Digital Picture Frame Overview

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Digital cameras have changed the way people take pictures. Instead of limiting the number of shots we take to prevent running out of film, we can now take pictures of anything and everything and just delete the ones we don’t want. Instead of having to mail reprints to limited numbers of family and friends, we can simply email them to everyone.

The worst thing about digital cameras is that you don't automatically get prints. You can easily have prints made of any images you want, and you can even print them yourself, but most people don’t print all the pictures they take. There are just too many of them. While you can always view digital pictures on a computer or TV screen, there is a better way to display them.

What are digital picture frames?

A digital picture frame is basically a small LCD monitor that’s designed to look like a conventional picture frame. Most digital picture frames can be set up in either portrait or landscape orientation, and they can stand on a table or hang on a wall. Like a digital camera, a digital picture frame contains a certain amount of built-in memory and/or a memory card slot that lets you increase the storage capacity as much as you like. The digital picture frame will then “play” a slide show of its contents.

If you know someone who doesn’t have a digital picture frame but think they might like one, now’s a great time to buy one. They’re very affordable in general, and many are loaded with features that might never have occurred to you. They make great gifts, even for people who’ve never used a digital camera or computer. If you have non-technical relatives who don’t want to deal with anything modern, you can simply load up a digital picture frame with family pictures and give it as a gift, fully loaded. All they have to do is turn it on.

Sometimes a certain family member will object to displaying a digital picture frame, saying that they don’t have anywhere to put it. But you don't need a permanent location for a digital picture frame; you can simply haul it out for holidays, parties, graduations, weddings and even, on a more somber note, for funerals. Some digital picture frames have to be plugged into an AC outlet, while others can be AC-powered, but also have a built-in rechargeable battery. The rechargeable units will work anywhere, even if there’s no outlet nearby.

What can digital picture frames do?

Naturally, any digital picture frame can display JPEG images. That goes without saying. And some digital picture frames can also display BMP and TIFF images. No real surprise there, either. However, some digital picture frames have built-in speakers, either mono or stereo. That allows them to play MP3 and WAV audio files, so you can have music or even a few choice words spoken by the people in the pictures as a soundtrack.

Once a digital picture frame has built-in speakers, it’s only logical that it could be made to play video files, and many of them can play M-JPEG, WMA, AVI and MPEG-1, 2, and 4 video files. This makes a lot of sense because most digital cameras can now shoot video as well as stills.

Some digital picture frames come with software that you have to run on a computer to create slideshows, with various playback speeds and transition patterns, while others have more advanced controls right on the frame itself that let you do the same thing. Some advanced frames have touch-screen controls. You can have the frames display random slideshows or create playlists containing specific images, and you can combine music and other audio files with the images, as long as the frame has built-in speakers.

There are other features that make digital picture frames easier to use and more versatile. Some frames feature an orientation sensor that automatically rotates images so they appear right-side up, and others offer automatic image resizing so that all of your images, regardless of their resolution, will fill the display as best they can. Some include clock, calendar and alarm functions so you can replace your old-fashioned alarm clock with a modern digital picture frame that doubles as an alarm clock.

Some digital picture frames can even be used as secondary PC monitors. To use the feature, you have to connect the frame to a computer via USB, and install or download special software that makes it all happen. Lots of frames come with a remote control so you can operate them from the comfort of your easy chair.

At least one digital picture frame has a built-in photo printer that allows PC-free printing. Guests can simply walk up to the frame and press a print button when they see an image they like.

What is the size range of digital picture frames?

There is no standard size for a digital picture frame; they come as small as 1.5 inches and as large as 19 to 32 inches. Like a monitor or TV set, digital picture frame sizes are measured diagonally. The smallest digital picture frames are designed for use as key chains, but they are not that tiny. While they’ll easily fit in a purse or briefcase, you probably wouldn’t want to carry one around in your pants pocket all day long. These tiny frames typically have a resolution of 128 x 128 pixels.

The next step up in size is 2.8 inches. While too big for a keychain, these are nonetheless intended to be kept in a purse or briefcase to show off the kids or grandkids or that new summer house, while you’re on the go. The 2.8-inch screen size bumps up the resolution to 320 x 240.

There’s also a 3.5-inch size that looks like a conventional picture frame and is the perfect size for a bedroom nightstand.

B&H carries only one digital picture frame with a 5.7-inch display, with the next largest popular size being 7 inches with a native resolution of 480 x 234 pixels.

There are also quite a few 8-inch frames with 800 x 600 resolution and some 8-inch models with a wider aspect ratio and native resolution of 800 x 480 pixels.

You’ll also find a selection of digital frames between 9 and 12 inches in size with various native resolutions. Then, there are the really big ones.

There are 15-inch displays with a 1024 x 768 screen resolution, at least one 19-inch unit with a 1440 x 900 pixel resolution and at least one that’s a gigantic 32 inches in size with a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.

How do you load images into a digital picture frame?

The most basic digital picture frames contain a certain amount of internal memory and a USB port. You simply connect the frame to a computer via USB and the frame shows up looking like a flash drive, and then drag and drop images to the frame until the memory is full. Internal storage capacity can range from just 8MB all the way up to 4GB. Sometimes you can plug a USB flash drive into the frame’s USB port and transfer files from the flash drive to the frame that way.

Lots of digital picture frames have a built-in card reader that’s compatible with SD cards at the very least or, at best, a multi-card reader compatible with CF, SD, SDHC, MMC, MS Pro, MS Duo and xD cards. Usually, you can load up a memory card with images from a computer and then just pop the card into the frame and have it display everything you copied to the card. Most frames with built-in card readers also have a USB port so you can just pop an empty card into the frame, connect the frame to a computer via USB, and load in new images that way. If you already use a particular type of memory card, just make sure the frame you’re interested in supports that format.

Some digital picture frames feature Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth connectivity, which lets you connect the frame to your home network, another computer or cell phone, wirelessly, and you can update the contents that way. Some frames can even be programmed with a unique email address so that friends and family can send photos to it from wherever they might be. Some frames can link to friends and photo albums on Facebook and other photo-gallery websites, so you can see new pictures on your frame when they're posted. At least one frame can automatically connect to the AT&T wireless network and receive a certain number of images for free; you can purchase additional packages to get even more photos in the same way.

Can I find a digital picture frame to match my décor?

One of the nice things about digital picture frames is that they don’t all look the same. They’re available in real wood, metal and plastic. They come in all colors. Some have an interchangeable mat and frame design that lets you change the appearance in a snap. Others come with clips that let you place a favorite frame you already have over the display to match your décor or to match the appearance of another frame in your house.

The Takeaway

Buy a digital picture frame with enough memory to store all the pictures you want it to, or get one that lets you install high-capacity memory cards.

You can find a digital picture frame that matches the décor of the room you want to display it in.

Buy a digital picture frame with a rechargeable battery if you want it to use it away from an AC outlet, or outdoors.

Match the size of a digital picture frame to the location you have in mind for display.

Buy a digital picture frame that uses the same memory cards you use in your digital camera.

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Which digital frames enable you to change the frame?  I am looking for a digital frame with a gold frame and haven't been able to find one.

- Julia

Hi Julia -

I am sorry Julia, B&H does not currently offer any gold color digital picture frames.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com