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Digital frames getting cheaper, better

While many frames remain novelty items that are expected to sell briskly — and cheaply — this holiday season, a number of them are getting more sophisticated in what they offer while remaining relatively simple to use.
Image: Weather frame.
Polaroid Corp.
/ Source: contributor

Take this digital photo frame quiz and test your knowledge: The prices of the frames keep: a) falling b) increasing c) both.

The answer is “c.”

While many frames remain novelty items that are expected to sell briskly — and cheaply — this holiday season, a number of them are getting more sophisticated in what they offer while remaining relatively simple to use.

“We’re certainly seeing a greater range of sizes, and lower price points, especially on the 7-inch models,” said Ross Rubin, a consumer technology analyst for the NPD Group.

A number of retailers offered frames for $49 and $59 as part of Black Friday promotions, he said.

Such promotions can be expected to continue, and frames at those prices probably will have screen sizes starting at 5.6 inches and be able to play music files, along with showing photos in a slideshow mode.

Newer frames include wireless capability, a good option for anyone who has a wireless home network already in place, said Nancy Carr of Kodak.

Frames that also come with a USB connection, for plugging in a flash drive with photos, in addition to the standard photo memory card slots on the frame, are also growing in popularity.

And more frames also can show video as well as still pictures.

On the higher end, PhotoVu recently released a 22-inch, widescreen photo frame that starts at $1,199. Choosing a custom frame and matting adds to the final cost.

Worldwide, there were 2.8 million digital frames shipped in 2006, and the average selling price was $168, according to a report this fall by research firm IDC.

By 2011, IDC said, shipments will increase to 42.3 million units, with U.S. shipments representing 54 percent of the market.  

In 2006, IDC said, the 5- to 6.9-inch “frame category made up the bulk of the market…but the 7- to 8.9-inch category will dominate in 2007 and retain the top spot throughout 2011.”

A stroll down Wal-Mart’s camera aisle tells part of the story. Earlier this year, one or two digital photo frames could be found in side aisle in a glass cabinet, under lock and key.

For the holidays, the company has given digital frames prime display space facing a center aisle, with more than a half-dozen model plugged in and running, and with prices ranging from $50 to more than $150.

Target now carries digital photo frames in both its electronics area and in its photo frame aisle, where they’re placed next to standard photo frames.

In addition to a growing home market, digital photo frames are finding favor in workplaces where space is at a premium, with crowded desktops and cramped cubicles, said Rubin of NPD.

“We see a lot of them in office environments,” he said.

There are also some “two-fer” types of frames on the market now that do double duty:

  • That’s true literally with Digital Décor’s DPF770 Dual-Screen Picture Frame. It has two, adjacent 7-inch screens which can show photos using a single memory card. It retails for around $200.
  • Polaroid’s XSA-00770S model has a 7-inch screen and also shows the indoors temperature and humidity, and the temperature outside. It retails for around $100.
  • Philips’ AJL307 alarm clock/radio has 7-inch digital screen that displays photos as well as a clock, calendar and radio. It also plays MP3 files. It retails for $129.99.

Kodak, one of the leading makers of digital picture frames, offers several with wireless capability. Its top model has a 10-inch screen and retails for $249.

“The wireless option is great, because you can access your photos from the Kodak Gallery photo-sharing site,” said Carr of Kodak.

“You don’t have to install any software; just follow a series of on-screen menus on the frame by using the remote control.”

In September, the company launched Picture Mail. It allows friends or family members who also use the free Kodak Gallery to send photos to your digital frame directly.

“It’s great, no phone call or e-mail needed to say, ‘I sent you that picture.’ It just goes right to the frame,” Carr said.

No matter what brand or type of frame you choose, there are a few basics to keep in mind when you’re shopping:

  • Bring your camera’s memory card, with a variety of types of photos on it, to the store. Test it out on different frames to compare how the photos look for a truer idea of what you’ll be getting.
  • Make sure the screen has a resolution of at least 800 x 600. If that information isn’t on the box, ask the salesperson to find out, or check the manufacturer’s Web site.
  • Watch out for dead pixels. One little red dot on a computer screen used for Web surfing and word processing may not be enough to push you over the edge. But on a photo display, it’s more noticeable and more irritating.
  • Even if you feel you have too many remote controls around, this is one product where a remote is a must for dealing with the on-screen menu. You will not want to be futzing with the side, back, or even bottom of the frame to make adjustments that you could easily do with a remote.