Late last year, Philips quietly put out one of the best photo frames on the market, the Digital Photo Display 7FF. We gave that model high marks for its impressive image quality and sleek design, though it did have some drawbacks--most notably, its interface wasn't quite as intuitive as it should be. Now the company is serving up a larger model, the $250 9FF2M4 (who comes up with these names?), which addresses the interface issue while adding several new features and maintaining its excellent image quality. The result is a digital photo frame that's a standout in the rapidly evolving--and expanding--digital photo frame category.
Like its predecessor, the frame looks a lot like a miniature version of the display on Apple's original iMac flat-panel all-in-one computers, with clear plexiglass around a white border that surrounds the 6.7 x 4.5-inch (8-inch diagonal), high-pixel-density LCD panel. Philips calls the 9FF2M4 a 9-inch frame, but that dimension includes the width of the white border, not simply the width of the LCD. While you couldn't swap out the white border on the 7FF, the 9FF2M4 comes with three extra borders in red, silver, and black that are easy to change (they adhere magnetically). The adjustable--and removable--stand on the back lets you set the frame vertically or horizontally in landscape or portrait orientation. You also get a wall-mounting kit in the box.
The 16-bit (65,536 potential colors) display has built-in memory, which allows you to store between 110 to 150 photos internally, according to Philips. Additionally, around back you'll find slots for Compact Flash, SD, MMC, xD, and Memory Stick memory cards (the SD slot accommodates Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro Duo cards), giving you the ability to display hundreds or even thousands of photos. You can choose to leave the images on the card or transfer however many will fit into the display's remaining internal memory. Another option is to upload photos from your camera to the display via a USB cable.
The one advantage to transferring the photos to the display's internal memory is that, as part of the copying process, the unit automatically resizes the images to 720x540 pixels--or as close as it can get to that size. For instance, we shot some images with an Olympus Evolt 500 dSLR that started out with resolutions of 3,264x2,448 and were sized down to fit. If your image won't quite translate to 720x540, the display adds black bars to the top and bottom or the sides rather than cropping your image--which is a good thing; some frames chop off large parts of your picture. Since the screen has 680x480 pixels, Philips says that some cropping may occur, but it must be minor because we didn't notice much in the various images we viewed. The biggest impact of reducing your images' size (along with their file size) is that transition effects in slide show mode (you can select from 14 transition effects, as well as random mode) work more smoothly. In other words, if you have a fairly high-capacity memory card (512MB or greater), you're probably best off just loading the card with photos and leaving it in the display.
As noted, we were impressed by how our pictures looked on the frame. The display had a little trouble resolving darker gray backgrounds (we noticed some false contouring), but that's a minor flaw. All in all, the images were very sharp with vibrant, accurate colors. Naturally, the quality of the image onscreen will depend on how good the source photo is.
Turning back to features, aside from the increased number of transition effects, Philips has also thrown in some basic editing capabilities that include image cropping, rotating, and the ability to give your images a black-and-white or sepia tint. There's also a collage mode that allows you to display the same photo on the screen in a variety of sizes with various layouts to choose from. We can understand making a collage out of several images, but we didn't see the appeal in a collage made of single image. However, we liked that we can create labeled albums on the frame that you can then select for slide-show viewing. The built-in clock is also a nice touch--the numbers are nice and big--and we also appreciate that you can set the frame to display reminders, as well as to turn on and off at selected times. One feature that's missing is video support, which would allow you to playback the MPEG-4 videos you shoot with your digital still camera. We're starting to see this feature--along with audio playback--in more frames.