Katherine Boehret

Photo Frame Comes Armed With Wi-Fi

One of the most engaging decorations in a home is a generous display of personal photographs, whether framed and tastefully arranged on the piano or affixed to the refrigerator in a haphazard fashion.

These images offer an intimate peek into the homeowner’s life — reflecting whether he gets his smile from Mom or Dad, capturing a memory from a recent vacation or reaffirming a fan’s loyalty to her favorite college football team. But over time, the photographs displayed in your own home become less noticeable to you, causing your eye to pass over scenes you once saw as fresh and new.

A terrific solution to this syndrome is found in digital picture frames. These gadgets have been around for years and can load your photographs, displaying them in slideshows so that one frame houses an ever-changing collection of images. Basic digital frames have built-in memory-card slots and USB ports, allowing you to transfer photos to the frame directly from your camera or computer.

The Kodak EasyShare EX-811 Digital Frame, $230, shows photos from the Web and PCs.
The Kodak EasyShare EX-811 Digital Frame, $230, shows photos from the Web and PCs.

But uploading photos can be a hassle, and a frame equipped with Wi-Fi — giving it the ability to wirelessly connect to a computer or the Internet — seems like the ideal solution. This week, I tested Eastman Kodak Co.’s first entry into the Wi-Fi frame category: the $230 Kodak EasyShare EX-811 Digital Frame. This frame, which will be available next week, can wirelessly tap into photos stored on Kodak’s popular photo-sharing Web site, EasyShare Gallery, and can also discover photos, videos and music stored on networked computers.

I found many of the EX-811’s features enjoyable to use, and it became the focal point in my house for me and for guests; the changing images were just as much a surprise to them as they were to me. But the EX-811’s Wi-Fi capabilities were limited. While it consistently connected to and displayed photos from my Kodak EasyShare Gallery account, it didn’t always find my networked computer. When it did, the connection wavered, stopping in mid-slideshow and playing videos in a choppy manner. Also, you must download a third-party software program to get the EX-811 to find and display your computer’s content.

The EX-811’s screen measures 8 inches diagonally, and a slightly larger 10-inch model is also available — the $280 EX-1011. For simply displaying digital photos, plenty of companies including Kodak offer basic digital frames. But I wanted to focus on a frame with built-in Wi-Fi.

Setting up the Kodak EasyShare EX-811 was straightforward. An on-off switch and memory-card slots are hidden behind the frame, and it plugs into a standard AC adapter for power. A tiny included remote control facilitates navigating through photos and adjusting settings, but the frame also has a few basic buttons.

The frame is divided into four categories on the Home screen: My Frame (content stored on the frame’s 128 megabytes of internal memory), Kodak Gallery, Network Computer and Settings. After using an on-screen keyboard to enter my Wi-Fi network’s password and my Kodak EasyShare Gallery username and password, I opened the Kodak Gallery section. Like the Web site of the same name, the frame version of Kodak Gallery is divided into My Albums and My Friends’ Albums. I opened photos from both categories, and watched as images from each appeared in slideshows.

To get my EX-811 to display content from my Windows XP laptop, I had to first install Microsoft’s free Windows Media Player 11, which filled up with my computer’s videos, photos and some music during installation. Per Kodak’s instructions, I turned on the player’s media-sharing capabilities. Most people aren’t even aware that WMP 11 can load and share photos, and even if they are, it’s frustrating that Kodak doesn’t offer its own program for this procedure.

Your laptop must be also on and out of sleep mode in order to communicate with your frame, which can be a real downside.

For a while, my frame wasn’t able to discover my computer long enough to select it from my Home screen. Finally, I was able to see my computer’s content on the frame, and I sorted through various folders of photos to find one filled with memorable shots from a visit to see my sister in Boston. But just a few minutes into a slideshow of these photos, the frame’s connection to my laptop was lost, stopping the slides. I had even more trouble while watching a video from my computer: Each time it started, the footage stuttered and stopped, not playing long enough to even hear its accompanying audio.

Kodak says its Wi-Fi frames can also view music, pictures and videos on Apple computers with help from a $40 software program called the TwonkyVision MediaServer, though I didn’t test this.

Photos from Kodak Gallery didn’t fill the entire screen because they aren’t of a high enough resolution. Full-resolution images, including those from my computer, the frame’s internal memory and from memory cards, filled the screen entirely and looked great.

Twelve different transitions can be chosen for moving from one photo to the next, and photos can appear on screen for as little as three seconds or as long as an hour each. (Currently, Kodak Gallery images must stay on for at least a minute each, but Kodak is working on a fix.) If you’d rather show one photograph in your frame without changing, that’s also an option. You can opt to display all of your computer’s photos at once in a giant slideshow, but Kodak Gallery images can only be shown one folder at a time.

I watched as videos and photos that were loaded on my frame’s memory played in succession; photos changed into video footage and vice versa without any problems. I also played a few songs during this slideshow, and the music automatically stopped playing when a video started so I could hear the video’s sound.

You can’t email from the frame, nor can you use the on-screen keyboard to add captions to images that will be shared through Kodak Gallery. But you can load photos onto your frame from a memory card or a camera, and can then wirelessly copy the images over onto your Windows PC (Kodak says this option won’t work on Macs).

The Kodak EasyShare EX-811 Digital Frame isn’t perfect by a long shot. But its wireless capability is a step in the right direction for digital frames, and if you use Kodak EasyShare Gallery, you’ll find using the frame to be an even richer experience. Where discovering and playing computer content on your frame is concerned, the EX-811 has work left to do.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

Email: MossbergSolution@wsj.com.

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