Review: Pandigital Kitchen Technology Center

By Amy Mayer

April 07, 2009

Pandigital takes advantage of both the popularity of high-definition television and the explosion of home Wi-Fi networks in its Kitchen Technology Center (KTC), a souped-up (pun intended) digital picture frame.

Pandigital Kitchen Technology Center PANTV1512


Price: $399.99
Pros: Splash protection for screen; hardware for various installations; HDTV connects to cable, satellite, DVD player, or PC.
Cons: Set-up not as straightforward as instructions imply; PanTouch functionality inconsistent; recipe upload limited to jpeg files; Internet  access only via RSS feed.

Pandigital takes advantage of both the conversion to high-definition television and the explosion of home Wi-Fi networks in offering the Kitchen Technology Center, a souped-up (pun intended) digital picture frame.

Michael Perez, marketing director for Pandigital, says kitchens can be busy rooms where kids want to watch TV while parents may be worrying about weather or traffic. With an included Wi-Fi dongle, the KTC connects to your WLAN and lets you use Windows Live FrameIt to receive custom RSS feeds. The KTC displays slide shows of photos from its internal memory, a USB drive, an SD card, or your RSS feed. You can also access Picasa for the Web to display on-line photo collections. Plug into your home's cable or satellite source and watch whatever you want. Connect to a DVD player or a PC's video output and your viewing options expand further.

"This is a great kitchen TV," Perez says, noting that with an MSRP of $400 it's competitive with other HDTVs of its size—which is a 15.6" display with 1366x768 resolution. He adds that interest in digital picture frames has been growing quickly and the KTC offers a variation on that concept that can fill the new TV niche as well. [For more digital picture frame reviews, click here.]

"People are looking at it and when they see it they say, `Oh, that really makes sense,'" Perez says.

Pandigital has an agreement with Bon Appetit magazine's publisher, Condé Nast, to distribute recipes. One seasonal collection comes preloaded on the unit. You can purchase additional collections on SD cards and Pandigital plans to develop more "digital cookbooks" in the future.

Unfortunately, the unit comes up short in the recipe arena because other than the propriety collections, it can only recognize recipes if you upload them as jpeg files. If you've got a treasure trove of recipes on your hard drive as Word documents, PDFs, or Web pages, you can't just upload them to the recipes tab of the KTC. In fact, even once you have scanned your paper recipes and saved them as JPEGs or converted your existing files to that format, you still can't store them under the recipes tab. Rather, you have to copy them onto the unit's internal memory, into the Photos tab where jpeg files are recognized. (You can sequester them into their own subfolder so they don't interrupt a slideshow of your last family vacation.)

The best way to copy files—JPEGs, MP3s, videos—onto the KTC is to connect the unit to your PC via USB cable and transfer manually using Windows Explorer. (This is also the most expeditious way to delete the images that come pre-loaded.) Built-in speakers playback audio, though you can also connect external ones. Once you load music, it can accompany your slide shows.

The cumbersome manner of actually getting personal recipes onto to the KTC is disappointing. And because Web access is via RSS feeds and not Internet  browsing, the KTC doesn't spare you the dilemma of whether to prop your laptop on the counter when you're trying a new recipe from the Web. Ditto it won't give you quick access to your e-mail while you toast your bagel.

Qin Zhang, a Pandigital Program Manager, says the company is working on two-way Internet  communication, which she says would allow for live streaming.

"In our future, higher-end digital picture frames, we will support this," she says. But, she adds, those high-end frames don't include the kitchen center, alas.

The KTC has a PanTouch perimeter, meaning you can touch the edge of the frame (not the screen itself) to pull up menu options. The touch technology works pretty well when it's happy, but there were times during our testing when no amount of lightly pressing, gently caressing, or practically poking the surface brought up a menu. Once you can finally see options, you have to act fast: if you take too long to make a choice, the menu disappears and you have to coax it up again. The technology will no doubt improve and shows great potential.

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We didn't test the unit with any TV input because our focus was the Wi-Fi functionality. We found setting up the network connection didn't work on the first try. Eventually, though, we found our way into the network setup, where we entered the password and it found our wireless. From there, users  can choose from Picasa or FrameIt for Internet  activity.

We set up a Windows Live FrameIt account on a PC and then connected to it with the KTC. You have to enter a "claim ID" from the KTC into your PC when you get started and we had to do this twice, but then the information got saved and our FrameIt information showed up on the KTC. The preloaded feeds streamed reliably. We had some trouble with our custom weather feed. The Facebook feed we set up worked flawlessly, playing a slideshow of the photos in which the logged-in user is tagged.

The clock is large and easy-to-read, includes a calendar, and is complemented by a slide show.  It's not an interactive calendar, sadly, so you can't input anything. The KTC comes with hardware to position it on a wall, on a stand, or even under a cabinet. Two faceplates in different colors come with it so you can coordinate with your appliances or décor. The splash-protection on the display is another bonus, but it's hard to imagine the PanTouch working well after being tapped with sticky fingers.

If what you're looking for a is an HDTV that hooks into your cable or satellite and happens to have some perks, this unit is worth considering. If you really want a Wi-Fi-enabled, Internet  computer for your kitchen, this isn't it. For that purpose, a low-end netbook might be the better option. If the KTC concept catches on, though, perhaps it will inspire future kitchen computers that emerge from the netbook model rather than the digital picture frame. That might please the cook.

For more on Wi-Fi picture frames, read "The Wireless Digital Picture Frame Arrives," "Review: eStarling ImpactV Wireless Clip Frame," "Review: D-Link 10" Wireless Internet Photo Frame (DSM-210)," "Review: Sony Vaio Frame CP1," "Wi-Fi Product Watch, January 2009."

Amy Mayer is a freelance writer and independent radio producer in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Read and listen to her work at her website.



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