vibrant colour, singly, or as a slide show. Aside from their advanced technical capabilities, digital photo frames resemble traditional pictures frames, in all other respects, and can be mounted on a wall, or stood on a desk, or mantelpiece, in “portrait” or “landscape” position. Some models are also capable of displaying short film clips, in MPEG, or AVI, format, and of playing back MP3 files, so your images can be accompanied by appropriate music, of sound effects.
Originally founded in Hsin-Chu, Taiwan, in 1988, Mustek, Inc. – where Mustek stands for “Most Unique Sensible Technology” – has grown to become a world leader in the development, manufacture and distribution of imaging devices, and is well positioned to achieve its aim of becoming “the complete digital imaging solution company of the future.” Its operation has expanded to include a manufacturing facility in mainland China, and offices in Germany, and the United States, providing distribution, sales and marketing for Europe, as well as Canada, Mexico, and South America. The Mustek brand name has become synonymous, internationally, with high quality, innovative, digital imaging products, which are, nevertheless, easy to use, and affordably priced.
Screen Size & Resolution
The most appropriate screen size for a digital photo frame depends, largely, on where it is positioned, and from how far away it needs to be viewed. A 5.6 inch, 7 inch, or 8 inch frame – these measurements are from corner to corner, diagonally, as is customary – for example, may be best suited for display on a desktop, or mantelpiece, whereas for wall mounting, a 10 inch, or even a 15 inch screen may be more appropriate. As might be expected, the cost of a digital photo frame does tend to be directly proportional to the size of its screen. Remember that screen size, here, refers to the size of actual visible display, and not to the size of the surrounding frame.
The quality, or more specifically, the “resolution”, of the screen is at least as important, if not more so, than its overall physical size. The resolution describes the total number of picture elements, or “pixels”, in the display, and the higher the number of pixels, the sharper an image displayed on the screen will appear. Some smaller digital photo frames may have a fairly low resolution of, say, 480 x 234 pixels, and may not reproduce colours very well. You really need to be looking for a digital photo frame with a resolution of, at least, 640 x 480 pixels, and the higher you go up the scale – 720 x 480, 800 x 480 and 800 x 600 pixels are other options, right up to 1,600 x 1,200 pixels, in some 15 inch digital photo frames – the higher the quality of the image that you can expect. Bear in mind, however, that even a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 pixels still only equates to less than 2 megapixels (Mp), and, as some digital cameras are capable of taking digital photographs with resolutions of 7Mp, or higher, the image displayed by a digital photo frame will never be as high in quality as a high resolution print, on good photographic paper.
Bear in mind, too, that all LCD screens – even those with the latest “active matrix”, or TFT (“Thin Film Transistor”) technology – tend to operate most efficiently away from conditions of bright sunlight, or artificial light, where there is some degree of shade. You should also consider the “aspect ratio” of your chosen screen, particularly if you wish to display photographs taken in “widescreen”, or 16:9 aspect ratio, mode. Many digital photo frames include the facility to switch between a traditional, 4:3 aspect ratio and a 16:9 aspect ratio, so that digital photographs taken in this way can be displayed correctly, without distortion. The Mustek PF-A710 digital photo frame, for example, features a 7 inch, active matrix, screen which supports JPEG images up to a maximum resolution of 12Mp, and a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio.
In order to display a digital photograph, or photographs, in a digital photo frame, you must, of course, transfer it, or them, from your digital camera, in some way. This is most commonly achieved by removing the memory expansion card – of which there are many common types, including CF (“Compact Flash”), SD (“Secure Digital”), MMC (“MultiMedia Card”) and Memory Stick – from the digital camera, in its entirety, and inserting it into a slot, usually at the back, in a digital photo frame. This means that all the digital photographs on the memory card are available for display on the digital photo frame. You do, of course, need to make sure that your chosen digital photo frame does actually memory expansion cards of the type used in your digital camera. If all else fails, memory card readers, which are compatible will other common memory expansion card formats, are available as accessories. A USB, or “Universal Serial Bus”, port may be another possibility, particularly if you are transferring digital photographs to a digital photo frame from a PC, as, indeed may be a wireless, or “WiFi” connection. Other connectivity options to look out for include “Bluetooth” capability, which may allow you to transfer digital photographs to a digital photo frame directly from a mobile phone, for example, or a “TV Out” connection, which allows you to display photographs stored in the frame on the screen of a television set. The Mustek PF-A710 digital photo frame, for example, provides compatibility with CF, SD, MMC, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro expansion cards, via an integrated memory card reader, and a USB port.
One fairly obvious difference between a digital picture frame and a traditional picture frame is that the digital version requires a constant supply of power. This is most often supplied from the mains via a power cord, or from standard, alkaline, or rechargeable, batteries, although some models do include the option of mains, or battery, operation. Rechargeable batteries, especially, can be useful in situations where you need to position a digital photo frame away from an immediate source of mains power, without the necessity of unsightly, trailing wires, or if you want a digital photo frame to be portable, so that you can carry it with you, and pass it around amongst your friends. Rechargeable battery technology, especially that based on lithium chemistry – lithium ion, or “Li-Ion”, and lithium polymer, or “Li-Po”, batteries – is improving all the time, such that the lifespan of such batteries, on a single charge, is constantly increasing. The Mustek PF-E150 digital photo frame alarm clock, for example, offers the option of running from mains power, or from a single, 3-volt, Li-Ion battery, or two, standard AAA alkaline batteries.
It may be possible to combine a series of digital photographs – a collection of holiday snapshots, for example – into a slide show on a digital photo frame. Depending upon the level of sophistication of the frame, it may be possible to adjust the interval between individual photographs, and to introduce professional looking transition effects, such as fading one photograph into another, and accompany the show with music, or sound effects, from MP3 format sound files, which are played back on a tiny, integral speaker in the frame, itself. Similarly, support for MPEG, and/or AVI, means that you can play back moving, as well as still, images. Many digital photo frames are supplied with a remote control unit, which can be useful for accessing the functions of the frame, including switching it on, and off, if it is positioned out of reach.