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Polaroid back to business with LCD frame

Posted: 15 Oct 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:financial waystations  Graphics Dual-Data-Rate  MPEG-1/MPEG-4 

What's old is new again, and product branding is no exception. Famous for instant photography some years back, the original Polaroid Corp. filed for bankruptcy in October 2001. After some financial waystations with BankOne, Petters Group and others, the instant photography business went to CharacterGroup plc, and electronics manufacturing rights went to Flextronics. Despite corporate gymnastics in ownership and brand rights, the public presence of Polaroid seems to remain quasi-focused on imaging, with DVD players and flat-panel TVs joining up with the company's branded digital cameras and digital picture frames. The latter category is the product topic here, as we look at the company's 7-inch LCD picture frame, a bright spot in the market these days. As we'll see, the digital picture frame takes full advantage of low-cost LCDs and inexpensive ASSPs to retail end product at very accessible price points.

An LCD photo frame is a dynamic alternative to the moldering picture on the wall or desk, with most able to update displayed images via a programmable slide show. The XSA-0720S model from Polaroid is at the lower end of the heap, retailing for about Rs.3,158.27 ($80) at big-box outlets. It lacks the Wi-Fi-connected image-feed of higher-end models but does provide for multiformat memory cards or USB up- loads of image sets.

While available separately, the 7-inch-diagonal LCD picture frame was actually bought in a Rs.5,882.28 ($149) retail "kit" that included a 5MP digital camera (model #a520). Tune in to the TechOnline On-Demand seminar associated with this column for a peek at that companion accessory and further details on the picture frame itself.

The LCD digital picture frame is comprised of a central assembly that houses the display panel and support electronics, all of which snap into a decorative frame bezel. The product includes an IR remote control to manipulate the slide show (and more), as well as a 9-volt wall adapter for dc power. Mountable to the wall or able to be stood up on a table, the Polaroid product can be connected to a flash drive or digital camera via a USB interface and accepts CF, SD, MMC, MemoryStick and MemoryStickDuo memory card formats. Custom slide shows can be created from any of these media inputs with user-selected transition effects and times.

For output, the XSA-0720S uses a 16:9 aspect ratio LCD with a 7-inch diagonal. Au Optronics (AUO) supplies the panel (model #A070FW03) providing 480-x-234 resolution from an analog input interface. The panel is backlit with an incredibly thin (and fragile) cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL), essentially a miniaturised version of the fluorescent tube that probably illuminates your office. A claimed brightness of 400 cd/ square meter and 300:1 contrast ratio are listed for the panel, which draws a total of 3.4 watts.

Such power consumption is an immediate flag that battery power is not an option, which explains the inclusion of a separate dc adapter. The resulting cord of the external supply means that whether on the wall or on the table, a thin cable will snake away from your frame, a noteworthy drawback over traditional picture frames, which need nothing more than a well-lit room. Oh, well. Nothing's perfect.

A fairly straightforward, but purpose-built, set of devices drive the display. Central to the design is the MP612 Media Player Controller from MagicPixel of Taiwan. We hadn't encountered this company (www.magicpixel.com.tw/) before, but the #MP612 demonstrates the speed with which new players are able to quickly field new, highly targeted devices once market opportunities present themselves.

The company's other products all revolve around image processing of one form or another (no surprise, given the MagicPixel name), forming a likely springboard for the development of the picture-frame-specific device used in the Polaroid design.

The MP612 incorporates more than just the manipulation from varied JPEG source input formats to the target display. Along with JPEG decode, the part also supports MPEG-1/MPEG-4 decoding (up to 30 VGA frames/second) and MP3/AAC decoding, along with a few other features, though none are used here.

Functions of the MP612 that are called upon to keep the design simple are the multistandard memory card interface and USB 2.0 support. Some bells and whistles may lie dormant, but it's likely that the more multimedia-rich examples from Polaroid's LCD photo-frame lineup use the same core design with only minor additions, a notion amplified by the visibly unpopulated component sites on the printed-circuit board.

Further evidence of Taiwan's dynamic IC industry comes from other devices found in the Polaroid picture frame. The LCD controller (MX88V430) and the 4 Mbytes of on-board NOR flash (MX- 29LV320) both come from Macronix, which was spun off from MagicPixel in January 2003. The selection of both vendors together is an unlikely coincidence, and some bundled-component pricing benefits are probably an end result.

Other major high-value ICs in the XSA-0720S are limited to the Samsung K4D551638H 32-Mbytes Graphics Dual-Data-Rate (GDDR) SDRAM, the Micrel MP1026 CCFL Inverter controller and the Aimtron step-down regulator used to convert the 9-V dc input to a system rail voltage. Two LDO regulators from IK Semiconductor provide further regulation to form the 3.3-V and 1.8-V supplies.

Flextronics is the ODM behind the design, according to the circuit board legend markings (remember the sale of Polaroid's manufacturing rights to that company). Whether the same LCD photo-frame engine makes an appearance in other branded products is unclear, but unpopulated component sites again suggest other potential endpoints for the core design.

With a manufacturing cost estimated at just shy of Rs.1,973.92 ($50), the XSA-0720S is probably a modest-margin product when sold at Rs.3,158.27 ($80) or so, but slim profits are all part of the equation for product popularity. As the LCD panel dominates the parts cost, expect to see more price erosion as competition intensifies and displays continue an inevitable decline in cost-to-procure. For consumers, at least, it's a pretty picture.

David Carey is president of Portelligent, an Austin, Texas, company that produces teardown reports and related industry research on wireless, mobile and personal electronics (www.teardown.com).




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