By Eric Griffith
October 16, 2003
Digital LCDs simply for displaying photos seem like a relic of the dotcom boom, but one company hopes that taking advantage of the world of wireless broadband will make them a success.
In the days of the Internet boom when companies believed any product could be a success — no matter how useful or useless it might be (3Com Audrey? Microsoft Bob?) — there came a product category that still seems like it could catch on at any moment: the digital picture frame.
Today, San Jose, Calif.-based start-up Wallflower Systems announced a digital picture frame for the wireless world. The eponymously named Wallflower is an 8-inch by 10 inch photo frame housing a 12.1-inch LCD screen with 16-bit color at 1024×768 pixel resolution — and built in 802.11b.
Wallflower’s marketing manager, Jason Enamait, says that unlike other digital picture frame from companies like Ceiva and digi-Frame, the Wallflower is itself the image server. It has an internal 1.2GB hard drive that will appear on the home network like any other network drive. Users on the network drop JPEG files on this drive and they’re ready for display on the LCD. JPEGs are the only images currently supported.
“The Wallflower cycles through pictures, but you can set them up in any order, or put them in random mode,” says Enamait. Images can also be put into user-created directories. Entire directories can be turned on or off for display — turn on those vacation pictures even you can’t stand when company comes over.
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The unit can talk with your wireless router to go out on the Internet and pull images from personal Web sites you designate, as well.
The Wallflower control interface is accessed via a Web browser. Type in the IP address for the product to bring up the interface like you would with a router. From there, you can manage the Wi-Fi settings. The unit comes with DHCP on by default so it will try to connect to your wireless LAN automatically.
The next generation of Wallflower is already under construction by the company. Current plans are to build in speakers and audio-out jacks (including digital audio) and support for file types from MP3 to MPEG to Flash. The screen will be two inches bigger diagonally. The 2.0 product will also have better Internet connectivity, including “the kind of peer-to-peer sharing the RIAA hates,” says Wallflower’s president Mitch Kahn.
The current Wallflower’s come in three styles (Cherry Blossom or White Plumeria for $599 each; Black Cherry for $649) but every style is limited, according to their Web site, since the frame part is hand-made. The prices are pretty steep compared to products like Ceiva’s Digital Photo Receiver, which sells at retail for $149.95. The difference is, says Kahn, that Ceiva’s product is subsidized by Ceiva service — Ceiva owner’s pay $7.95 a month to have the company send their own images to the frame for them. Wallflower instead hopes to build on the technology of Wi-Fi and broadband access, hoping that the wireless easy and a high quality display will make up for the high price.
“I’m tired of paying 10 bucks a month for [various] services,” says Kahn. “Plus, if you line up products from digi-Frame, Ceiva, and Pacific Digital next to ours, our image quality is immensely better. It’s like a painting next to a child’s drawing.”