Kodak OLED digital picture frame

Kodak has beaten the rest of the digital picture frame industry with the very first OLED picture frame available for general sale to the consumer market. If you’re not familiar with OLED display technology, here’s a quick rundown of what it promises:

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display technology is the latest buzz word for the electronics industry. The technology is expected to replace LCD screens, with the promise of low-energy consumption, smaller packaging and improved picture quality.

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Unfortunately, OLED displays are out of reach for most people, and it’s for two main reasons. The first is our obsession with ever-larger and ever-cheaper flat panel monitors and TV screens. The manufacturing process for OLED displays has yet to reach the capacity that would be able to supply the large displays required for most TV sets these days. The second reason is cost. Because the technology is so new, the cost per inch for these displays is staggering. To put that in to perspective, Sony was the first out of the gate with an OLED TV and it costs a staggering £1800 and has a viewable display area of just 11-inches.

So back the Kodak. Although it’s not a TV, I was interested to see how it compares in terms of cost. The Kodak OLED picture frame has a 7.6-inch widescreen display and has pretty much every feature you would expect from a digital picture frame. And the price? It’s around the £700 mark. For the mainstream market, there’s not going to be many people who are willing to spend that amount on a picture frame. But considering the Sony TV at 11-inches costs £1800. The Kodak is good value when comparing it to the Sony on a cost-per-inch basis.

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Most of us would gasp at something this expensive on what most would class as a non-essential gadget. However, its always the early adopters that help make new technologies like this become cheaper and more available for the mainstream market.

One of the benefits of OLED screens is the amazingly thin form factor that you can squeeze them into. You can get displays measuring just millimetres at the thickest point. Kodak has been able to take advantage of this and in effect produced the thinnest picture frame. The design allows Kodak to really showcase how thin these displays are, so they’ve separated the electronics from the display and put that in to the base which also acts as the stand for the picture frame.

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Connectivity comes courtesy of the USB and Wireless options. There’s also a USB port and multiformat card reader. With integrated speakers, you’re also able to feed audio in and out of the picture frame through the mini audio jacks.

Inside the base, the frame comes with 2GB of flash memory and allows access to internet content. One of the best value-added features that comes with the picture frame is the access to a wide range of internet content for free. Services like Flickr.com are pre-loaded, so you can get access to your own online photos or run a slideshow of other peoples images. There’s also access to the Kodak FrameChannel – a Kodak developed online service that allows you to control what content gets streamed to the frame. This allows you setup RSS feeds, horoscopes, weather, news and so much more. There’s even an option to show your Facebook photos!

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The front of the frame has a glossy finish surrounded by a black frame. Rather than hiding the controls or making them appear unsightly around the frame, the Kodak picture frame uses touch technology. The touch-buttons remain invisible when the frame is idle. When the frame is touched, the white LED buttons light up and the menu appears on screen.

With such a high price tag and the use of cutting-edge display technology, you would expect the absolute best in picture quality. I’m glad to be able to say that the Kodak OLED screen provides exceptional clarity. At any angle, you get the same picture. It doesn’t change as you move about the room. Images are crisp, clear and bright with natural colour reproduction. This is simply the best picture quality I’ve seen on a photo frame.

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Whilst I like the idea of having fewer buttons and dynamic software options, some of the menu layouts and controls are difficult to use. One example is scrolling of menus and using the on-screen keyboard. These are minor issues that only affect you when you’re actually moving through the menu systems or performing the initial configuration.

Like with most picture frames, the hardware inside won’t be anywhere near the same level as your computer, so it’s wise to resize your images if they’re in a high resolution format. When testing with a bunch of 6 megapixel images, there is some waiting around to get a slideshow running. However, once it is running, things do appear to move quite smoothly.

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Kodak is realistic in their expectations from a product costing this much in today’s global economy, but it’s good to see that they’re taking a bold step in pushing forward with technology and innovation and putting out a product like this for sale. The Kodak OLED picture frame is but a mere glimpse of the future and I suspect that within the next couple of years, this kind of technology will become more mainstream.

2009-03-25 Onwah Tsang

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