Traditional picture frames are a part of every home. They invoke a sense of belonging and grounding, and give the guests to your home an inkling of your lifestyle and heritage.
However, be they family photos or artwork you have deemed worthy enough to grace your home, traditional – analogue – frames are static, and as such greatly reduce your flexibility in designing your home, not to mention that you cannot change them depending on the occasion.
Sometimes you might want to have all artwork in your home, from abstract to photorealistic, and sometimes you want homey, family photos. You cannot do that with analogue picture frames, at least not in any practical sense.
Digital photo frames are an ideal solution – infinitely flexible – as you can even set one to cycle through images every couple of minutes, and if a photo doesn’t exactly fit the environment you can just switch to another one.
Digital Frame Setup
Image File Types
Whether you have scanned physical photographs, thus converting them into digital files, or you already have a trove of digital photos produced by your digital camera (from smartphone or from a standalone digital camera), the picture that will ‘feed’ the digital frame will have to be of a certain file type.
Almost all image file types have the following extensions:
JPG/JPEG has established itself as the universal image file type, due to its compressed feature. Meaning that it takes many times less space on a hard drive/memory card than any other image format, which translates to your device holding many more pictures than would otherwise be possible.
The compact size of JPG/JPEG files is also the reason for their prevalent usage on websites. Almost all pictures on any website you see are JPG/JPEG, because they drastically decrease the loading time of the website. Anyone involved in web design understands the importance of having their website load within 5 seconds. Otherwise, the average browser of the internet gives up on that web page and moves on.
All other image file types besides JPG/JPEG are considered uncompressed, or in their raw form. PNG has some slight degree of compression, but BMP and TIFF are in there raw, lossless form.
Obviously, uncompressed image files offer the greatest accuracy and reproduction, but this is very difficult to notice with a naked eye.
Nonetheless, it would be always wise to preserve all your photos in their uncompressed form and the highest resolution possible, either PNG or BMP. Such files will be able to be ‘stretched’ on the largest digital displays while preserving the photo’s quality.
With JPG/JPEG file you will notice the loss of quality when put on a larger screen. This is important when you are considering the best way to store photos digitally, but not necessarily when considering frames.
Fortunately, most digital photo frames are still of a modest size so you will hardly notice the difference between a JPG and a BMP or PNG.
Nonetheless, you will find that the latest digital frames support BMP and PNG, so unless you will load the frame’s memory card with inordinate quantities of photos to cycle through, there is no reason to opt for a compressed JPG, given the choice.
Image File Conversion
Whatever the image file type you find yourself with, it is exceedingly easy to convert to another file type, without requiring any additional software expenditure.
Windows 10, along with older versions, has an integrated image editing software called ‘Paint’.
When you want some other image format, or you want to reduce the size of the current image file, simply open it with Paint, click on File -> Save As and choose the file format.
Additionally, you can downsize its resolution under the ‘resize’ option.
Be cautious though, if you want to preserve the original, uncompressed image file, always save it under a different name. Otherwise, you will lose the original quality forever!
The Paint software will always prompt you if you want to overwrite it, if you have not selected to save it under a different name.
The integrated Mac image-editing software works the same.
Digital Frame Features
There is no best digital frame to buy per se. Its features are entirely dependent on what you want from it:
-How large should it be?
-What is the maximum resolution of the frame? The higher the resolution the greater the quality of the image will be if it is of the same or higher resolution, but if the frame is small enough, it would receive no visible benefit from a higher resolution.
-How convenient do you want the transfer of files to the frame be? Wireless/cloud, or physical, through memory sticks and cards?
-What is the amount of memory integrated within the frame?
-Type of the frame’s screen – LCD or OLED – the wider the viewing angle the better will it serve as a worthy substitute for a traditional frame. Therefore, you should always look for an IPS or OLED type screens. Of course, those will be more expensive.
-How wide should the edge of the frame’s screen be? Monitors and smartphones already have very narrow edges, so the bulk of the surface area is filled with an active screen. The same standard should apply to digital frames as well.
-What is the overall design of the frame? Is it so elegant and subtle that it can be mistaken for a traditional picture frame at a glance?
All of these factors will determine the price and quality of the digital frame.
With that being said, here are some of the most cost-effective, digital frame options.
Just under $100, the NIX Advance 8” digital frame far exceeds the boundaries of a standard digital frame.
Offering IPS screen at 1024×768 resolution, which gives you a superior viewing angle, it has the ability to playback standard MPEG-4 video files, in addition to JPEG photos. And both types of media can be cycled within the same slideshow.
It also has a convenient clock and calendar/reminder function, along with stereo speakers.
One neat trick that elevates NIX Advance above most other digital frames is the motion sensor. It will turn on when anyone enters the room and will turn off when there is no motion detected after a while. Not only does this save electricity, but it also greatly prolongs the longevity of the screen.
It can be customized to a great extent as well. Not just the picture and slideshow settings, but you can set the timing of the motion sensor, or not use it at all, as you can simply set the time-range of the screen being active. For example, you can set it to automatically turn on at 8AM, and it turn off at 10PM.
The sizes go all the way up to 15”, and it even comes with a remote to further increase the convenience factor. Although, once you set it up, you will hardly need to use it.
Twice the price of the NIX Advance, the 10” Pix-Star frame offers ultimate in connectivity. Either through Android or iOS apps, or through a variety of online cloud services like Dropbox, Smugmug, Shutterfly, FlickR, OneDrive, Photobucket, and many others, you can set it up through the 3G or WiFi network.
It comes with 4GB of integrated memory, which is sufficient for about 20,000 JPG pictures. And if that is not enough, it can be further expanded with USB stick, or SDHC/SDXC memory cards.
Its slideshow customization is quite comprehensive with transition types, sorting orders, and play modes.
Unfortunately, the maximum resolution is at 800×600 pixels, but larger ones offer higher resolutions.
Good to know is that it also comes with a motion sensor, and it even has a VESA feature for wall-mounting.
About the same price as the 10” Pix-Star, the 10” Nixplay Seed offers the same wireless connectivity and cloud support, but with a higher resolution at 1024×768 within an excellent IPS screen.
Furthermore, it doubles the amount of integrated memory at 8GB, while also extending it with 10GB of free online storage.
With that amount of memory at your disposal, you can safely upload it with uncompressed PNG and BMP images. It goes without saying that it offers full range of customizability: clock, calendar, photo transitions, captions, sorting for slideshows, etc.
Video playback is not present, but it does have a motion sensor and an intuitive remote that even a non-tech savvy elderly person can use with ease.
You can setup playlists on your Android or iPhone up and simply upload it to the frame.
A refreshing novelty of Nixplay Seed is that its back does not look like your standard monitor back, but is instead composed of a very stylized and monolithic, honeycombed surface.
One nifty feature we have not yet seen is that its cord is constructed in such a way that it serves as an effective stand.
If you are not missing the video playback feature, Nixplay Seed is definitely the top of the line digital frames. All you have to decide is the size. Of course, the larger ones (13.3” is the largest) are more expensive.