Once upon a time, viewing a photo collection consisted of flipping through pages of an album, or gathering in a dimly lit room for a slide show beaming out from a 35mm projector. Since the advent of digital photography, however, families and friends have often had to bunch uncomfortably around the computer monitor to view pictures. Yet there are many ways you can appreciate your photo collection from the comfort of the couch. SanDisk's Photo Album is one way of doing that, but it's not cheap.
The Photo Album is a rectangular grey box with four slots at the front for various types of camera memory card formats. It is about as wide as a video cassette, though not as deep. At the back of the unit is a fifth card slot, PAL/NTSC switch, power supply, 3.5mm A/V jack, USB port and mini-USB jack for PC connection.
Once you plug in the power supply and connect the supplied A/V cable up to your television, take the memory card out of your digital camera and insert it into the Photo Album it scans the contents looking for photos to display. Initially you are presented with the list of thumbnail images of files and folders stored on your card, which you can browse through and select using SanDisk's remote control.
SanDisk bundles a basic remote to navigate the onscreen menus and flick through your photos. You can zoom in and move around the photo, rotate the photo and bring up file information. The Photo Album has no storage components of its own, but there is the option of saving photos in "TV size" (640 x 480), print resolution (set up through the options menu) or original size onto an external USB memory key. Unfortunately we couldn't get the Photo Album to save pictures onto our 512MB SanDisk Cruzer Micro or another generic USB memory we tested.
For digital photography buffs, outputting photos to a television is nothing new. Most digital cameras come with an A/V output and cable these days, which you can use to quickly connect your camera's display to the TV -- for free. One thing the SanDisk Photo Album can do, though, that most cameras can't, is play MP3s from storage cards through your television's speakers.
As the Photo Album is basically a glorified card reader, it can also connect to your PC via USB where cards appear as removable drives within Windows Explorer. There are four green LEDs corresponding to each of the memory slots at the front that blink when data is being read from, or written to, the card.
The SanDisk Photo Album doesn't support a wide range of file formats. It only plays JPEG, Motion JPEG, MPEG-1 movie files (QVGA resolution/up to 8 frames per second) and MP3 audio.
At a recommended retail price of AU$110, it's certainly not a cheap way to go about viewing your photos on television. Standalone memory card readers without remote control or A/V output sell for less than half the price. The remote control is a nifty inclusion, but can anyone bear another one on their coffee table -- especially when there are other ways to enjoy slideshows from the comfort of your couch?
With the increase in televisions with built-in card readers and the crashing price of DVD players with photo card slots, it makes us wonder how long SanDisk's Photo Album will last. It's not just the high end components like Toshiba's AU$8,000 62-inch DLP rear-projection TV that come with card readers these days, we recently saw a sub-$100 DVD players with 6-in-1 card readers down at a popular German discount supermarket in Sydney's suburbs. Even printers are getting in on the act, like the Canon Selphy DS700, which is a photo printer designed to hook up to a widescreen TV. While DVD players and printers might not be as portable as SanDisk's solution, you can insert camera cards into them to watch slideshows via remote controls, plus you get the extra functionality those devices provide to boot.