Visitors to Bill Gates’ Lake Washington mansion frequently marvel at the large flat-screen monitors hanging on many of the walls, displaying a rotating selection of paintings and art photos. It’s the perfect amenity for any billionaire easily bored by old-fashioned static images. But now similar technology, on a smaller scale, is becoming affordable for the less-than-mega-rich. It’s the desktop digital picture frame – a decade-old technology that’s now available for under $150, with improved features that make it easy to create 24-hour slide shows of your favorite digital snapshots.
Digital frames have been on the market since at least 2000, but their appeal has been limited, thanks to high prices, limited storage capacity, and the longstanding hassle of getting pictures from a camera or a computer into the frames. The newest generation of frames, many of which were on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, sport a wider combination of connectivity and storage options, as well as simpler interfaces and a range of price levels.
On exhibit at CES were new digital frames from familiar names such as Kodak, Samsung, Westinghouse, Sony, and Philips, but also from lesser known sources such as Ceiva Logic, Mustek, Pandigital, A-Data, SmartParts, Fidelity, Media Street, Everstar, Royal, Edge Tech, Pacific Digital, PhotoVu, and Parrot. Indeed, no fewer than 56 manufacturers showed off their digital photo displays at the show, according to the trade publication Print Business.
Ceiva, one of the earliest purveyors of digital frames, showed off two new devices with screens measuring 7 inches and 8 inches diagonally, a big improvement over the 5.5-inch screens on the company’s original product, released in 2000. But a more important change – and one executives hope will significantly increase the device’s appeal – is the addition of a memory-card reader on the device’s backside. Users can now take photos on their digital cameras or camera phones, transfer the device’s memory card to the frame, and view their photos instantly.
The only way to get photos into previous Ceiva models was to upload them to Ceiva’s website; every night, the frames would connect to Ceiva servers and download the most recently added pictures via a built-in dialup modem and a telephone line. Users could also mark their photos for delivery to friends and relatives with their own frames. The dialup service is still available on the new frames, and costs $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year. But the card reader make the frame accessible to owners who don’t want to pay subscription fees.
“The new Ceivas are really re-thought from the ground up,” says David Simon, Ceiva’s vice president of business development. “The market is clearly saying it’s ready for card-reader picture frames. But what still sets us apart is the ability to do distance sharing over the phone line.”