As a gift for the nontecchies or traditionalists in your life, HP's 8-inch Digital Picture Frame DF820 series hits many of the right notes. Affordably priced and relatively well constructed with the look of an old-fashioned frame, the DF820's broad but simple feature set means it's pretty easy to operate. It doesn't deliver the greatest picture quality and the internal speakers are tinny and soft, but its ability to display photos, play movies and music, and serve as a calendar and alarm clock should please those looking for something with just a little more than a basic digital slideshow for a good price.
Composed of some sort of smoothly finished pressed wood, the frame comes in basic black. It ships with interchangeable pairs of mattes for ivory and black, blue, gold, or red. Unlike many inexpensive frames, this one looks pretty attractive--not cheap or plasticy. It's easy to change the mattes; you remove the plastic back via four large thumbscrews and swap 'em out. The plastic kickstand rotates for vertical or horizontal positioning, and the frame automatically senses the orientation and rotates images and video accordingly--a nice touch in an inexpensive model.
On top of the rear are menu, playback/navigation, and mute buttons, plus a brightness-control dial. The frame also comes with a remote--a rather large one--with some direct-access controls. Two speakers sit on the back with a big power switch farther down. On one side of the frame is the power input, plus mini and full-size USB connectors for a PC, cameras, thumbdrives, and printers, as well as a CompactFlash slot and a multipurpose slot for SD, Memory Stick, and xD-Picture cards.
You can play directly from the media or copy everything onto the frame's 512MB of memory. If you copy from media onto its memory, it can automatically resize photos to save space. One annoying omission: it can't automatically copy the entire contents of the media onto its memory; you have to hook it up to a computer for that. It can only copy or delete files one at a time. (It doesn't seem to like connecting to a PC through a hub, however.)
The menu structure is very easy to navigate. Pressing Menu twice brings up the selection of source media. The top level presents you with five options: Photo, Music, Video, Time, and Setup. The first three allow you to select from those files; it supports JPEG photos, MP3 audio, and MPEG-1, MPEG-4, and Motion JPEG video. This covers the bases for what most owners of this type of frame would need. Time pulls up a moderately customizable four-quadrant display with a clock, calendar, and a two-photo slideshow. You can set an alarm as well as power on/off times for the frame.
Setup options include language (English plus a handful of European options); full or cropped photo display; a few slideshow transition effects, though none is not an option; slideshow speed and shuffle; and digital matting, where it overlays various designs on the periphery of your photos. If there's music, you can set it to automatically play as background music for a slideshow; keep in mind that the files will play alphabetically.
Like many of its 8-inch competitors, the DF820 uses a 4:3 aspect ratio 800x600-resolution LCD display. The display quality looks pretty typical as well. It's OK from a distance, but a bit soft. Because of the limited dynamic and color range of the displays, skin tones render a bit off--either too cool or too warm--and highlights get clipped. But given all that, there's surprisingly little color contouring or jaggies on diagonal lines. And like most LCD frames, when positioned vertically the off-axis viewing angle on one side maxes out at about 25 degrees before the picture inverts or disappears.
However, performance is pretty good. Video plays back smoothly and even large photos load and transition fairly rapidly without artifacts. The speakers aren't great, tinny and not very loud, but they're not bad for the price. Also not bad for the price: the warranty. Most frames under $200 offer 90-day parts and labor, but this one provides a full year of coverage.
For its low price, the HP DF820 8-inch Digital Photo Frame delivers quite a lot of value, and with the large buttons, big icons, and easy operation is especially suited for the stereotypical senior or technophobic giftee.