Electronic Picture Frames are getting lots better

by on December 29, 2009 at 9:18 pm

I’ve been playing with electronic picture frames for almost two years. I started with a Ceiva frame two years ago, because it was capable of placing a phone call (modem) to pick up photos, and this frame was for a relative who doesn’t have access to any Internet services at all. It seemed like it would be perfect. It functioned well, held about a hundred photos (I bounced against its capacity, but it wasn’t annoying at all), and the only problem for me was the yearly fee for the dial-up service. But it meant that I could upload photos and within 24 hours they’d appear in the frame on the other side of the US. (If you’re like me, you write a paper letter once a year, to that rare relative who hasn’t yet gotten an email address—so sending photos electronically is a breeze compared to printing out those photos and writing a letter.)

But the Parrot Grande Specchio (pictured at left) has advanced considerably, and I like that. Continue reading to see what has happened in the last two years…

The LCD displays on the frames I’ve seen are quite bright, and there are several sizes, with the larger ones having plenty of pixels to display a nice sharp photo with lots of detail and color. The Ceiva was 640×480 (“VGA” which is similar to the old US analog television resolution), but that worked just fine.

Then today I received a Parrot Grande Specchio[1] frame designed by Martin Szekely, and was pleasantly surprised to get my hands on features that make these frames even more fun. Not just useful, but fun.[2]

We were treated to a product demonstration by Henri Seydoux (click through for video), founder of Parrot, in Paris two weeks ago during Traveling Geeks. I watched his demo, and although Henri wasn’t able to get everything working smoothly (his phone wasn’t paired with the Bluetooth on the frame, for example), it looked like a nice frame.

But once I got my hands on one (today), I was more impressed. This frame has 800×600 resolution, a mirrored front surface that is really exciting, and a bright display inside. Honestly, when it’s switched off, you think it’s just a gilded mirror. I immediately put the frame on my home office Wi-Fi network, and went right to work setting its clock to match San Francisco time. (Yes, it uses NTP to sync the time.) I use (antique) CF cards for my photos, and the frame only accepts SD and USB solid-state-devices, so I decided instead to use the network features of the frame to load my photos. In addition to these SSDs, it’s also capable of using an “RSS feed” an email account, or a Windows share on a computer or server on the local network. So I gave it the account name and password for my Picasa account, and told it “OK to use my private albums on Picasa” and it immediately sucked down my photo collection. I made some adjustments to the album using the Picasa 3 photo manager (on my Mac) and each change that I made was reflected in the frame within at most 15 minutes. I couldn’t figure out how to get it to pull a Flickr set, but I suspect it can be done. And they say it will also pull your Facebook photos.

It can also read other “RSS feeds,” for weather and other information.

And it has an integrated web browser that can display a web page on the screen. I have several projects where we aggregated photos online (one of them is at http:/peace.tmpp.org/ ), and I was able to get them to display on the photo frame. The frame has a browser with javascript built-in, but no Flash.

The frame has some features that I don’t think everyone will use, but perhaps they are particularly French. One of them goes and searches for photos of people—any people—and then displays them in a slideshow. The other one, which Henri demonstrated, called Holiday, finds a seacoast location and then uses Google Maps to display an aerial view. It then moves along that coast. When it encounters a locale where there are user-uploaded photos, it displays the photos. (Yeah, yeah, I didn’t check to see what the source was, but there are communities that do this on Google Earth, so I’m familiar with the process.) I had it running for a while and it was entertaining, but I would rather display my own photo sets than look at other people’s grandmothers and babies.

I was most satisfied with the Picasa feature, so right now it’s rotating through Traveling Geeks photos from earlier this month. That’s just perfect for me.

[1] Disclosure: Parrot sent each of the Traveling Geeks a complementary Grande Specchio electronic picture frame following the Traveling Geeks visit to Paris.

[2] In Paris, everything cool has the word “Design” in its title. When I was there this summer I stayed in a Design hotel, in which each room was specially designed to a theme. It was nice, and gave the impression of luxury without the price of a huge world-wide-chain hotel. I was really surprised to find a great room for €130 a night.

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