When I started cyberManor in 1999 as a custom electronic integrator focused on providing home networks for our clients’ homes in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was intrigued by the possible integration of digital photography and the large display of a television screen. Digital cameras were rapidly becoming popular in the late 1990s and the ability to instantly show a digital family photo on a large, high-resolution television screen was a very compelling and attractive solution.
To accomplish this goal we installed a network computer as a video source to a component-video-based TV in a home’s family room. Another networked computer would be located in the office and used as the station for downloading the camera’s digital photos, where they could be transferred to the family room computer for viewing on the large-screen television (you can view this process on the circa-1999 Cisco SmartHome video that is in the Video Gallery on our cyberManor website). It all worked, and the result was amazing–a digital family slide show that could be easily viewed on a large 50-inch screen. The problem was all the steps required to get the digital image from the camera to the TV screen; it was prohibitively complicated for all but the tech savvy.
Meural has taken the digital canvas concept one step further and has added professional art from the world’s greatest artists and museum collections that can be streamed to their picture frames.
Over the next 15 years, this process has become quite a bit simpler with the advent of digital photo frames or TV screens with USB ports and internet connections that allow you to play back photos from USB sticks, photos in the cloud, or via AirPlay or Chromecast wireless photo transfers. These solutions for displaying small-screen digital photos to a large screen in the home, however, still require a fair amount of end-user intervention: the TV video source has to be set to the correct input, images need to be transferred to a USB stick, or AirPlay or Chromecast wireless image transfers need to be set up. All in all, it still seems to be more trouble than it’s worth for most of our clients, so digital pictures are still most often shared by passing around a smartphone, or viewing them on Facebook or other social sites on a mobile device or laptop–not on a large TV screen.
An innovative New York City-based company called Meural (www.meural.com) recognized the need to easily share digital photos to high-resolution digital screens and has developed a product it calls the connected canvas. Instead of tackling the problem of trying to turn a TV into a photo experience, they decided to add network intelligence to the place where we already look at our photos–the picture frames that hang on our walls. They developed an elegant line of wood-framed, high-resolution digital screens that connect to the home’s Wi-Fi network. Meural has created a cloud portal where you can store your digital photos (and videos up to 50 MB) and stream them to any Meural digital photo frame that you own– whether it is in your own home, your parent’s home, or even your office.
The elegance of their solution is that you can create a gallery of photos to stream to any of their photo frames–and they can even be scheduled by time of day. As an example, you could hang one of the Meural digital photo frames in your client conference room, queue up photos of your best custom integration projects, and schedule them for display on the Meural digital picture frame during your meeting. Another scenario is that you are hosting a party and you create a gallery of photos of people attending the party to display during the hours of the party. You could even take photos of people at the party on your iPhone, upload them to your personal Meural cloud portal, and have them display in real time on the picture frame.
Meural has taken the digital canvas concept one step further and has added professional art from the world’s greatest artists and museum collections that can be streamed to their picture frames. Instead of looking at the same van Gogh picture hanging on your wall forever, you can now stream a collection of van Gogh paintings to the Meural screen–at time intervals that you can choose. Meural has also incorporated a gesture recognition feature into its screens, whereby you can actually move your hand from left to right in front of the digital screen to advance to the next photo. It also added app connectivity, so that photos can streamed and controlled directly from your iPhone.
In today’s Internet of Things connected world, we are witnessing an explosion of devices and products that add network intelligence to a wide variety of products–from cooking pans and coffee pots to dog feeders and toothbrushes. The challenge for the custom integrator is to find the new IoT products that best leverage our skillsets to enhance the entertainment, comfort, and security of our clients’ homes.
Almost all of us are in the business of providing rich digital audio/video entertainment experiences around the home. The Meural digital picture frames give us the ability to add the walls of the home as another location for the family’s most precious digital content–their own family photos. By properly planning for the power and Wi-Fi needs of these digital picture frames in the home, we can create a hallway of personalized digital photo frames that look like the standard photo frames our clients now hang in their hallways–except that these frames come to life with an ongoing gallery of personal photos, videos, and professional artwork content.