Philips 7FF1AW digital photo display
So we managed to get our sweaty mitts on a pre-release of the Philips 7FF1AW Digital Photo Display. Let's just say that having seen more than a few Ceivas in our lifetime has left us a bit, shall we say, jaded about these devices in terms of display quality and design. Well, the press photo certainly looks nice so perhaps there is hope.



Philips' push into the digital photo display arena lends some credence to a market which until now has been ignored by the big boys of display manufacturing. Another sign (as if we needed one) that digital photography has truly gone mainstream. What's driving them? Well, Philips' research claims that a paltry 20% of all digital photos and digital scans of old prints ever get pressed to paper. Oh surprise, there's product to be sold!

Now, we know that some of you have a raised-floor data center installed in your house and could always make your own digital photo display out of discarded laptop components, paper clips, and asparagus. But this product is for the average consumer, not you alpha anthropoids, dig?

Out of the box and powered on
First thing we notice — the packaging is very Apple-like with the actual box inserted into a marketing sleeve. Remove the sleeve and the box opens like a book. We like this attention to detail.

Philips F771AW out of box

Unpacked, you get the 7-inch display, a universal power supply, a sturdy metal stand, quick start guides in multiple languages, a CD-based user manual, and two USB cables for connecting the display to a digital camera or personal computer.

Philips F771AW unpacked

The overall frame design is aesthetically pure and feels rock solid. The design reminds us of the old swing-arm iMac display or first generation iPod with its combination white and heavy plastic frame. This is probably not by coincidence given the mad popularity of Jonathan Ive designs.

The display is, unfortunately smaller than we imagined from the press photos and marketing collateral. Guess we fixated too much on those, er "7-inches" which in photography patter would indicate a device for showcasing 5 x 7-inch photos. Oh right, Philips manufactures displays so that measurement is diagonal! Thus the actual LCD is 3.6 x 5.4-inches (9 x 14-centimeters) which is still respectable and in-line with traditional frames you'll find in most homes — just not what we had expected.

The stand is (refreshingly) made from highly polished metal and is keyed for idiot-proof connection. However, don't be tempted to use it as a handle for passing the frame around to your friends. The off-center connection is likely to disconnect due to the torque created by the frame — something that nearly happened to us as we passed the unit around for closer inspection.

Philips F771AW stand

A toggle of the switch to "on" introduced about 2 seconds of (slightly) unsettling nothingness until the display burst to life with the Philips logo, some information about the viewing mode we were currently in, and then a built-in slideshow splashing lots of (really) happy people across the display with lives far better than our own. The slideshow was an effective demonstration of the superb quality of the display and the built-in transitions (which. looked. a. bit. jerky.). It even pointed out where those media cards go which wasn't immediately obvious when studying the back panel. The LCD quality does, as the marketing claims, easily match that of traditional prints.

By the way, it is dead quiet — the device doesn't make a peep.

Setup
It took a bit of time to get used to the controls for navigating the Setup menu but the fact the physical control buttons located on the top, back of the display...

Philips 7FF1AW rear buttons

...are mirrored positionally with their functional icons on the front of the display was very helpful indeed.

Philips 7FF1AW functional icons

All the options we would seem to need are available: language selection; brightness; slideshow orientation (portrait or landscape), frequency (options to change photos every 5 seconds or as infrequent as once per day — with lots of choice in between), transition effect and order of photos displayed; and time functions for turning the frame off automatically or adjusting nighttime (hard coded as 6pm to 6am)brightness. It's a shame the frame doesn't simply auto-sense ambient light conditions and then adjust itself accordingly. The frame can display photos in one of three view modes with a press of the Switch View button: the automatic Slideshow mode we already saw when we powered the unit up, the Browse mode which allows for manual viewing and management of photos one-by-one, and the Thumbnail mode which shows 8 photos at a time.

Philips 7FF1AW thumbnails

This is the mode we found most useful (although most sluggish) for managing (adding, excluding, deleting) photos from the slideshow. While we're suckers for the nice graphical transition the selection window makes as it travels between photos in the Thumbnail mode, we'd sacrifice it for some speed improvement, dig? We also noted the occasional delay in response to button presses — this can get a bit annoying especially after you master the navigation and want to zip between options. Thankfully, an audible feedback follows each successful button press letting us know when patience was in order.

Finally, we were a bit surprised after rotating a picture in Thumbnail mode only to find it back in its original position in Browse mode. At least the slideshow obediently observed our command. Perhaps this is by design, after-all there's some serious cropping action performed when displaying a portrait photo in landscape view or vice versa. Regardless, it caught us off guard and we can't find this "feature" documented.

Display
This is certainly the most important feature of any digital photo display and Philips did not skimp on quality. The 5.4 x 3.6-inch (14 x 9 cm), 133ppi (720 x 480) high-resolution 16-bit display with a brightness adjustable up to 200 nits is just stellar. Visibility and brightness even at the most extreme of angles and ambient lighting conditions was very impressive.

The display is rated at 20,000 hours at 50% brightness which means trouble in a bit less than three years — make that four by taking advantage of the auto off-and-on capabilities to shut the display off over night. It should be noted that photo displays like Vialta's VistaFrame offer motion sensing capabilities to put the display to sleep after an hour of stillness presumably extending the life of the display. This seems like a pretty good idea to us.

And if you're a stalker, you'll be stoked with Philips' claims that the LCD can display the same photo for 1,000 hours continuously without any damage to the display.
 
Memory cards
The Philips Digital Photo Display supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick and CompactFlash memory cards. We inserted our 1GB SanDisk SD card and up came our photos in Thumbnail mode — fast! The card was initially loaded with just twenty or so 2.2MB photos shot at 2560 x 1920 with our 5-megapixel camera.

Philips 7FF1AW memory slots

Even loading the card down with 250 photos did not impact performance a bit — impressive. Fortunately, if you press-and-hold the keys corresponding to the Preview/Left or Next/Right you get the equivalent of a page up/down mode which is an absolute requirement when working with high-capacity memory cards containing hundreds of snaps. However, this functionality wasn't immediately obvious to us nor was it documented in the Quick Start Guide. In Thumbnail mode, each 8-photo page took about 4 seconds to refresh — in other words, it took us an uncomfortable minute to scroll to the furthest (125th) photo. We'd rate that performance as sluggish.

Removing the card quickly sent the device right back to the internal memory store. In fact, popping the SD card in-and-out as quick as we could for about 5 seconds all Walt-Mossberg-like did not cause any problems at all — the frame neatly sorted itself out when all the nonsense stopped.

Copying photos to the display's internal storage was equally zippy taking just a couple of seconds. Pretty good when you consider that not only are the bits moving between media but they are also being scaled to an optimum storage-space-to-screen-resolution ratio before copying. Fortunately, you can select multiple photos on your memory card and then copy them all over in one fell swoop with a bit of a performance gain — nicely done Philips. Likewise, you can select and then delete multiple photos from internal memory as well. Fortunately, you can't delete photos from the memory card.

Importantly, we didn't notice any difference in performance whether running the slideshow off the card or the internal memory.

Copying files from a Mac and PC
Yes, you can do this but as Philips states (and for good reason) "it is highly recommended to put the photos on a memory card and copy the photos to Photo display from that memory card." In fact, they don't even describe the procedure in the Quick Start Guide — these details are included in the user manual stored on the included CD. Note: the CD is PC friendly with it's autolaunch feature but Mac users will have to navigate the folder hierarchy and find the temp_Index.htm file for viewing the user manual — most Mac owners will never find it.

We gave it a go anyway just to see what would happen. First thing we noticed — there is only 12MB of internal memory! Simmer down folks 'cause it's enough to store 50 to 80 photos at the appropriate resolution for the display. This optimization occurs automatically if you copy your photos off a memory card or into the root of the Internal memory. However, being the digital whiz kids we are, we instinctively copied our 2.2MB JPEGs to the /DCIM/100FRAME directory — bad decision. Although the display presented the photos just fine on the screen, we squashed the internal memory after copying just 4 photos and these photos were not tagged for automatic inclusion in the slideshow. NOTE: Philips assures us they are working on a firmware release that will resize photos copied into the DCIM directory and then tags them for inclusion in the slideshow.

After Philips set us straight we tried again, this time copying the photos to the root of the internal display. We then disconnected the USB cable and voila, the photo optimization began — a process which moves the resized photos into the /DCIM/100FRAME directory and then deletes the originals from the root directory (not your personal computer). The display provides some high level information about the copy process underway and once complete, the photo display comes up in Thumbnail mode with the new photos tagged for inclusion in the slideshow. Ok, but as you may have already guessed, that 12MB of internal memory still limits us to copying four or five photos at a time — something that would have thrown us into convulsive fits of despair had we continued to the estimated 80 (optimized) photo limit.

So save yourself some trauma and just populate a memory card with the photos you want to display. Afterall, if you're in the market for a digital photo display you more than likely have at least one or two old cards lying around just screaming for action.

It's worthwhile mentioning that the Philips display also boasts the ability to copy photos directly off cameras which support direct playback — i.e, a mass storage mode. Our Casio EX-Z55 was set to this mode yet connecting it and then putting the camera in "play" mode resulted in a nearly audible yawn from the display — i.e., it did not recognize the camera and continued playing the slide show unaffected. This was not a feature we were likely to use anyway so we didn't spend any time trying to sort out the issue. A list of compatible cameras could not be found.

Philips also claims that you can connect two of their Digital Photo Displays and copy photos as you would from a memory card. We could not test this as we only had the one display.

Battery
The battery is rated at 50 minutes of operation and is meant to enable owners to pass around the Digital Photo Display and share their pictures amongst a group of family, friends or colleagues. Our first test gave us about 80 minutes on a full charge. After charging it overnight, we unplugged the power again but this time the device flashed a "low battery" message and simply shut off. So we plugged the power in again until the display came to life and then removed it again — hmmm, things seemed ok. So we took a peak at the Status off the Setup menu which indicated a battery level of 56% charged, no wait 76, er 81... what is going on here!? Nevertheless, the slideshow chugged along for nearly 60 minutes on the battery alone. Then again, after an overnight charging (we thought) we disconnected the power cable and saw yet another "low battery" message before the display shut off. This time, we could not resurrect it on battery alone. A third test after a further 12 hour charge worked fine giving us about 70 minutes of on-battery display life. A fifth test failed after charging for 5 hours. There's something goofy here.

Price
Philips tells us to expect to see their digital photo display hit the shelves globally this month or next at a price between €199 and €229 ($243-269US) depending upon where you live.

A froogle on " photo display digital" gives you an idea who Philips is up against with this offering — tech giants like Svat, MemoryFrame, Vialta, and the yawntastic designs of Pacific Digital. The product that looks the closest to Philips in terms of design, size, and features is the Vialta Vistaframe. Like Philips' offering, it features a contemporary design and roughly the same screen size. However, the 384 x 234 resolution is about half that of the Philips frame, it lacks a battery, and can only hold 8 photos in internal memory. Yet it still sells for about $200US (€163). Philips philosophy here is that if you're in the market for a digital photo display, then quality of the LCD is utmost important. We tend to agree and are willing to pay for that.

What about Ceiva you ask? Sure, you can get a homely (we mean Gertrude McFuzz homely!) looking low-res Ceiva frame for $70 (after $50 rebate, which you'll never send in) plus another $100 per year for the subscription service. But this isn't targeting Ceiva owners. This is for people who actually own a digital camera and want to get those photos off the hard drive and onto the mantel — no provider required.

Other
This is not a networked solution so don't fantasize about remotely updating photos via a built-in WiFi connection (a la Wallflower) or modem-based subscription service all Ceiva-like, k? Philips kept it simple — an approach we agree with especially for a first offering. Having said that, we still dream of the day when we can remotely update grandma's digital photo frame via the Internet without a subscription. Philips, are you listening?

Conclusion
Philips' fledgling foray yields a digital photo display offering outstanding display quality and a swank, intuitive solution for getting those digital photos off your PC and into the living room.

Sure, as angst ridden hacks we always have a few gripes. The inclusion of some auto-sensing (instead of manual) brightness controls based on the ambient lighting conditions and a motion sensing sleep mode to extend the life of the display would be nice-to-haves. And while we're at it, how about a bump in performance to make slideshow transitions smoother and give some pep to the navigation of all those photos on our high-capacity memory cards. The battery exhibited some buggy behavior and the ability to copy files directly from your PC or Mac to the display's internal memory is almost pointless given the paltry 12MB available. And why in the world isn't there a simple hole for hanging this on the wall!? None of these, however, are serious enough to warrant a verbal slagging and do not interfere with the usability or superb quality of the display — and that's what counts in a digital photo display, dig?

Also, for $250 we'd like to see a bigger display. Then again, we'd also like to see the Road Runner give up the ghost in a messy coyote-induced ACME rocket blast — some things are tasty enough to warrant patience and these prices are certain to drop along with LCD prices in general. Regardless, the Philips unit seems priced appropriately compared to the specs of their competition.

Bottom line: If you're in the market for a digital photo display, then this is the new benchmark by which you should measure all other products.

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Philips 7FF1AW Digital Photo Display review