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3D Album

3D Album Jazzes up Photos

Sharing family photographs electronically is increasingly popular these days.

People can inflict these treasures on unsuspecting friends and family members in a variety of ways: they can print 'em out and hand them around or mail them, e-mail them, or burn them onto a CD ROM and mail or hand them around that way.

The end result is the same, however: a bunch of static photos your victims can scroll or riffle through.

But what if you wanted to jazz up your photo collection a bit, to add a little razzle dazzle that'll make your presentation stand out from all those other peoples' boring collections?

Well, a company called Media Research Institute has come up with 3D-Album, a software application that organizes your photos into a variety of interesting displays you may feel adds that pizazz you've been wanting.

3D-Album (for Windows 9x, Me, NT, 2000 or XP) includes some 23 styles in the box, with another 30-plus available for download. With these templates you can not only create interesting photo presentations, but screen savers as well – so you can keep smiling at your desktop all day as your favorite pictures appear before you.

It's kind of neat. I had a whack of photos hanging around from when I was victim of a birthday party this summer, so I put 3D-Album through its paces making a variety of presentations in a variety of configurations. I have to admit that the ones in the box wore thin fairly quickly, though the online ones are interesting enough that they restored some of the luster. And remember, this is probably not something you'll use every day so the glow may stick around longer in real world use than it did during my more "intensive" test period.

The albums let you choose pretty well whatever digital photo files you want, by pointing and clicking, and as you build your presentation you can also add music, text, voiceover (assuming you have the needed hardware, of course – for instance a microphone if you're going to use your own voice) and sound effects.

The sound effects, which include a click of a squeaky "hit" sound and which play as the pictures change, wore thin the quickest with me – like after about one try. Fortunately, you can shut them off, so it's a matter of their beauty being in the eye (or in this case, ear) of the beholder.

You can also control the colors, fonts etc. of the text you use for labeling, as well as the speed at which the presentation plays out. This adds a nice bit of flexibility to what are otherwise fairly inflexible presentations.

Now, that crack about inflexibility isn't really a criticism; this program is meant to be "bozo proof" so the less the "ordinary consumer" has to think about can be a bonus when you're opting for extreme user friendliness.

And they do achieve extreme user friendliness. The interface is very simple and straightforward, and each button or control (which are kept to a minimum) has pop up help that appears if you hold your cursor over it.

Creating a presentation is very easy. All you really have to do is point 3D-Album to the folder in which your chosen pictures are stored, choose the presentation template, assign your other parameters (sound or no sound, speed, etc.) and click "Build." Then, a dialogue box pops up asking what type of presentation you want to build: application (a self contained program your victim – sorry, recipient – can merely double click upon to activate), screen saver, HTML page (your fully animated presentation appears in a box), ZIP file (crunches the files to minimize their space – handy for e-mailing if the person at the other end knows how to "unzip" files), or self-extracting .exe file for e-mailing.

I tried all of these and they all work as advertised, though the html page is designed for low resolution monitors and that made the "window" more than a tad small for my taste – and my failing eyes. The best were the ones that create an executable file (*.exe) that starts the program automatically because it requires less knowledge on the part of the recipient.

My presentation ended up being anywhere from 4 to 6 megabytes in size, even zipped, which makes for a pretty hefty e-mail. In fact, depending on your Internet provider, you may or may not be able to send files that large – or the recipient might not be able to download them. This is the only real fly in the ointment for people with larger presentations they want to e-mail.

The alternative, of course (for people with the hardware), is to burn the presentation onto a CD ROM and send it via "snail mail." Or, if you have Web space, you could upload it and tell your friends and family where they can download it.

Anyway, the presentations themselves are quite interesting, featuring photos that move into and out of place and dissolve from pic to pic. Depending on the environment you choose, you can have presentations that appear out of a blank screen, zooming toward you, presentations that appear almost as if in "bubbles", presentations that look like Christmas tree balls dangling from pine branches, etc. etc. etc.

There are cubes, clocks, trains, you name it – chances are 3D-Album will have at least a couple of designs that'll turn your crank.

The package comes with two CD-ROM's, one of which has the application itself and the other of which contains a demo and 20 minute interactive tutorial. The product is priced at $40, which is pretty affordable.

My personal bottom line is that I'll create my own presentations from scratch, thank you very much, but I have the knowledge and wherewithal to do that, whereas a product like this can add a nice touch to photo presentations for those who don't have the time, PC power or inclination) to design one from scratch themselves.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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November 16, 2005