Letter to Editor: Digital Photo Frames

Q: Someone on our committee suggested that one of those digital picture frames would be really useful for displaying our historic photograph collection at our museum. Do you think this would be a good idea?
A: With more and more of us ditching our traditional film cameras and going ‘digital’, the frames you mention have become really popular over the last couple of years as a way of showing off our ‘happy snaps’.
Known as multimedia digital photo or picture frames, they resemble their conventional counterparts but with an LCD screen and the capacity to hold and display not only pictures, but also music and video downloaded from a computer or internet. They are ideal as a portable slide show for family and friends but do they have a use in community museums?
There is now a variety of models, costing from around $50 to almost $500 so what’s the difference? Generally ranging in size from 7” (18 cm) to 15” (38 cm), relating to the diagonal viewing area, the most important issue is the screen quality. Amongst the seemingly bewildering IT jargon, look out for TFT-LCD - that’s thin film transistor liquid crystal display – simply meaning it can present top quality images. Note the screen resolution – the higher the resolution the better. More pixels mean more detail – so a 7” frame with a resolution of 1024 x 768 will display crisper, brighter images than say 320 x 480. The aspect ratio is also significant. 16:9 is equivalent to today’s rectangular HDTV screens while 4:3 corresponds to the old traditional square TV screens and can prevent image stretching or distortion. Another important issue is the storage capacity. Cheaper frames have no internal memory so only a certain number of images can be downloaded via a memory card, integrated card reader or USB flash drive. However, a frame with 1GB of inbuilt memory can store up to 8000 pictures. Most frames need to be plugged in but a few at the higher end of the market are cordless having rechargeable batteries of up to 3 hours duration. Other bonuses include built-in speakers, the ability to play music and video; and different viewing formats – one picture or several pictures on the screen at one time, and a selection of transitions and duration times encouraging creative automated slideshows.
So does this fun gadget have a place in our museum? Ask yourself ‘what do we want the frame for?’ Its size and portability mean it is not best suited for display purposes or presentations to large audiences (images burnt on to DVD and viewed via a TV screen or data projector is the best option here); however for the same reason it may serve well in oral history projects when large numbers of photos need to be shown to either one person or passed around a small group. A cordless frame with the ability to display sharp images is ideal here especially for older people with failing eyesight. A basic viewing format is really all that is required. However, before purchasing, it’s essential to consider the digitization process – selection, scanning, size and storage – which will no doubt raise more questions to be answered regarding equipment, processes and costs involved.
In short: a good idea but only for certain historical projects. Good quality screen, high resolution, basic viewing format and battery powered option preferred.

Newsletter reference

CMP News No. 44 December 2009

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