for buying a Digital Photo Frame - Buyers Guide
no secret that digital frames are slowly replacing the old fashioned
picture frames that adorn the walls and mantelpieces of most homes
around the world. As we move away from film cameras and towards
a more digital world where we regulary take hundreds or even thousands
of snaps every year it makes sense that we need a low cost solution
to display these photos in an attractive manner. The recordable
CD is todays version of a shoebox full of old photos, theres no
use taking photos if we never look at them again. Thats where digital
photo frames are the perfect solution, allowing you to store and
view thousands of photos on a single frame.
problem is, not all Digital Photo Frames are created equal and it
takes a little research to separate the good from the bad. The guide
below is designed to give you some insight into what to look for
in a frame before deciding on a purchase. It will also give you
ideas as to a variety of features you may been previously unaware
lets start at the beginning.
Photo Frame Resolutions
of the most important factors when choosing a digital photo frame
is the resolution of the screen. Resolution is defined as the number
of pixels (dots) that the screen can display at once and is generally
measured as the number of pixels wide by number of pixels high.
The total number of pixels can be determined by multiplying these
2 numbers together so a screen that is 800x600 (800 pixels wide
by 600 pixels high) would have a total of 480000 pixels (less than
half a Megapixel). Ultimately, the higher the resolution the better
your images will look on screen. There are many different resolutions
available but some of the more commonly available are shown below:
- 800x600 (4:3)
- 640x480 (4:3)
- 320x240 (4:3)
- 320x234 (4:3)
- 800x480 (16:9
- 480x234 (16:9
general, higher resolutions are only available on screens with larger
physical sizes. However I expect we will start to see very high
resolution screens that are quite small particulary as the newer
OLED Digital Photo Frames replace the traditional LCD panels of
today's frames.(OLED = Organic Light Emitting Diode).
important to note that most digital frames wont come even close
to being able to display your photos at the full resolution that
your camera was designed for. Even a 1024x768 screen is a little
less than 1mp (megapixel) whereas digital cameras these days start
at around 6mp and increase in quality from there.
If you want to save space on your frame or storage card, reduce
the size of your photos to the "native" resolution of
the screen they will be displayed on using a photo editor such as
The Gimp or VSO
Image Resizer (both are free). Depending on the frame, this
may also help to increase the display quality as some frames don't
rescale photos very well. It may also help in playback speed as
the files will be much smaller and you will greatly increase the
total image capacity of your storage card. Always keep the original
high resolution images backed up though in case you ever want to
print them or upgrade your frame.
is also a very important factor in your buying decision. There are
currently two main types of screen aspects that dominate the digital
frame market, the traditional 4:3 aspect and 16:9 Widescreen aspect.
Its quite easy to tell the difference visually, 4:3 is closer to
being square whilst 16:9 is more rectangular. Some companies also
produce screens that have less common ratios such as 5:4 and 16:10
but I'll just discuss the 2 most common ratios below.
is a similar aspect ratio to regular 35mm film cameras (which is
3:2) and is commonly used on the majority of digital cameras except
for SLR (which are still 3:2 generally). The numbers "4:3"
are a ratio, this means that for every 4 inches of screen width,
the screen will have 3 inches of screen height. This is proportional
depending on the size of your screen and whilst the measurements
of a screen may be different the ratio should always remain the
same (or very close).
to the fact that 4:3 ratio matches most digital still cameras it
is recommended to buy a 4:3 Digital Frame if you intend to use it
primarily for displaying your photos. We may see a shift to 16:9
digital still cameras in the coming years but for the time being
4:3 is the best option in my opinion. It should be noted that many
current Digital Still Cameras provide an option to take photos in
16:9 aspect rather than 4:3 however in most cases the camera usually
just cuts the top and bottom off the image so in reality you are
simply losing resolution. If you do own a Digital SLR (3:2 aspect)
then a 4:3 screen is still closer than 16:9.
aspect ratio is now becoming commonplace for most flat panel TV's
and digital video cameras however its use within a digital picture
frame can lead to problems. If you attempt to display a full screen
image of a photo that has been taken in a 4:3 aspect then the image
will appear stretched horizontally (resulting in you appearing shorter
and wider in your photos). Alternatively many 16:9 frames will allow
you to display the images in their correct aspect however this will
lead to black vertical bars at the left and right of the photo which
can spoil the appearance of the screen.
advantage of a 16:9 screen is that your widescreen videos will look
better if your screen supports video playback as they will fill
the screen in most cases. It's important to make your purchase decision
based on your needs, if you will primarily use the Digital Frame
for photos then choose a 4:3 screen, but if you want to mainly watch
widescreen videos then a 16:9 screen is the obvious choice. Some
screens advertised as 16:9 may actually be 16:10 aspect but the
difference is so small its unlikely you will notice.
bigger always better? This question will best be answered by deciding
on your own needs. For instance, what size room will the screen
be viewed in, will you be mounting it on a wall, will the screen
be used for advertising or just personal use etc. Generally, larger
screens will increase the price but it's important to note that
screens of the same physical size are not always on par in terms
of their resolution. That bargain 10 inch screen might actually
have a lower resolution than the 8 inch next to it. Keep in mind
that most Digital Photo Frame manufacturers will use a diagonal
screen measurement when describing actual screen size (ie, from
top left, to bottom right). The advertised screen size should in
most cases describe the size of the actual LCD panel, and not the
total size of the frame which could be misleading. Check the specifications
on the box or literature for "panel size", "LCD size",
"Screen size" etc.
screen sizes range from 5 to 10 inches, however if you have the
cash then companies such as PhotoVu offer much larger sizes such
as 19 inch and 22 inch.
factor to take into consideration regarding size is the actual thickness
of the screen from front to back. This can be important if you are
planning to wall mount the frame and dont want it to stick out too
far or simply if your desk is already a little pushed for space.
A thinner screen may be more visually attractive when viewed from
Displays: The dominant screen technology in today's market
is LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) sometimes also referred to as TFT
(Thin Film Transister). Quality of LCD panels varies greatly and
the main features to watch out for are brightness, contrast ratio
and viewing angle. Manufacturers are renowned for overstating these
figures so a visual check is always helpfull. Cheaper screens may
tend to underperform on each of these aspects although you may find
some standout gems in the lower price range.
Luminance or brightness is measured in candelas per square meter
(cd/m2). Generally, 300 cd/m2 is the standard. Anything lower is
not bright enough and too high may begin to limit the viewing angles.
Ratio: This is a measure of the shades of colour that the
screen can display (blacker blacks and whiter whites is the usual
aim). A higher ratio means a better colour range and will result
in less colour "banding" (this is where areas of colour
gradation, such as a sky exhibit noticable bands of colour change
rather than a smooth transition). Generally 300:1 is ok but keep
an eye out for frames that have 400:1 contrast ratio or higher for
better colour range.
Rate : The speed at which the screen refreshes the image.
This is measured in cycles per second or "Hertz" (Hz).
Generally you wont find this information in the specifications for
the screen however you can easily check this with the screen on.
Simply look slightly to the side of the screen and if the you see
a noticable flicker then the refresh may be too low for your needs.
Low price and low resolution screens often suffer from screen flicker
which can be an annoyance for some users.
angle: Usually measured in degrees (°)and the larger
the angle the better. For instance a viewing angle of 160 degrees
horizontal means that the image should be visible from 80 degrees
either side of straight on. Check both the specifications for vertical
and horizontal viewing angles. If you are outside of the specified
viewing angle then the image will start to lose colour clarity and
perhaps even become a negative image.
a product's specifications sheet may give you some details, often
its best to check several screens side by side in order to do a
direct comparison. Its not uncommon for manufacturers to "massage"
the technical specifications of their products which can sometimes
result in misleading information.
displays: Digital Photo Frames featuring OLED displays
(Organic Light Emitting Diode) are now creeping into the market.
OLED has the advantage of not requiring a backlight as each pixel
is able to light itself. This results in a display that has more
colours, is brighter and uses less energy. Viewing angles on an
OLED screen are also better when compared to LCD making them well
suited to Digital Photo Frame use. Large OLED displays are currently
expensive so expect to see smaller frames using this type of technology
first (7-9 inches initially).
Photo Frame screens generally have either a matte or glossy screen
both of which have their positives and negatives.
Finish: Less reflective and as such may be a better choice
if the frame faces a light source such as a window or lamp. A matte
finish may tend to smooth out the image slightly resulting in a
slight loss of definition however some people prefer this effect.
finish: Can suffer from reflection problems particulary
where the frame faces a lightsource. They do however tend to show
a slightly crisper image but this is dependant on pixel resolution.
Some people also prefer the glossy screen appearance for its aesthetics.
Glossy screens also show fingerprints a lot easier than Matte finish
screens so keep that in mind if its likely to be poked at a lot.
Design & Aesthetics
is one aspect that will come down to personal preference and there
are a huge amount of designs to choose from. Frame materials can
include everything from genuine timber, to stainless steel, acrylic,
plastic or glass. Some models are available with swappable frame
surrounds to give you a choice.
that you may want to consider from a design point of view may include:
it have any visible buttons on the front face that may detract
from the appearance?
it have the manufacturer's logo on the front and would this be
a negative for you?
the frame contruction well built?
the remote control sensor suitably hidden or does it detract from
the rear of the frame ugly and will it be visible when it is on
the frame wall mountable and does it have slots on the back to
make this easier?
the stand allow the frame to be placed vertically as well as horizontally?
the power cable and adapter small and easy to hide?
the outer frame too large or too small compared to the screen
the frame excessively thick?
type of storage cards does the frame support? Will it directly
support your camera card or will you need to copy the files to
a USB drive first?
control: Many Digital Frames include a remote control which
will come in useful when making adjustments or flicking through
photos from the comfort of your couch. Investigate whether the entire
frame can be controlled via the remote or just basic functions.
Also pay attention to the button layout and markings, is it easy
to use and can you press the buttons easily? It is a larger remote
or slimline credit card size. Would you easily break or lose it?
Screen: Whilst currently rare, touchscreen functionality
will likely become a popular feature of future Digital Photo Frames
particulary those with better software functionality. When purchasing
be sure to take into account the durability of the screen surface
itself and whether or not it is likely to relatively fingerprint
resistant. Matte screens tend to be more resistant to fingerprints
than glossy screens. Some screens feature a pseudo touch screen
whereby the frame edges are touch sensitive rather that the screen
Scanner: Some screens feature an inbuilt photo scanner
enabling you to quickly scan existing photos so you can view them
digitally on your screen.
frames are not created equal. Some frames only have very basic software
functions and interface whilst others include a host of features.
Some features to consider are described below:
playback: The minimum you need is Jpeg support which should
be supported by all frames (otherwise you have probably bought a
chopping board by mistake). Ideally your frame should support automatic
slide show (random, sequential, single folder, multiple folder etc).
playback: Some frames support videos usually in the AVI
format. However not all AVI files are compatible with all frames.
AVI is a very generalised format and consists of a large number
of "codec" types including xvid, divx etc. Its quite possible
that the videos you take with your digital still camera may not
play correctly or at all on frames that supposedly support video
so if you can test the frame with your videos first this may be
the best solution. If not then consider converting your videos to
a format which the frame does support. Better frames can also support
additional video formats such as WMV.
Playback: Whilst this is a nice feature, ultimately the
inbuilt speakers of most frames will sound like a "blowfly
in a tin can". However keep a look out for frames with an audio
out or headphone out jack if you wish to connect up to a home stereo
or headphones. Most audio capable frames will at least support mp3,
whilst better models will support a wider range of audio formats
including OGG, WMA etc.
and Calendar: When you get bored of all your photos you
can always watch the clock. Its always handy to have a secondary
useful function for your frame.
Radio with Alarm: Kill two birds with the one stone by
purchasing a Digital Photo Frame with inbuilt clock radio.
Station: Some frames have an inbuilt weather station which
can be a great feature.
quotes: Some frames have inspirational quotes built right
in... but if not then you can always use Framebug's own inspirational
quotes products for something a little more elegant.
shutdown and startup: A handy feature that saves power
when you are not in the room. Usually this operates on an adjustable
timer however some frames include an infrared movement detector
which will turn the screen on as soon as you enter the room and
shutdown again after detecting no movement for a period of time.
networking connectivity: Wireless frames allow you to send
files directly to the frame via your wireless network. Some can
also be set to automatically connect to the internet to receive
files remotely, allowing the images on the screen to dynamically
change as new photos are uploaded to the internet. Keep in mind
that most "Wireless" frames generally use this term in
regards to networking and still have the need for wired power supply.
Power: This can be a handy feature with regards to portability,
allowing you to take the frame to family picnics, for advertising
purposes at an outdoors market etc. Its also useful to be able to
pick up the frame and take it to someone to view instead of them
having to walk to it (ideal for the disabled or elderly).
Reader: Some wireless frames allow you connect directly
to an RSS feed from the internet. This will allow you to gain information
on news and weather etc. In some cases it may also allow you to
connect to image sharing website directly.
photo Emailing: This is where the frame is given its own
email address. Friends and family can then directly email photos
to the frame for display. Some frames also feature the reverse of
this whereby you can send images directly from the frame to another
Messaging: Allows you to send text messages directly to
the frame for display.
Rotation: This feature allows the frame to tell when the
frame is in either a horizontal or vertical orientation and automatically
rotate the images to suit.
Resize: This is a feature of most frames and enables you
to load images that are physically larger than the screen area and
the frame will reduce the images to fit. Some frames handle this
function well whilst others will cause the image to look somewhat
pixelated after the size reduction. In most circumstances, best
results will be achieved if you resize the images on your PC first
to match the frame's screen "native resolution".
the end of the day you are buying an item which you can always use
more than one of, if you make a mistake and are not 100% happy with
your first purchase you can always hide it away in the kids room
or hand it on to a friend or family member. You will probably have
a clearer idea of your needs when it comes to buying a frame second
time around. Remember that frame technology will advance year by
year, so today's perfect screen will seem dated and featureless
2-3 years down the track.
you take just one thing away after reading this page, make sure
its Resolution, Resolution, Resolution... and remember, the higher
the resolution, the better the image will look.