What's the Best One
Exactly what makes a picture display (also known as "slide show") program
"the best" depends upon what your needs are and what experience you've had so far.
For example, during my review of these programs, I've seen users comment that a
particular program was "the best out there of all I've tried". Later on that
person admits he only tried several, and his picture display needs were minimal.
For people like that, almost any of these picture display programs would be
adequate, and this review would be of little help.
But many of us have a growing volume of picture files that has
real value to us and future generations. As with a physical photo album, we'd like
to organize them, document them, and display them in a convenient and attractive
manner, all with as little effort as possible.
Things you do to a Picture Over Time
There are several general steps most people take when processing a set of
pictures. After acquiring them (typically from a digital camera, or by scanning
photos), they typically are edited. This can involve cropping, color correction,
brightness and contrast correction, lightening shadows, etc. All this editing,
if done at all, is a one-time process. After that, descriptive information may be
attached to the picture. Finally, these pictures are periodically viewed.
Edit Once, View Periodically
If your pictures are important to you, this editing process is a serious business.
Many picture display programs include editing facilities within them, which on
the surface seems like a good idea, but isn't. The reason is that few, if any,
of these programs do a really good job of editing. They simply give you a few
simple tools like brightness or contrast enhancement. On the other hand, professional
picture editing software like Adobe Photoshop Elements specialize in editing
tools. If you were to include a full set of picture editing tools within
a program that also had a large set of display abilities, the program's
visual interface would become confusing and difficult to learn and use.
Separate Editing and Viewing
This all leads up to our set of evaluation points. The assumption is that your
picture editing will be done by software well suited to that job. In turn,
program PicViewPlus and this document are both targeted toward the flexible
display of a set of pictures. The consequence of this is that the design and
operation of PicViewPlus is simplified, and the set of evaluation points is
also reduced in size.
Why these Evaluation Points?
Exactly what constitutes a set of evaluation points for a picture display program
is a topic that many would have strong opinions on. My choice is first based
upon my scanning and processing of thousands of slides and pictures. My second
influence is the set of features present in many of the dozens of picture display
programs I've reviewed (referenced in this website). These evaluation points may
evolve a bit over time. For example, the ability to print pictures wasn't
initially considered important - until some family members started requesting
them. I then found there was a large range of capability in this area. The result
was that I tried to incorporate the best of these features into PicViewPlus.
The following sections discuss the criteria that this website
uses to evaluate picture display programs:
Picture Selection -
selecting the next picture to be displayed
Simply put, you want to be able to choose which picture
within a set of pictures should be shown next. In the simplest case, you have
two buttons called Next and Previous.
Virtually all slide show programs have these controls,
both in browsing mode and in slide show mode.
In addition, a good program should let you advance to the
First or Last picture of the collection.
One step up from this is the ability to Skip Forward or
Skip Backward a certain number of pictures.
Better still, you should be able to
view a set of thumbnail-sized images (Thumbnails), giving you the ability
to select a picture by it's appearance.
About half can handle Thumbnails, many can handle moving
to the First and Last picture, but very few can handle skipping.
Instead of selecting a picture by position or appearance, some programs let
you select pictures by their associated text. For example,
out of several hundred pictures, you might want to display all those having the
word "Erik" in the Picture Description tag.
A minority of programs have this feature.
Picture Ordering -
changing the sequential display order
Just like in a photo album, it's often important to be able to be able to
specify the display order of a set of pictures. If a program allows you to
change the picture order, they usually allow sorting the pictures by their
file name, date taken, size, etc. There is often an option to sort forward
or reverse. And sometimes there is even an option for randomly organizing
But there are times when no automatic sorting is appropriate. In that case
some programs give you the capability to sort the pictures manually, by a
technique such as dragging and dropping thumbnail images.
About half offer automatic sorting, while only about
a fourth offer manual sorting.
Orientation Changes -
the ability to rotate or flip the picture
When browsing a newly arrived set of pictures, it's very possible that some
of them have the wrong orientation. The viewing program should have the ability
to rotate a picture left (counter-clockwise) or right(clockwise). It should also
be able to flip a picture horizontally or vertically. In a sense, these aren't
true picture edits, since these operations shouldn't affect the picture quality.
When a rotate or flip is done, there should be the option of saving the
updated picture back on itself so that the operation doesn't have to be done
The vast majority support rotates and flips.
Pan and Zoom -
the ability to magnify (zoom) any part of the picture, and then to move that
magnified view around (pan)
Pictures often contain more detail than is casually visible
when displaying the entire picture. This is especially true with the newer
high-resolution digital cameras now coming on the market, although some older
black and white photos also contain a lot of detail. Since some of this detail may be of
interest, the ability to zoom into a specific part of the picture is important.
Once zoomed in, it then also becomes useful to pan around the zoomed view. Of
course you want to also have the ability to selectively zoom out again. And you
want to be able to restore the view to your starting view.
For maximum viewing flexibility, a point-zoom, which zooms to a point
within the picture you click on, and a box-zoom, which zooms to a box you
drag with the mouse, should both be present. With regard to panning, there
should be the ability to click a point on the picture and have the view panned
so that point is in the middle of the display window (center-on-point).
The ability to drag the zoomed view by clicking and dragging the left mouse
button (drag-the-view) should also be available. Finally, the program
should be able to fit the entire picture to the viewing window (fit-to-window).
About half can do pan and zoom.
Size and Positioning -
the ability to change the size and location of the picture
When we display a picture, we want to be able to control the size of the area
that displays the pictures, and where this area is positioned on our screen.
Ideally, we want two modes of operation. In the first, we want the picture to
display in a resizable and movable window. In the second mode, we want
the picture to fill the entire screen (full-screen).
Full-screen mode raises some interesting issues: Should the window title bar
or the task bar be present? And how do you place picture
selection and other controls on the screen without obscuring the picture? There
are various ways people have found to address these issues.
About half can do full-screen mode. Fewer still can do
that and also use a movable and resizable window.
Picture Information -
the ability to display ALL of the information within or associated with
the picture (e.g, EXIF information, picture size)
Many people place a high importance on identifying pictures
and the circumstances under which they were taken. This descriptive information
consists of text within different categories (e.g., date, description,
photographer). Most good slide show programs provide for the recording of this
annotation. The important issue is exactly how they do this, and there
are generally two techniques used. One method is to gather this information and
store it within a custom database maintained by the slide show program. The
other technique stores picture annotation within the file itself. Most can handle annotation of some sort.
Storing picture annotation within a database has several
advantages. For one, the data is quickly accessible to the slide show program.
Second, some types of picture files cannot include picture annotation data, so
this annotation must be stored externally in a database designed for this
purpose. Unfortunately, this technique also has some severe disadvantages.
The major one is that many picture updates (such as renaming a
file, or copying it to another file directory) must be done from within the
slide show program. Second, since there is no industry standard for these
database files, you are often locked into one picture display program vendor.
If that vendor becomes
unresponsive to support or goes out of business, you may lose all of your picture
annotation! Therefore, the best scheme for adding annotation to your pictures
is to embed it within the pictures. While this can't be done with all picture
file formats, it can be done with the formats in popular use today - TIF, PNG,
and JPG. Almost all digital cameras generate either TIF or JPG pictures. The
standard for photos on the web is also JPG. Other formats can generally be
converted to PNG or JPG format.
Fortunately, TIF, PNG (an updated version of GIF), and JPG
files all use a common annotation format referred to as EXIF. The individual
pieces of annotation are referred to as tags. For example, Image Description
is a tag holding the title of a picture. In fact, EXIF supports dozens and
dozens of tags (e.g., ISO Speed), and is supported by such major camera makers
as Sony and Canon. There are even tags for GPS data, so that you can record the
precise latitude, longitude, and altitude a picture was taken at! A growing minority supports EXIF.
Support for this EXIF information in slide show software
varies widely. Some programs show you some tags, some show you more, and a very
few show you all. Many, surprisingly, have some erroneous tag information. Of
course, it also makes sense to be able to enter or change appropriate tag
information, such as tag Image Description. A
very small minority allow you to enter/change/update EXIF tags.
the ability to flexibly display selected picture information along with
Just as pictures in a photo album often have descriptive comments written
on or near them, slide show pictures should also be able to display this picture
annotation on or near them as they are being shown.
you should be able to specify which information you want displayed,
where you want it displayed, and how (i.e., font, color, size)
you want it displayed. For example, you may want the block of information left,
right, or center justified, on the picture near the top (or bottom), or you may
want it completely above (or below) the picture.
Unfortunately, almost no slide show programs support
Picture Search -
the selection of one or more pictures from the entire set of pictures,
based upon the textual content of the picture
When pictures have annotation, it then becomes possible to
search for pictures based upon some annotation criteria. For example, out of a
set of hundreds of pictures, you may want to view only those pictures that contain
the word flower somewhere within the title of the picture. Optionally,
you may want to restrict the search further by also having the word Jones
within the photographer tag.
While a picture search
capability can be very useful, only about 10% of the slide show programs
contain this feature.
the playing of an audio file associated with the picture, when the picture shows
as well as during the display of the entire set of pictures
A slide show presentation can have greater impact if accompanied by sound
from associated audio files. There are two ways to do this.
A picture file can have a sound file associated with it.
This type of sound file is often called foreground sound. Most
often, these sound files have a file type of WAV, MP3, or MIDI. For many slide
show programs, "associated" means that the sound file has the same name as the
picture file, but has a sound file extension. For example, picture file "Ted
Laughing.jpg" might have the associated sound file "Ted Laughing.wav" in
the same file directory. In other slide show programs, the files don't have to
share the name, but you have to declare the sound file that is associated with
a specific picture file. Either way, the slide show program should start playing
the sound file when its picture file is displayed. Surprisingly, obvious
operational details are often improperly handled. Specifically, the sound file
should only play once, and it should be stopped immediately if the picture is
advanced either manually or automatically. And if the picture advance is set to
a time less than the length of the sound file, the picture display time should be
extended so that the sound file doesn't get clipped.
An alternative sound accompaniment has one or more sound
files begin playing in sequence as soon as the first picture is displayed.
This is sometimes referred to as background sound.
These sound files serve as background music to the entire slide show. As an
option, the sequence can then repeat.
A small issue arises when both background and foreground sound are enabled.
In that case the background sound can continue playing or be paused until the
foreground sound finishes.
Few slide show programs support
either foreground or background sound, and only one or two support both.
the ability of print one or more selected pictures per page on your printer
It's not at all unusual for someone to look at a pleasing picture or set of
pictures and decide that they want them sent to their printer for a hard copy.
Consequently, this ability is often contained within slide show programs.
One type of capability is that of making a contact print, which is usually
defined as a page filled with all the pictures sized as thumbnails. Another
common capability is printing one picture per page.
In the next level of sophistication, a series of Layouts is available to
choose from. This enables, for example, the printing of two 5x7 inch prints per
page. If the program is sophisticated enough, you can choose the content of
these layout boxes - whether both pictures are the same or not.
Further levels of sophistication involve having the choice of rotating a picture
to better fit a layout box, along with the ability to selectively crop
the ends a bit to make the picture fill out the layout box.
Captioning is another issue. Ideally, the slide show picture caption should be
used. If not, there should be an option to insert a caption.
Sometimes there is the option of adding specified header or footer
About 75% support printing, but only a minority of
those feature truly flexible printing (e.g., page layouts).