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RedPost/Kit Review

redpost_review

Five (or more) years ago, I got a killer deal on a Kodak LCD frame. At the time, it was next to impossible to get a digital picture frame that was not tied to a service with monthly fee and that accepted memory cards. I gave it to a friend and I think it hasn’t been seen since. Since then, the early 2000’s have been a quiet time for LCD frames. They just didn’t take off. I guess people didn’t really understand the idea of having a picture slideshow on their coffee table. Fast forward to today, and these things are experiencing a resurgence in interest, due largely to small Asian companies that have really embraced this niche market. Two years ago, I set out to design my own picture frame. It would have a Mini-ITX board, external power supply, require no active cooling (for silent operation), would run Unix, have Wi-Fi to update it’s picture cache, and would have a large LCD monitor. I got very technical and detailed, going as far as getting quotes for custom designed boards and display modules. In the end, the product got shelved mostly due to cost.

A few months ago, much to my surprise, a startup out of Indiana called RedPost started marketing their own LCD picture frame, called the RedPost/Kit, and it piqued my interest because it was how I envisioned mine. The founder, Eric, was gracious enough to send me a review unit. I was supposed to keep it for a few weeks but it’s been a few months now (oops). When it arrived, I noticed how carefully it was packed. There’s no stuffed newspaper or bubble wrap here. We are talking custom cut foam pieces. Everything that could move was taped down and the accessories came in a separate box, placed inside the frame. The unit itself is a heavy (solid) item measuring  18 1/4 inches wide, 15 1/4 inches tall, and 2 5/8" deep. I didn’t get a chance to weigh it, but you can safely assume that picture wire won’t cut it for this frame. You’ll need to mount on studs for sure.

One of the many things I admire about Eric and his company is that they market the RedPost/Kit as a DIY project. They give you the pieces to get you started but as the saying goes, "some assembly required." Since this unit was for testing, I didn’t have to deal with the drywall or concrete mounting options nor did I have to poke holes in my wall to run direct power. If I had chosen any of these routes, the necessary hardware was available to me in the kit. What I did care about was getting the unit up and running. Admittedly, I had a few problems getting the Wi-Fi adapter and the slideshow to work. After a fresh install of Damn Small Linux with the beta code which included RedPost’s Flickr module, I was up and running. The 19" display was gorgeous and quite bright, without washing out any of the details or shadows.

The unit can display photos locally (from the USB key which it boots from), via a SMB share on the network, or via Flickr. The last one is my favorite as I am a Flickr fiend. All my photos on there and the API is so powerful. I envision being able to set it so it’ll display photos by keyword, descending date, or set.  If I was a developer, I would make these changes myself. That’s right, the software aspect of the Kit is open source.  Similarly, if you wanted to dabble with the hardware, the full manuals and spec sheets are available on the website. The company makes no attempts to hide or discourage you from finding the information. You might be inclined, as I was, to price together a unit to see if you could build one yourself. But don’t bother, the Kit is an excellent value that you won’t be able to match.

I simply love how well designed the unit is from a physical as well as an operation viewpoint. It is completely silent and boots entirely off a 1GB (included) flash drive. Including wireless means not having to run wires. The machine is set to power on when it received AC and to shut off otherwise. This means you can just wire it directly to a timer or wall switch.  Using Unix means virtually no limits to what you can do with the frame – RSS feeds, daily weather forecasts, stock market monitors, are all possible.

The RedPost/Kit is truly the first commercially available digital picture frame I have seen that is comfortably nestled between a hacker’s project and something you’d get from Target for grandma. That is, it’s the perfect unit for weekend geek who wants a bit of refinement in his or her products. I would gladly recommend this product to anyone who is willing to put some time into setting it up. You will be rewarded with a lifetime of memories.

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