Digital picture framesLCD panels that sit upright on a table or shelf, or hang on the wall to display imagesare a cool idea, and theyve suddenly become a hot consumer item. But most are a pain to use.
They rarely have enough onboard memory to hold a reasonable selection of photos and the only way you can add pictures is by inserting a camera card or, in some cases, plugging in a USB drive. Most are also pretty much single-application devices: displaying locally stored images is all they can do.
D-Link is trying to change that. Its DSM-210 Wireless Internet Photo Frame ($290) connects to a home (or office) Wi-Fi network and lets you pull images from computers on the network. It connects to the Internet, as well, to pull images and information from the Web, including from photo sharing and social media sites, such as Flickr, Picasa and Facebook.
You can also control the DSM-210, in limited ways, over the network from a PC using a Yahoo widget developed by D-Link for the purpose. The DSM-210 is not perfect, but its a creditable first foray into a new product category for D-Link. The wireless and Internet features make it a big improvement on most other digital frames out there.
That said, D-Link was not the first with a Wi-Fi picture frame. Kodak introduced wireless frames two years ago, though without the Internet functionality. And there are others available now as well. The wonder is that manufacturers dont include Wi-Fi on all or at least more of their products. It makes the device so much more useful and convenient.
D-Link originally unveiled the DSM-210 in January, but then went back to the drawing board to refine the product. Its finally available now for $290 from the companys Web site.
The screen is a 10-inch (diagonal) 800x480-pixel TFT LCD. Its good enough for the kind of photo viewing you do with a product like this, and the screen size, but it wont show off your pictures to absolute best advantage. If you get too close, for example, you can see the dots. A more serious flaw: no contrast or brightness controls.
None of these are flaws unique to the DSM-210, however. The same can be said of many, possibly most, digital frames. In fact, the screen in this one is better than in some weve looked at.
Given that LCD monitors double the size sell for as little as $200 and Wi-Fi adapters for less than $50, the price for the DSM-210just based on the componentryseems a tad steep. You pay a premium presumably because so few other frame products have the networking capabilities. The 10-inch Wi-Fi frame from Kodak lists for $270, for example.
The DSM-210s screen is set in a plain charcoal-colored plastic frame with rounded corners. The kit also includes a clip-on white face plate, so it should fit in just about any décor.
Under the Hood
The DSM-210 comes with a reasonable 1GB of memory. It has a USB port and a multi-format flash memory slot that accommodates Secure Digital (SD), Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC), MultiMedia Card (MMC), and Memory Stick formats.
The Wi-Fi radio is 802.11g and supports all the usual security protocols. Theres also an Ethernet port, just in case you want to make the DSM-210 less convenient than other frames by tethering it to your router. You control the frame with the included wireless remote control, selecting options from a simple hierarchical menu system that displays on the panel.
Our out-of-box experience was marred by a problem that had nothing to do with the technology itself. We use MAC address filtering on our test network. To enable a device to attach to the network with MAC filtering, you have to enter its 16-character MAC address in a table in the routers configuration software.
As with most Wi-Fi products, the DSM-210s MAC address is printed on a label on the back. Despite entering this address in the routers MAC filtering tableand double checking itthe device would not connect to our network.
The problem, as it turned out, was simple, but one we had never encountered before: the MAC address printed on the label was incorrect. It took some time, and a call to D-Link technical support, to figure it out.
(Heres how to solve the problem if you run into it with this or any other Wi-Fi product. Disable MAC filtering on the router. When the problem device then connects, look in its network settings and make note of the IP address the router has assigned it.
Then, find that address in the list of attached devices in your router software. That list should also show you its MAC address. Copy down the correct MAC address for the device, type it into the MAC filtering table, and re-enable filtering.)
Once that problem was solved, the DSM-210 worked as advertised. It connected to the network quickly. The interface includes a dedicated button for configuring WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), which may make it slightly easier for inexperienced users to set up encryption protectionbut not much.
Updating the firmware over the Internet took a few minutes, but then we were in business.
You can easily view pictures stored on a camera card or USB drive of course, but we were most interested in the wireless and Internet functionality.
Wireless Slide Shows
The DSM-210 uses Microsoft Windows Media Player 11, and its media sharing features, to organize and stream images to the frame over the Wi-Fi network from a PC hard drive. MP11 is included with Windows Vista and is also available for download for XP.
The DSM-210 manual (on the CD in the package) includes clear instructions on how to set up MP11. Media Player can automatically find compatible images anywhere on your hard driveor any connected hard driveand add them to its library.
(Note, however, that the DSM-210 can only display JPEG images. If you work with images in Photo Shop or Photo Shop Elements or some other photo editing software and save them in the softwares native format or as a TIFF file, they wont display. The same goes for RAW images on a camera memory card.)
You can stream the entire Media Player library to the frame in a simple slide show, or create albums to hold groups of images, which you can select using the frame interface. Or you can specify an existing folder on a hard drive to share in Media Player and then select that folder to play its entire contents.
Its not clear what processing the DSM-210 does to images before displaying them. In most display modes they look finewithin the constraints of the quality of screen. But when using some transition effects between slides, images looked soft and were cropped in odd ways. The Cross Fade transition worked bestthe current image fades out as the next one fades in.
One serious flaw: although you can select a transition effect from a menu of about eight and specify how the frame sizes and crops images, you cannot control the amount of time between slidesand they change too quickly.
You can, however, manually move through slides in an album or folder using the remote control.
Images from the Web
D-Link has partnered with Frame Media Inc., which provides a service that streams Web-based media and information to digital frames from popular photo sharing and social media sites, and from 400 free RSS-type channels.
You open a FrameChannel account (free for DSM-210 users) at the companys Web site and select the services you already usesuch as Flickrand enter your user name and password for that service. You can also set it up to stream photos from friends sites to which you have access. The free channels range from stock imagesfrom National Geographic, for exampleto weather, to specialized news services. Many come with advertising at the bottom of the screen.
Note that by default, FrameChannel channels will only display five slides at a time, which means the same five pictures keep repeating endlessly. However, you can go into the Advanced settings for each channel and change the maximum number of slides to as many as 99.
The Yahoo widget is of limited utility and flawed in our opinion. It does not show what is displaying on the frame, but rather streams the contents of the frames memory. You can drag and drop images from PC hard drive to widget, though, which copies the files to the frames memory.
This kind of digital picture frame is a much more useful than conventional products, both as a display for automatically running slide shows and for pulling pictures from a hard drive to show in user-controlled slide shows. The Internet features are also pretty cool.
The screen, however, is merely okay. The absence of brightness and contrast controls is one flaw in the product, and the lack of control over the time slides display in self-running slide shows is another.
DSM-210 Wireless Internet Photo Frame
Pros: Useful Wi-Fi-based network and Internet features.
Cons: Absence of some basic controls
Adapted from Wi-FiPlanet.com.
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