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Bill Gates Is Ready for Digital Picture Frames--Are You?


The walls throughout the 445,000-square-foot mansion belonging to Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates are adorned with picture frames that actually are large digital screens, allowing the world's richest man to display electronic versions of many of the world's masterpieces at his whim.

The common geek's answer to such high-tech trappings is the Ceiva digital picture frame, a $249 gadget from West Hollywood-based Ceiva Logic Inc.

The 8-by-10-inch wooden frame plugs into an electrical outlet and a phone line, and connects itself to the Internet in the middle of the night to download digital photos from a Web site account. The 5-by-7-inch color screen can display one picture, or up to 10 in a continuous slide show.

The Ceiva is intended to be easy to use, and for the most part it succeeds. The frame has just two buttons. One controls the screen brightness; the other button allows you to stop and start the slide show, and to download new pictures manually rather than wait for the scheduled middle-of-the-night transmission.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 23, 2000 Home Edition Business Part C Page 3 Financial Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
E-Review--A chart Thursday on Ceiva Logic Inc.'s digital picture frame misstated the cost of the picture-loading service. The fee is $50 for the first year.

But the trade-off for all that simplicity is that the Ceiva's capabilities are quite constrained.

Once the novelty wears off, the Ceiva quickly becomes an expensive toy with relatively limited appeal. Perhaps best suited for doting long-distance grandparents, the frame is only as good as the number of patient friends and relatives who are willing to sign on and feed it digital photos. This is fun at first, but can quickly feel like a chore.

To get started, you need to register on the Ceiva Web site ( Besides the cost of the frame, the picture-loading service costs $50 for the first year, and $79 a year thereafter (or if paying on a monthly basis, $7.99 a month). If you want to prepay for service, you can lock in the $50 rate for up to three years.

Once that's done, family and friends can set up their own free accounts on the Ceiva Web site and send pictures directly to your frame. You control who has access to the account, allowing only designated "buddies" to send pictures. And you can forward your own photos to the account from a personal computer.

The Web site allows you to maintain your account and select which photos will be displayed. Favorite shots can be locked into the rotation as the new ones are downloaded each night. From your PC, old photos can be filed away via the Web site in virtual "albums" for later use.

Both the frame and Web site are simple to navigate. The hitch is that the whole get-up requires considerable gadgetry and Internet know-how on the part of those who will keep it supplied with photos.

Grandma may not have to lift a finger after plugging in the frame, but if it is to be of any use to her, somebody has to spend time formatting and sending her photos.

The company claims that you "don't need a computer, an Internet account or a secret password to receive pictures on your Ceiva digital picture frame. It doesn't require a mouse, a keyboard or any prior computer experience."

This is true. But sending pictures requires all of those things.

First, you'll need either a digital camera or a scanner to get the photos into electronic format. Because Ceiva lacks any means for editing the size or shape of photographs, it's up to the sender to get them into the preferred horizontal 640-by-480-pixels format, (roughly 5 by 7 inches), 72 dots-per-inch resolution before they are sent. Undersized or vertical photos are displayed with black space around them. Larger photos are automatically reduced to fit the frame, with varying results.

A big horizontal photo that I sent to myself cropped quite nicely; it was of similar proportions to the frame. But the full-screen panoramic landscape shot my colleague sent me didn't fare so well. The whole darn mountain range was condensed to fit the frame, leaving a large amount of blank space on both edges of the image.

The same was true for the 70-year-old photo of my great-grandparents, which my uncle scanned into digital form and sent me from San Jose. The proportions were wrong, so the otherwise breathtaking black-and-white portrait lost much of its grandeur in the translation. Luckily, I've got it saved on my PC and I can look at it whenever I want.

A techno-junkie colleague who has his own Ceiva account said that my request for pictures was no problem. He just scanned in some picture of his cute, photogenic kids and fired them off to my account.

But when it came to my busy, sleep-deprived friend in Baltimore who just become a mother, I was lucky to get her to e-mail me the standard new-baby hospital shot. It was up to me to forward it from my e-mail to my Ceiva account. This took only a minute, but without a graphics or photo-editing program on my computer, I was unable to change the size to best fit the frame. The baby picture took up only a small corner of the screen.

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