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