Consumers will snap 1.2 trillion digital images worldwide in 2017, according to InfoTrends, which is a market-research company. That’s an increase from 1.1 trillion images in 2016, 1 trillion images in 2015 and 810 billion images in 2014, and the number of images is expected to increase every year for the foreseeable future, InfoTrends says.
Given these statistics, it isn’t surprising that demand still exists for a device that displays digital images on a wall or a bookshelf. Enter the latest digital photo frames.
Three years ago, experts told us that “digital photo frames are as good as you ever will get, so if you purchase one today, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience buyer’s envy tomorrow.” It turns out that those experts were incorrect.
The highest resolution now for a digital photo frame is 3240 x 2160 pixels (starting at $599), compared with 1440 x 900 pixels in 2014. Electric Object’s EO2 (starting at $299) and Meural’s Canvas (starting at $595) have 1920 x 1080 displays and Wi-Fi connectivity, and they include access to online libraries of at least 20,000 artworks. The EO2 and the Canvas are the first digital photo frames that are designed for artwork as well as your own images.
A digital photo frame that has a screen resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels costs as little as $60, compared with $72 before. The least expensive model that has a screen resolution of 800 x 480 pixels is $32, compared with $50 before. However, you should keep in mind that almost all of the latest smartphone cameras take images of at least 15 megapixels, and experts tell us that you’ll lose the clarity of your original image if you display it on a digital photo frame that has a resolution that’s less than 1024 x 600 pixels.
In the past 3 years, Loop, Nixplay, Pix-Star and Sungale introduced digital photo frames (starting at $100) that have built-in Wi-Fi capability, which allows you to stream images through a cloud storage account, a computer, a smartphone or a social network. These digital photo frames also have the capability to stream images automatically from dedicated cloud-storage applications. In other words, if your grandmother has a Wi-Fi digital photo frame, you and your family members can send images to a mobile app, and they’ll appear in real time on your grandmother’s digital photo frame. Previous Wi-Fi digital photo frames didn’t have the capability to stream images automatically from an app or a social network.
Nixplay’s app allows you to manage multiple digital photo frames. In other words, you can program the app so streamed images appear simultaneously on Nixplay models that are in different rooms of your grandmother’s home. Alternatively, you can program the app, so each Nixplay model has a different playlist.
Loop and Sungale now sell digital photo frames (starting at $120) that allow you to stream video from a streaming service. We hadn’t seen a digital photo frame before that had that capability. The Loop (starting at $299) and Sungale models (starting at $180) even allow you to have a video conversation through the use of a chat service.
“[Digital photo frames] are no longer one-trick ponies; they can do so much more,” says Carrie Sylvester of Consumer and Professional Imaging Group, which is a part of InfoTrends.
We found that today’s digital photo frames are more useful than ever before. Beyond Wi-Fi streaming, digital photo frames now have calendar and clock functions, and they cost as little as $40, compared with $80 before. We also found that models that have a motion sensor, which turns on the frame automatically when it detects motion and turns off the frame when no motion is detected after a set period, now start at $40, compared with $70 before.
Loop, Memento and Nixplay also now sell digital photo frames (starting at $200) that include ambient-light sensors that automatically adjust the brightness of an image based on the amount of light that’s in a room. In other words, if the lights in a room are low or turned off, the image will glow so you can see it clearly. We found that the ambient-light sensor can be turned off or adjusted manually, which is good if you turn your lights low to watch a movie and you don’t want to be distracted by the glare from your digital photo frame.
FULL ADVANTAGE. Despite the advancements of digital photo frames, we found that about half of the models that are available have an aspect ratio of 16:9. (16:9 describes the proportion between the width and the height of the display.) That’s a problem, because almost all cameras take digital images that are in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
“The choice of a 16:9 [model] has never been about photography,” says Amadou Diallo, who is a photographer and who writes about consumer electronics for Forbes and Wirecutter. “It’s largely a question of supply. No photo-frame-maker I’m aware of makes their own displays. They buy them from large LCD vendors, whose main business is selling TV screens, which come in a 16:9 format for movie watching.”
When you display a 4:3 or a 3:2 image on a 16:9 digital photo frame, the image will have black rectangles on the left and right sides of the image to make it fit in the display. When you display a 4:3 image on a 4:3 model, the image displays across the entire screen. A few of the latest smartphones now allow you to change your camera’s setting, so you can take images in a 16:9 aspect ratio. However, the majority of cameras take images exclusively in 4:3.
“The only possible situation I can think of where 16:9 is helpful for capturing still images is if you wanted to include your still image in a movie,” Diallo says. “But even then, what filmmakers do is use a 4:3 or 3:2 image and zoom and pan, Ken Burns-style. So, for photographers, a 16:9 photo frame really makes no sense.”
We believe that a 16:9 frame makes sense if you want to use the frame to watch video, most of which is shot in a 16:9 format. On a 4:3 frame, 16:9 video will appear to be letterboxed, which means that it has black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. In other words, the digital photo frame will shrink the video to make it fit on the screen.
Melissa J. Perenson has covered consumer electronics for 23 years. Her work has appeared in Consumers Digest, PCWorld, PC Magazine and elsewhere.