Microsoft TV Photo Viewer Provides a Simple New Way to View Digital Photos on Home Television Sets

Editor’s note:
References and hyperlinks to some products have been removed since publish date due to changes in product availability.

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 20, 2001 — People love to snap, share and talk about pictures. No other activity better illustrates how much we enjoy “sharing” ourselves and each other than photography does. Today, Americans’ love of picture taking and sharing is perpetuated in the burgeoning digital camera market. According to research conducted by Yahoo! in June (“Imaging Industry Goal”) digital camera sales are predicted to reach 10 million by the end of 2001, up from fewer than 1 million in 1997.

Microsoft TV Photo ViewerClick on photo for high-resolution version.

More and more families across America are switching from traditional film cameras to digital cameras. InfoTrends Research Group, an analyst firm based in Boston, found in March of this year that nearly 20 percent of U.S. homes currently own a digital camera, as do 25 percent of Internet-connected households in the U.S. And a recent study organized by Playboy reported in February that six in 10 men plan to expand their collection of electronics in the next six months, with digital cameras high on their wish lists. Consumers have spoken — now is the time to give digital photography a shot.

America’s new love affair with digital cameras in all likelihood stems from the fact that they offer convenience and immediacy without breaking the bank. Most digital cameras are easy to use, and they offer instant gratification — users are able to view photos just seconds after they are taken. In addition, prices on quality digital cameras continue to drop, making the technology accessible to new consumers. And digital camera owners no longer need to spend money on film or development costs.

However, digital technology isn’t perfect yet. “Our research showed that digital camera owners were extremely satisfied with their purchase decision,” says Karen Baker, Microsoft Hardware Usability lead. “However, many specified they wanted more options for digital photo sharing at home.”

Consumers said that e-mailing digital photos can be complicated due to large file sizes, and printing digital photos can be expensive and time consuming.

A Simple Solution

This research prompted Microsoft to develop a solution that addressed digital photo sharing needs, enabling families to get even more out of the digital camera and PC they already own. The device, Microsoft TV Photo Viewer, is new hardware that enables digital camera users to use their PCs to easily organize, share and view their favorite digital pictures on their home television set. Microsoft TV Photo Viewer takes digital photos that are saved on the PC and allows them to be shared on a TV in the comfort of the family room.

The software and hardware are easy-to-use, and optimize any photo saved in the JPG graphics file format — digital, e-mailed or scanned — creating high-quality images for viewing on any standard television set. The Microsoft TV Photo Viewer will work with any NTSC TV with composite (RCA-style) video input. Televisions without composite video input — but with a coaxial input — require a powered RF modulator (not included).

Picture this: A family of four has just returned from a fun-filled vacation to Disneyland, where they took a series of digital photos. Now they want to share the photos with relatives and family friends. With Microsoft TV Photo Viewer, once the family vacation photos are uploaded to the PC, the images are ready to be organized into a user-created digital photo album. The software lets the family arrange, edit and personalize digital photo albums and save them onto a standard 3.5″ floppy disk. The software also enables users to crop, rotate, and add captions to photos and insert an album title page. Once the family is ready to view the digital album, they simply insert the floppy disk into the Microsoft TV Photo Viewer disk drive and press the “forward” button located on the device or on the simple five-button remote control.

Consumers participating in the studies agreed that the floppy disk would be the easiest format to use. “Floppy disks were viewed as an inexpensive way to store digital photo albums,” Baker says. “They were also seen as a great way to send TV Photo Viewer photo albums to family members who did not have a computer.”

The Microsoft TV Photo Viewer hardware connects to the television via a standard RCA video cable and can remain permanently plugged in. With the Microsoft TV Photo Viewer, digital camera users now have a simple, and social, way to share digital images.

“Developing something this easy is harder than you may think,” Baker said. “This product went through several iterations in order to make it right. Our time and effort paid off — the beta users rated TV Photo Viewer as extremely easy to set-up and use.”

As Rolling Stone reporter Steve Morgenstern stated while observing a demonstration of Microsoft TV Photo Viewer, “This product has great Grandma appeal.”

Put To the Test

To ensure Microsoft TV Photo Viewer achieved its goal of simple photo sharing, the company conducted usability studies and beta tests. Baker was responsible for overseeing the product design, which involved addressing the overall user experience, including physical, cognitive and emotional interactions between consumers and the product.

“Consumers said that they enjoyed taking and viewing digital photos, but that sharing digital photos was more difficult than sharing prints,” Baker explains. “It was the team’s mission to create an easy-to-use tool that would provide digital photo users with another way to view and share their photos.”

Through user testing, Baker discovered additional barriers to photo sharing. “Consumers told us that their PCs were often not located in a comfortable room and that their PC monitor wasn’t large enough to accommodate a group of people,” Baker said.

Study participants were asked to rank the desirability of nine alternative ways to share photographs. “Sharing photos on a television set using TV Photo Viewer was ranked as the number one most desirable way to share photographs,” Baker shared. “Participants liked the idea of viewing photographs on a large screen from the comfort of their couch.”

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