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Families with digital cameras take thousands of pictures but banish most to a computer hard drive never to be seen again. They never make the connection that their home theaters are digital photo-ready. This despite the fact that gathering people on the couch for a slide show was second-nature a generation ago, especially after a vacation or during the holidays. With some advance planning, setting up and running a picture show is a lot less labor intensive than dragging a mechanical projector and retractable screen out of the closet each time you want to impress the neighbors.
Loading slides correctly was a hassle before the show turned digital.
Today, your big screen is already in place. And with that bright display, you don't even have to dim the lights. So why wait? Here are five ways to do it.
#1 Connect the Camera
You're back from a trip or backyard barbecue and haven't even turned on the computer. One of the quickest ways to show the pictures in your camera on the big screen is a simple cable connection. Most point and shoot cameras contain a video output (usually NTSC- or PAL-selectable) and come with a composite video cable you'll recognize by the yellow plug on the end meant for the TV. Most TV's have an auxiliary video input on the front or side so you don't have to reach around the back. Plug in the camera, turn it on, switch the TV to the correct input, and you're in business. Unfortunately, this is a low-resolution solution. The best you'll get is VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution, which is a far cry from high-def.
Some camera manufacturers offer an optional dock that charges the camera and attaches to the HDTV set with high-definition video cables. Kodak, for example, offers the EasyShare HDTV Dock for use with select cameras. It includes component video cables and a remote control, and the picture resolution will blow away what you can see using a composite cable.
Some new TV sets from JVC, Samsung, and others contain a USB input and the ability to display high-quality photos from an attached camera. (The camera "thinks" it's attached to a computer.) A few digital SLR's are equipped with 1080p-capable HDMI outputs. They include the Nikon D300 and Sony Alpha A700. While the size of the HDMI input is standard on the HDTV end, the output on the camera can either be standard or require a HDMI Mini Connector. The D300 accepts a standard HDMI plug; the A700, a Mini Connector. B&H offers a variety of HDMI cables including the Sony HDMI Male to Mini Cable.
While you can't beat the directness of attaching a camera to your TV, a disadvantage is that unless the camera has its own remote or you're using a long enough cable, you or an appointed member of the family will have to stand over the camera and use its onboard controls to run the show. On the other hand, you have the advantage of controlling the picture on the big screen the same as you would if viewing the image on the camera's own LCD, and that includes enlargement and panning controls. Imagine how more dramatic a close-up of a butterfly perched on a blossom looks on a 50-inch HDTV than on the camera's own viewscreen
#2 Insert the Memory Card
Even easier than attaching a camera to the TV is popping out the memory card and inserting it in the TV. Almost all Panasonic plasma sets ranging in size from 42- to 65-inches contain a slot for SD card picture viewing.
You use the TV's remote to run the show. If you want to put together a slide show using images you've already archived, you can transfer images to a card from a computer. With memory cards so much cheaper than they were even a year ago, why not buy extras to store themed slide shows? The Sandisk 2GB Secure Digital (SD) Card (2-pack) could be your one-two punch: one card for taking new pictures; the other for moving archived pictures to the TV.
#3 Attach a Computer
Connecting the computer to your HDTV delivers the mother lode of archived photos, and you use the computer's own presentation program. The practical consideration is whether you can move the computer to the TV – notebooks have an advantage over desktops – and whether the TV and computer have the same type of high-resolution connections. Many HDTV sets come with a VGA (also called a PC) input. This 15-pin port is nearly universal on computers, so tethering a VGA cable between the computer and compatible TV is straightforward. Alternatively, some Media Center-type computers contain HDMI or component video ports, and both types are included on all new HDTV sets.
Slide shows don't necessarily need accompanying audio, but if you want to deliver music or narration from the computer, you can either rely on the notebook's own speakers (not a great match if you're sitting in a home theater) or connect a mini-pin to stereo cable from the computer's audio output to your audio receiver or TV. Adding an audio cable is a necessary consideration if you're using a VGA cable or component video, which carries just the picture – of course, with HDMI you get sound, too.
Cable lengths are a consideration if you want to control the show from a computer that is perched on the coffee table in front of the sofa. Depending on how far away you are from the screen, you'll probably need a generous-length VGA cable (at least 15-feet) so it can hug the floor or be tucked temporarily under a rug. An example is the Comprehensive 15' VGA/SVGA Cable.
Then, there's the type of computer meant to reside on your rack of A/V components. These include Vista Windows Media Center PCs like the Sony VAIO VGX-TP20E/W Living Room PC. The system is equipped with a remote, wireless keyboard and touchpad. Click on Photos, choose a folder, and each image is panned and enlarged automatically, then dissolved into the next image.
Newer Macs incorporate infrared sensors and remotes that run Apple's Front Row software. If you have an older Mac without infrared, consider the Keyspan RF Remote for Front Row.
If you want to upgrade a Windows notebook for up to 30-foot use, consider the Logitech DiNovo Mini Wireless Keyboard, which comes with a plug-in Bluetooth adapter for the computer.
If the notebook is already Bluetooth-enabled, you might want the Logitech V470 Cordless Laser Mouse for Computers.
#4 Make the Most of Your DVD Player
A seldom-used feature of almost all DVD players is their ability to display photos from disc. CD-R's and DVD-R's are cheap, and copying photos from your computer gives you a chance to choose the best photos for sharing on the big screen before you burn the disc. Since you likely already have a DVD or Blu-ray Disc player attached to your TV, starting the show is as simple as loading a disc and sitting back using the player's remote. Make sure the player is connected to the TV from its HDMI or component video output. A few DVD players and DVD recorders contain USB or Firewire inputs or SD card slots. For these models, you'll be able to read images directly from an attached camera or an inserted card. And if the player also records, you may be able to burn a photo disc without a computer.
Philips DVP-5982 DVD Player - HDMI Output, 1080p HD-Upconversion, Component, Progressive-Scan, USB Input
#5 Hook Up a Media Receiver
The most sophisticated way to show photographs on your HDTV is through a media receiver. The receiver links to your home network either wirelessly or through an Ethernet cable, and it streams photos, music, and video from a networked computer in another room or an attached storage device. The receiver outputs that content on your TV and stereo. For a home equipped with Wi-Fi, adding a media receiver enables you to view your photo folders no matter where they're stored on your home network. Although most media receivers require an active network connection, Apple TV (compatible with Macs and Windows PCs) uses an internal hard drive for showing photos once they've been copied from the network. Some media receivers contain USB inputs so that content first can be copied directly to a hard drive or flash memory stick from a computer and then plugged into the receiver for showing without a network. Still other media receivers like the MediaGate MG-450HD High-definition Multimedia Center is sold without a hard drive, but you can insert one in its bay.
Some media receivers let you stream photos and music simultaneously. You can set the time interval and transition style between images. AppleTV's slick effects include multiple images of varying sizes climbing the screen and twirling around. The Netgear Digital Entertainer HD Wireless Media Extender EVA8000 lets you zoom deeply into a portion of the image to explore obscure details as well as stream photos from the Flickr photo-sharing site.
So, while your Analog Dad fumbled with that Carousel, Digital Dad has many more ways to put on an extraordinary picture show. Just make sure you or he sits down and deletes the out-of-focus, poorly framed, and redundant images beforehand. Conventional slide shows became a bad joke back in Analog Dad's day because they went on way too long. Be choosy as you peruse the family's photo library. Inundating friends or relatives with hundreds of stills will cause their eyes to glaze over and their feet to walk. But if you limit the show to a few dozen beauty shots, your audience will appreciate the effort and maybe come back for more.