New Dimensions in Digital Photo Frames (cont.)

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Loop, Memento and Nixplay also now sell digital photo frames (starting at $200) that include ambient-light sensors that automatically adjust the brightness of an image based on the amount of light that’s in a room. In other words, if the lights in a room are low or turned off, the image will glow so you can see it clearly. We found that the ambient-light sensor can be turned off or adjusted manually, which is good if you turn your lights low to watch a movie and you don’t want to be distracted by the glare from your digital photo frame.

FULL ADVANTAGE. Despite the advancements of digital photo frames, we found that about half of the models that are available have an aspect ratio of 16:9. (16:9 describes the proportion between the width and the height of the display.) That’s a problem, because almost all cameras take digital images that are in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

“The choice of a 16:9 [model] has never been about photography,” says Amadou Diallo, who is a photographer and who writes about consumer electronics for Forbes and Wirecutter. “It’s largely a question of supply. No photo-frame-maker I’m aware of makes their own displays. They buy them from large LCD vendors, whose main business is selling TV screens, which come in a 16:9 format for movie watching.”

When you display a 4:3 or a 3:2 image on a 16:9 digital photo frame, the image will have black rectangles on the left and right sides of the image to make it fit in the display. When you display a 4:3 image on a 4:3 model, the image displays across the entire screen. A few of the latest smartphones now allow you to change your camera’s setting, so you can take images in a 16:9 aspect ratio. However, the majority of cameras take images exclusively in 4:3.

“The only possible situation I can think of where 16:9 is helpful for capturing still images is if you wanted to include your still image in a movie,” Diallo says. “But even then, what filmmakers do is use a 4:3 or 3:2 image and zoom and pan, Ken Burns-style. So, for photographers, a 16:9 photo frame really makes no sense.”

We believe that a 16:9 frame makes sense if you want to use the frame to watch video, most of which is shot in a 16:9 format. On a 4:3 frame, 16:9 video will appear to be letterboxed, which means that it has black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. In other words, the digital photo frame will shrink the video to make it fit on the screen.

Melissa J. Perenson has covered consumer electronics for 23 years. Her work has appeared in Consumers Digest, PCWorld, PC Magazine and elsewhere.

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