Unless you've been tracking the rise of digital photo frames, you probably haven't heard of Pandigital. The company has been around since 1998, but since digital frames haven't really come into their own until the last couple of years, the brand is only now building some recognition. Among the company's 2007 introductions is the 15-inch Digital Photo Frame (aka PAN-150B). Its 1024x768-pixel LCD screen gives it a 4:3 aspect ratio. This makes it more conducive to displaying photos than the wide-screen aspect ratio frames that have been popping up from some companies, and it also has enough pixels to deliver a pleasing amount of sharpness even if you're viewing from only a couple of feet away. More encouraging than that is the quality of the image, which is quite good for a digital photo frame of this size and price.
Like some other frames, this Pandigital comes with an extra bezel, so you can change the color of the frame to match your room. In this case, the frame comes with a black wood bezel preinstalled and you can switch it out by removing four large flat-head screws that hold it in place. Keyhole slots on the back let you mount the frame on the wall and are arranged in a standard VESA (75mm x 75mm) pattern, so you can use a proper mount should the mood strike you. We were surprised at how heavy the frame is, so if you do plan to wall mount, you should consider a real mount instead of just using screws.
Setup is pretty simple if you plan to set the frame on a table. The adjustable stand slides into a slot on the back of the unit that has a few click stops to let you set the angle of the screen. You may have to play with the angle a bit, since there is a second piece of plexiglass in front of the screen that can create a bit of glare depending on the room you use it in. If you want to set the frame vertically, instead of the horizontal default, things get tricky. You'll have to remove the plate with the slot for the stand, which attaches with four thumbscrews, and turn it 90 degrees so it'll accept the stand. However, you'll also have to rotate your images manually, either in the frame or in photo-editing software, so they display properly. I'd just stick to setting the frame up horizontally.
The silliest part of setup is connecting the power supply. You have to remove a panel on the back of the frame that is held in place by a tiny Phillips-head screw. I can't figure out why they chose to do this, since they easily could have designed a cover that uses thumbscrews or just clicks into place like so many millions of battery door covers on portable devices.
On the left side of the frame there's a memory card reader that lets you use images, video, or MP3 audio files stored on memory cards. You'll find slots for SD/SDHC, MMC, Compact Flash, xD, and Memory Stick/MS Duo cards. There's also a standard-size USB port that accepts thumbdrives, as well as a mini USB jack for use with the included USB cable, so you can download files from your computer into the frame's 256MB of internal flash memory. You can also very easily copy images from memory cards to the internal memory, though the frame doesn't automatically size the images down, so you should size the images yourself using image-editing software to match the 1024x768-pixel array of the screen. This ensures optimum display quality, and maximizes the number of images that you can fit in the frame's memory. The frame will scale your images down to fit the frame's screen, so if your files are larger, they should still display properly, without cropping.
While most digital frames claim some level of video playback, actually getting them to play your video files is always a crap shoot. Pandigital says that the PAN-150B can playback AVI Motion JPEGs, MPEG1, and MPEG4 video files. However, I couldn't get the frame to play any of the video files I tried, which included, among other things, videos created by Canon, Fujifilm, Casio, and Sony compact cameras. The worst part is that when the frame rejected my video clips, it would display a message saying, "Not Supported," and would lock up, forcing me to turn the frame off with the buttons on the side of the frame, since the remote wouldn't work in those situations. To its credit, the frame easily played back MP3 files, though the built-in speakers are rather tinny, so I wouldn't suggest using it as a main audio source.
Now that I've addressed everything else this frame can do, it's time to talk about the main reason you buy a digital photo frame--photos. The frame does a surprisingly good job of displaying images. Using the built-in brightness and contrast controls, I was able to set a good grayscale for the dimmed lighting in my office, though the frame was very close to an appropriate level right out of the box. Colors look accurate and aren't overly saturated, though there are saturation and tint controls if you feel the need to tweak them. I saw a mild amount of false contouring in some out-of-focus areas of my images, but it wasn't as much as I'd expect from an LCD in this price range. I've seen worse from some LCD TVs.
In slide show mode, you can set the amount of time each photo is displayed (3, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds) and choose from 10 different transition effects, or eschew transitions altogether and opt for none. You can also choose to play the photos in order, or randomly. If you choose random, the frame may display images twice before working its way through your entire set of photos. Like most frames, you can't set it to work through multiple sources of images (i.e. from one card to the next and then on to the internal memory). Instead you have to choose one set of images and move manually to the next set if you want a change. Since the price of flash memory has become so low, and the 1024x768-pixel file sizes are so low, this shouldn't really pose a problem. One quirky thing to note about slide shows is that when you press Stop to interrupt one, the frame dumps you into regular photo viewing mode. Thankfully, Pandigital includes a Slide Show button on the remote to make it easier to jump back into that mode.
Speaking of remotes, the one included is a small, credit-card-style controller, with blister-type buttons. You have to be careful to point it at the small receptor on the bottom of the front of the frame, and it wasn't as responsive as I would've liked. Count on multiple presses to get the frame to do what you want, but since you'll likely only be using the frame for simple slide shows, that shouldn't become too annoying.
While this Pandigital doesn't score very high in our review, that's mostly because it promises things that it can't deliver, such as video playback, and has a handful of silly annoying problems. However, if all you want is a good-quality slide show, this frame isn't a bad choice. With the advent of Wi-Fi frames, such as Kodak's EX-811 and others, this Pandigital feels a bit behind the times in terms of features. The company has said that it will offer a Wi-Fi solution for this frame in the future, but we haven't seen anything concrete yet. Hopefully, they can solve their video playback issues when they deliver on the Wi-Fi.