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Dr. Alice Christie's Digital Photo Frame Guide

Description | Screen Characteristics | Aesthetic Considerations
Getting Images to the Frame | Displaying Slide Shows | Other Features
Buying a Digital Frame | Comparison Chart | Manufacturers | Links

Description and Overview


Digital picture frames are electronic devices that look much like ordinary picture frames, but they contains LCD screens that display multiple photos in a slideshow format. They range in size from mini keychain frames to frames with 15" diagonal viewing areas.


Several companies make digital picture frames, including Polaroid, Kodak, PanDigital, Phillips, SmartParts, Momento, Pontus, Ceiva, and many others. The frames are fairly similar in construction, though they do offer some different features.



Digital Picture Frames


You can display photos straight from your digital camera card, or you can edit your photos on the computer and then transfer them to a frame. The frame will display the photos in slide show formats, or the user can manually scroll through photos one at a time. Ceiva and Momento currently offer the only frames that connect to the Internet to download new pictures to display on the screen.



Screen Characteristics

Screen quality is the most important feature to evaluate. Included in this category are:

  • Size and Resolution
    • Available resolutions are much like those on other digital devices: 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024. For any one of these resolutions image quality will decrease as the screen gets larger because the available pixels are spread over a larger area.
    • Calculating Screen Quality Example
      • 4 x 6 inch screen = 24 square inches
      • 640 x 480 resolution = 307, 200 total pixels
      • 307,200 divided by 24 = 12,800 pixels per inch
      • The square root of 12,800 = 113 pixels per inch
      • Higher numbers are better in terms of screen quality
  • Other Factors:
    • Pixel pitch is the distance between pixels center to center and smaller numbers are better.
    • Low-quality screens will have thousands (usually 256,000) and high quality screens will have millions.
    • The best screen technology is currently active matrix thin film transistor (TFT).
    • Adjustable brightness, especially auto adjustment, improves the display of your images
    • Viewing angles indicate the angles at which images can be viewed horizontally and vertically. Higher numbers are better.
    • Contrast ratio is the difference in brightness between pure white and black on the screen. Higher numbers are better.


Aesthetic Considerations

The style and look of digital picture frames vary widely. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, matted and unmatted, plastic and wood, with and without internal speakers, etc. The list goes on, so review a number of frames before deciding which frame best suits your style and needs.


Things to consider when buying a frame include:


Digital Picture Frames

  • Display and mounting. Many frames offer both table display and wall mounting.
  • Orientation. Some frames can be changed to portrait or landscape orientation; when you rotate the frame the photos should rotate to match.
  • Aspect ratio. Most frames use the TV aspect ratio of 4:3 or the 35mm film ratio of 1:1.5. The aspect ration determines if an image is cropped for display.
  • Analog or digital. Digital screens are better. Generally you can identify analog panels because their resolution differs from the standard sizes used in digital devices — 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024. Instead their resolution will be something like 960 x 234 or 480 x 234.


Getting Images to the Frame

For images to be displayed on a frame, it must have access to them. Each of the possible ways get images to the frame are listed below:

  • Memory cards including compact flash, secure digital, memory sticks, or USB flash drives. The number of photos you can display is then only limited by the number of photos that will fit on the card.
  • Internal memory. The software in the frame usually reduces the size of stored images (optimizes) so more files will fit in memory. The number of photos you can store in internal memory is determined by the frame's storage capacity.
  • USB outlets on a frame let you connect it to a computer by cable. The frame may then appear on your computer as a hard drive so you can copy images to it.
  • A phone line connection that plugs the frame into a phone jack and downloads photos that you or others have placed in a specified album. Monthly fees usually apply but this technology is good for those without computers.
  • Wireless capability allows the frame on your home or office network to connect like any other drive.
  • Bluetooth support allows the transfer of photos to a frame from any other bluetooth device such as a camera phone.


Displaying Slide Shows

Frames contain a number of multimedia features that allow you to display photos and movies and accompany your slide show with background music, usually in the popular MP3 format. A frame can display any content as long as it's in a supported format. You can usually adjust the interval setting on the frame for an automated show or browse the slides manually with a remote control.


Some frames provide audio and video out connectors and cables that allow you to display your show on another system such as a TV. If you play audio on the frame itself the quality of the built-in speakers is important.

Supported file formats vary, so make sure the frame supports the image, video, or audio formats you plan on using. All frames display JPG images and some also support PNG, BMP and TIFF. A few frames support common video formats such as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Motion JPEG, AVI, 3GP (video phone format) and the audio formats MP3 and WMA. Some frames have limits on file sizes and none support any of the existing RAW formats. There are usually requirements about filenames and folder names. Filenames can also be important if a frame displays images in alphabetically order.


Playing video files smoothly may require a high-speed card and even then you may be disappointed by the image and playback quality.



Other Features


There are a variety of other features offered with digital picture frames. Depending on the frame, the following features are available:

  • A remote control lets you change settings and control a slide show in progress.
  • Zoom and pan buttons let you explore details in a photo.
  • Software that allows you to add captions, sound, special effects, transitions, set display times, and rotate images.
  • Software upgrades can sometimes be downloaded from the manufacturer's Web site to upgrade your frame when improvements are made.
  • A rechargeable battery on a few models gives you the choice of operating your frame cordlessly for a short time
  • A built-in clock turns your frame on or off at times you select.


Buying a Digital Picture Frame


Before buying a digital picture frame, decide how much you want to spend. Then compare a number of different frames by different manufacturers. Read reviews that compare features. New frames with additional features hit the market at least four times per year, as all producers are trying to stay competitive. As with all technology, advances are made frequently so that each new generation of digital frames offers more features, more options across brands, and often lower prices.


There are SO MANY models by SO MANY manufacturers, it is often difficult to determine if you are comparing apples to apples or apples to oranges.


Once you've decided on which frame to buy, check prices at the following venues, always checking for rebates for special promotions:

  • large retail electronics stores (BestBuy, OfficeMax, Staples, Fry's Electronics)
  • large retail department stores (WalMart, Target, Kohl's)
  • large warehouse stores (Costco, Sam's Club)
  • online merchants (Polaroid, Kodak, PanDigital, Phillips, SmartParts, Ceiva)
  • online price comparison sites (PriceGrabber, BizRate, PriceWatch, NexTag)

In general, third party outlets have lower prices than the actual manufacturers of digital picture frames, so buying online or at a local electronics or department store rather than direct from the manufacturer is often a wise move economically.


For more guidance on buying a digital picture frame, see Digital Photo Picture Frames:
A Guide To Buying a Digital Frame To Display Your Images



Dr. Alice Christie's Digital Photo Frame Comparison Charts
  • Listed Alphabetically by Brand
  • Arranged by Price
  • Arranged by Dr. Alice Christie's Overall Ratings
Manufacturers (in Alphabetical Order)

There are MANY more. Just do an Internet search for "digital picture frame" and explore your many and varied options.