BT eFrame 1000: First thoughts

This week I bought a digital photo frame. I’ve been tempted to get one of these for a while but been put off until now for a few reasons:

  • The “affordable” screens are either very small or very low resolution (or both).
  • I run XBMC on my old Xbox so can view every photo I’ve ever taken on the 37″ LCD in the living room anyway.
  • Cropping and copying images to a memory card and transferring to the frame seemed like too much hassle.

eframe1000

Frames equipped with WiFi provide a solution to the issue of transferring images to the frame and have been around for a while now but are usually expensive and often tied to a specific photo sharing site or need an ongoing subscription. Enter the BT eFrame 1000 which until recently was £130, but last week I noticed has been reduced to just under £40 (less if you happen to work for said company and get an extra few pounds staff discount, ahem! End of disclaimer). At that price it’s comparable to the run-of-the mill unbranded, low-res screens and I decided was worth a punt. It arrived yesterday and here are my initial thoughts…

Screen quality

At the end of the day this is what really matters – all the fancy features in the world would be a waste of time if the pictures looked awful right?. Fortunately they don’t. The screen 800×600 resolution which is pretty high for an 8″digital photo frame and the images look really great – very crisp, and very bright (perhaps aided by the matt black surround).

Appearance

The matt black frame may not suit everyone (and is quite wide at 1.5″) and is unfortunately not interchangeable. However it’s quite subtle and I’m tempted to try mounting it inside a nice large wooden frame anyway to disguise it further. An added bonus is that BT chose not to emblazen the frame with any logos, graphics or text as many other manufacturers do. There’s a small IR receiver embedded in the surround below the screen for the remote control, 6 buttons on the top edge of the screen for power and menu navigation, and on the right edge is the card reader (CF/SD/MMC/MS(pro)), a USB port (for viewing images on a memory stick), a mini USB port (for connecting to the PC to download images to the frame), and the power connector. One thing I noticed about the position of the power connector is that the power cable sticks out slightly on the right-edge of the frame so is visible from the front – it should really have either been positioned on the back of the frame, or the power cable should be fitted with an elbow so that the trailing cable can’t be seen from the front.

Features

The frame displays photos in JPG format as you’d expect (I haven’t tried other formats) and will play back mp3 audio files. I haven’t tried video yet, but it’s not listed as a feature so I don’t expect it to work. Pictures and audio can be played back from the onboard 128MB memory; from a memory card in the card reader or usb port; and can be streamed from a shared folder on your network (which required the included Windows-only software to be installed). In addition, it can load images from a public Flickr RSS feed (a Windows PC is needed for the initial configuration but after that the PC doesn’t need to be running). I’ve been able to exploit this feature to stream images and news/weather info from a range of other sites (more about that in my next post). One note about public Flickr RSS feeds: because the frame doesn’t log in to your flickr account it can only retrieve public feeds, and Flickr will only return the 20 most recent images in their public feeds so even if you have thousands of images in a flickr-pro account, don’t expect to be able to view more than the most recent 20 uploads.

Navigation

Menus are clear, the UI is clean and consistent with heavy use of a standard icon theme that is appearing on lots of the BT’s websites and products (I’m thinking of the HomeHub and BroadbandAnywhere mobile handsets in particular) and the navigation is generally pretty good all-round. You drill down into menus with the right arrow, use the left arrow to go back and up/down keys to scroll though the current menu (OK to select). The area that really lets it down is the use of the buttons on the supplied remote control. There are 3 menu buttons labelled A, B and C which have different (and inconsistent) functions depending on your current operation: The C button is often used as Cancel  but in a slideshow will rotate the current image rather than quit the slideshow (that would be the left-arrow) for example.

Performance

I haven’t timed any operations or had time to really thrash the frame but it has a generally responsive feel so far. Menus respond quickly, images can be rotated in a couple of seconds (though zooming seems to take a little longer). There are no slick sliding iPhone-esque menus here, but I guess it’s only equipped with a relatively modest processor. Streaming images from the local network or internet feels like it takes a comparable amount of time to what it would take to load the same image on a PC (i.e. the frame isn’t adding noticeable additional delays). It could be faster of course, but it doesn’t feel overly sluggish under normal operation.

PC Software

The PC software is used to configure the frame to view Flickr albums or local network shares and can also be used to copy images to the frames internal storage. Some will complain that the software is windows only, but that’s not been a problem for me. The windows software looks good (slick glass-effect buttons carried over from the UI on the frame itself) but it has a few annoying traits: it’s set to be always-on-top and that can’t be disabled. When you hit the close icon, it only minimises to the system tray. Then when you click to “Manage Flickr Albums” it opens the flickr website in a browser but it’s always InternetExplorer even though Firefox is already running and is my default browser. If I go back and forth between the main menu and the Flickr setup screen, it will open the flickr website in a new IE window every single time.

Hackability

Ok I admit that this is more applicable to me that it would be to the average user of the frame… So far, I’ve tried opening a web browser, an ftp and a telnet connection directly to the frame’s IP address but not had any luck yet. There are a few port numbers listed in an ini file sitting in the application’s install folder which will be my next angle of investigation. My biggest success so far has been in getting the frame to show news and weather reports by configuring it with RSS urls for sites other than Flickr – I write more on this in my next post but I’m quite excited by the possibilities that this could offer. Potentially I could use the frame to read my twitter stream, or local traffic conditions, or stock alerts. Actually I think BT have missed a big opportunity here because they could use the frame in conjunction with their other products – e.g. as a program guide for the Vision TV service, to view a list of missed calls and messages on my landline or to view stats about my recent calls (duration, distance, time of day, cost).

Overall

At this price point it’s difficult to find any serious faults that I can’t live with. Perhaps the biggest let-down is the PC software but once the frame has been set up, I’m unlikely to use the PC software very often anyway. It’s only been 2 days, but so far I’m happy with my purchase.

One Comment to “BT eFrame 1000: First thoughts”

  1. Carl Partridge 6 April 2009 at 11:43 am #

    Tom

    A fantastic recommendation, the frame arrived today and am just beginning to compile my initial thoughts! I use picasaweb these days (basically Google Photos) which has an RSS feed so I shall be seeing if it can stream from that – shame I have to install the software onto the PC first though in order to get this to work.

    Thought you might be interested to see that some initial attempts into reverse engineering the protocols have been made:

    http://webdiary.com/i/?p=266

    Might be interesting to code up some sort of RSS config app or something?

    Carl


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