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Digital Frames Make Inroads In Consumer Market

ORLANDO, FLA. -Compared to the relatively crowded digital camera market, digital frame manufacturers occupy a small, yet fiercely competitive market landscape. At the PMA trade show, held here last month, just a handful of companies-including Kodak, Ceiva Logic and Digi-Frame-displayed digital frame products.

According Neal Kublan, a Digi-Frame senior VP, the market may be niche now, but it is poised for growth.

“I think you’ll see huge growth in the fourth quarter of this year,” said Kublan. “The category has no choice but to grow. It will follow behind the digital camera, and we know that category has been incredible.”

Digi-Frame, formerly a toy and product-developing firm under a different name, displayed three new frames at the show and announced plans for what it dubs the industry’s first Universal Plug and Play-enabled digital frame.

The DF-57 frame, the entry-level model with a suggested retail price of $299.99, is slated to ship in the third quarter.

The DF-57, which accepts CompactFlash and SmartMedia memory cards, features a 5.7-inch passive-matrix LCD screen and onscreen menu system with a multifunction control wheel, manual image scrolling, and adjustable contrast controls.

The frames can be connected to a computer (Mac or PC) via a USB cable and Digi-Link software.

Digi-Frame also introduced two higher-end products: the DF-1040 and DF-1800 large-format digital frames. These LAN-ready frames will ship in the third quarter and offer an optional hard disk and CD-ROM storage, music/audio playback, wall mounting, remote control and universal frame compatibility.

The DF-1040 features a 10.4-inch screen and carries an $899 suggested retail price, while the DF-1800 features an 18-inch screen and will retail for $2,499.

In the fourth quarter, Digi-Frame plans to introduce the first UPnP-enabled digital frame, which the company claims will work with computers and peripheral devices on a network without the need for elaborate configuration.

Consumers using other UPnP-compatible devices such as digital cameras and printers will be able to transfer images to and from their Digi-Frames to these enabled devices. Frame specifications and price are forthcoming.

Although the frames cannot connect to the Internet, images can be downloaded onto removable media and downloaded to the frame for the same effect. Rather than an impediment, Kublan views this lack of connectivity as a key selling point when he pitches his product to retailers. He indicated that since frames boasting connectivity invariably offer an online print solution, they threaten the revenue generated by retailers who offer some form of digital photo printing.

Kublan said his product is moving quickest at specialty retailers such as B & H and J & R in New York and Fry’s Electronics on the West Coast because consumers need a bit of education and instruction on the product before they’re confident to purchase.

“Initially, we enjoyed the most success through catalog and e-commerce sales,” he said. “However, when we launched a point-of-purchase campaign at retail in the fourth quarter of last year, sales took off-especially at locations with highly trained staffs.”

Robert Wall, product manager for the Kodak Smart Frame, agreed. His company launched the Smart Frame on the QVC shopping channel in the fourth quarter of 2000, claiming that QVC was best suited to sell a product that the majority of consumers had didn’t know about or understand. While he would not divulge specific numbers, Wall said QVC sales exceed internal expectations.

Kodak’s Smart Frame was designed by Weave Innovations and licensed to Kodak with an exclusive relationship with Weave’s Smart Box online photo network. Smart Frame owners connect to the network via an analog telephone connection built into the frame. The frame is configured to default connect at 2 a.m. to download new pictures off the Smart Box network.

Though some consumers eschew the subscription-based service in favor of simply loading their images onto the frame via the CompactFlash port, connectivity does afford users access to online content, Wall said.

“We have a deal with a number of online content providers, like CBS SportsLine and the Weather Channel, to send content to Smart Frame users. Additionally, once you’re a part of the Story Box network, you can make use of Print@Kodak to get prints from the digital images on your frame.”

Another benefit of connectivity is the ability to manage the frame remotely. “This is a good gifting item,” the product manager said, “and our sales reflect that. It’s a good item for grandparents, who simply have to plug it in and let someone else download new images to the frame from the Story Box network.”

The Smart Frame carries a suggested retail price of $349, can hold 36 images internally (and access a CompactFlash card for additional memory) and comes with a six-month free subscription to the Story Box network.

At the end of six months, users have the option of disconnecting from the network or paying a subscription fee of $4.95 per month for two automatic connections and two manual connections, or $9.95 per month for four automatic connections and four manual connections.

Ceiva Logic co-founder Paul Yanover explained that his company’s frame is stage one of a larger strategy to enable the wireless transmission of images.

“The goal is to enable the consumer to capture pictures anywhere, anytime and transmit them to any source instantly: a frame, a printer, a PC, an e-mail attachment and the Internet,” he said.

At PMA, Yanover demonstrated this wireless transmission, beaming an image from a Ceiva frame to a Polaroid handheld photo printer. These applications, he thinks, will help to expand the imaging market.

Ceiva’s product offering consists of the Ceiva Digital Picture Frame and the recently introduced Ceiva II frame. Like the Smart Frame, both Ceiva frames connect to the Internet, in this case to the Ceiva network for a subscription fee of $49.95 a year.

Both frames can be remote managed and have access to content such as weather and sports scores, as well as fine art galleries from Corbis and Getty.

The Ceiva II (shipping this summer) carries a suggested retail price of $299 and features interchangeable mattes and frames, a CompactFlash card reader, and a credit card-sized remote control. Like its predecessor, the Ceiva II is 8 x 10 inches high and automatically connects each night to the Ceiva network to download new pictures and content.