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A TV photo album

Microsoft TV Photo Viewer is nice, but it has a price. Hardware review hed: A TV photo album dek: Microsoft TV Photo Viewer is nice, but it has a price.

Watching digital photographs on your television set is a concept that’s been kicking around since 1992, when Eastman Kodak offered Photo CD players that let you watch PCD images on TV. I liked the concept and considered it a digital slide show, but consumers didn’t seem to care. Now that many digital cameras (and Iomega’s PhotoShow) offer direct viewing of images on television, Microsoft thinks it has the perfect combination of technology and practicality in its TV Photo Viewer.

The product looks exactly like what it is: a floppy disk drive for your TV. I can hear the moans from digital purists now: “But Joe, even Sony gave up on recording images on floppy disks.” Well, Microsoft tells me this is no ordinary floppy drive. They’ve added proprietary technology to the hardware that enhances photos for viewing.

Using the Windows-only software is easy and fun. You can import JPEG, BMP, GIF, and TIFF files from any digicam, scanner, or other digital photo source. With some Sony Mavica models, you can move floppy disks directly from the camera into the Microsoft TV Photo Viewer without going through your PC, but photos must originally be captured in 640-by-480 JPEG format.

I copied JPEG files from a Canon Digital Elph S100 digicam onto my Windows computer and opened the program. Clicking the Add Pictures button opened all my images into a slide sorter interface. You crop or rotate a photo, add captions to tell a story, or add a title page to the album. If you create multiple albums, you can drag images directly into the TV Photo Viewer software from other open windows. A 1.44MB floppy disk can store a maximum of 40 images, but Microsoft says the best image quality is achieved by keeping it at 20 or less. The 20/40 image limit is probably a good idea, and will force computer users to edit their work and only include the good stuff. Writing 35 to 40 slides onto a floppy disk takes almost five minutes. You can also save a backup copy (in PVA format) to your hard disk or e-mail the file.

When playing back, a five-button remote control features Power, Back, Forward, Rotate, and Auto buttons. Forward manually advances you to the next photo and is used to set up the presentation after inserting the disk. Auto puts you in “auto slideshow” mode, automatically advancing images to the next photo. To stop it, just press any button. A green LED indicates when the device is in Auto mode. When creating your album, the TV Photo Viewer software lets you specify the interval between “slides.” On-screen image quality isn’t bad considering the source material, and only those computer users applying DVD standards will be disappointed.

With a retail price of $159, the Microsoft TV Photo Viewer seems a little pricey (hope for the street price to dip to $99), and the lack of Mac OS compatibility cuts off five million iMac owners. Nevertheless, this is a cool and practical device that could make the dream of the digital slide show on TV a reality.

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