So, you are just getting into the subject area of digital photo frames and would like to get an idea of how much these devices are?
It’s a birthday or holiday time, and you need a present for your parents, significant other, or someone dear who lives far away?
You want to buy a good digital frame model, but at the same time, you don’t want to overpay for things you don’t need?
In this article, I will give you an overview of how this market is segmented and the critical price drivers so that you can get a good understanding of why you can buy a picture frame for $20 but also for $3,500.
What is a digital photo frame?
A digital picture frame is an equivalent of what an Amazon Kindle is to a book.
Instead of inserting one photo print, you have a color display that gives you all the images you upload to a local storage medium or the Cloud.
Digital picture frames are available as a small tabletop model or large wall-mounted ones.
The display quality of these photo frames can be so good that it is indistinguishable from a printed photo.
Digital photo frames came up around the year 2000 and have since been much improved along with the general development in digital components. Just compare the Apple Newton handheld with the Apple iPad Pro today and get an idea of how much digital picture frames have evolved.
Besides well-known brands, there is an active community of home-brewers who build their digital picture frame often based on the Raspberry Pi microcomputer.
Display size and quality
Digital photo frames come in tabletop sizes of 9 to 15 inches, and wall-mounted models typically ranging from 21 to 27 inches.
Even beyond these sizes is the Samsung The Frame model, which is available in six screen sizes ranging from 32 to 75 inches and doubles as a TV.
The display quality ranges from low-quality panels to IPS “Retina” 2K or 4K models with OLED. IPS panels provide excellent sideways viewing and ensure that the color of the image does not change from an angle.
If the last sentence is confusing to you, then all you need to know that there are significant differences in display quality that you have to pay for. However, display technology has made enormous progress in the past five years, and so has the average quality of the panels used in photo frames.
You can get high-quality tabletop models ranging from $100 to $300 from e.g., Nixplay.
The 24 and 27 inches wall-mounted area is served by e.g., Netgear Meural Canvas, and costs between $600 and $900 depending on the frame material.
The huge Samsung The Frames start at around $500 and go up to $3,500. As a bonus, you get a TV with it.
The aspect ratio of the screen may not immediately come to your mind, but it is quite essential.
Most photos today are taken with mobile phones that typically have an aspect ratio (the ratio between the longer and the shorter side) of 4:3. DSLR cameras have 3:2. Compact digital cameras (Four Thirds) again 4:3.
Frames of up to 10 inches are sold with aspect ratios of 3:2 or even 4:3; above this size, it’s all 16:9.
What does this mean for you? When you have e.g., a 4:3 image and you display it on a 16:9 screen, you can either show the entire photo (Fit to screen), but then you will have (usually) black (or color blurred) bars to the left and right.
Or, you can blow up your image so that it fills the entire screen, but that means that you are cropping about 20% of the picture, so heads may be cut off or other interesting parts missing.
If you are building your own digital picture frame, you can go up to 24 inches and still find displays with an aspect ratio of 16:10, which is closer to the original format ratio of the original image.
The smaller tabletop versions are mainly made of plastic with black or silver finish.
The medium-sized 24/27 inches models come in plastic-white or rather high-end wooden finishes like walnut. This does come at a cost and will add about $200 to the cost of your frame. But the frame material does make a big difference in how it blends in your home and living room.
The large Samsungs are available with interchangeable white, beige, black, brown, platinum, pink or lemon bezels that add $100 for the small 32 models and $200 for the 75 inches models. A color for everyone.
Every manufacturer offers a mobile or desktop browser-based app to manage the image library and playback options.
This is an important area because some apps are more user-friendly than others. Unfortunately, there is no correlation between the price of a frame and the quality of its software.
I have found the Nixplay software for the tabletop models to be very easy to operate, followed by the Meural and Framen app. And although I haven’t had a chance to test it personally yet, the consumer reviews for apps of the high-end Samsung frames are somewhat below expectations.
Most apps allow you to share photos between frames, locations, and people, which is excellent for families with several photo frames.
Art subscription services
The manufacturers of the larger frame models also target art lovers by offering access to thousands of curated images, often with explanations that can be called up with a hand gesture.
These services are around $10/month and can provide an exciting value-add to your digital frame. Alternatively, you can legally download great museum art yourself, but it probably won’t have the same degree of convenience.
Earlier picture frame models required the use of SD memory cards but they are being replaced more and more with WiFi connectivity.
WiFi makes the frame more robust and versatile but also dependent on the manufacturers’ cloud services where your images will end up.
While I am not worried about privacy issues, a smaller manufacturer may go out of business and shut its server down, rendering your frame into electronic junk. As so often, cheap may end up being expensive.
Videos and speakers
Some frames will allow the playback of videos, but I guess the jury is still out on whether this is a useful feature in a picture frame or not.
The same goes for speakers.
Hiding the power cable
A constant nuisance with picture frames is how to hide the power cable best.
Nixplay has come up with a smart patented system for their tabletop models. Wall-mounted models are offered with either very thin or flat white cables that are still very much visible but less so than a thick black power cable. These special cables usually come extra at about $100.
When you talk about the price of a digital picture frame, you also need to take into account the monthly electricity costs.
While a 10 inches model will only consume about 6 Watts, a 24 inches screen will be at 24 Watts and the largest 75 inches Samsung The Frame at 150 Watts. Depending on where you live in the world, this can correspond to an annual electricity bill of $5 to $150.
Why not just buy a TV instead?
When you compare the prices of a television with a digital picture frame, you will see that the frames demand a significant premium.
This is due to a number of things:
A digital picture frame will typically have a high-quality IPS display to make sure that the image can be viewed from all sides without a loss in quality. With a TV, you usually look at it from the front.
Secondly, the software for managing and storing your images needs to be developed and maintained.
Thirdly, while a television is a mass product, the volumes for digital picture frames are much smaller. The special housing, additional electronics, and framing carry extra costs that need to be covered.
Having had large digital picture frames in our living room since 2005, I would never want to use a television as a photo frame.
Picture frames are best mounted at eye level when you stand, whereas televisions are watched sitting down.
Also, I like to see a well-crafted aluminum or wooden bezel rather than a black plastic TV casing with buttons, lights, and logos up on the wall.
The software to manage the image library is another issue. A Chromecast or Alexa Fire TV Stick is just no replacement. And although televisions are getting smarter, I have yet to see one with a convenient photo frame module.
The list goes on, and my recommendation is clearly to separate the two use cases.
It’s the same with our computing devices. There are situations when you prefer to read on a laptop, on a tablet, or on a phone. It’s not exactly one size fits all.
What if I build it myself?
Building a digital picture frame is not hard, and the cost depends on your aspiration for perfection and spare parts lying around.
The biggest chunks are the display itself and the frame. The Raspberry Pi, including memory and power supply, is around $60. A good IPS 24 inches screen is about $200, and the frame material depends on the environment where you want it to fit in and what your wife says.
But you can also use an older Raspberry Pi 2, a screen from a broken laptop with a cheap LCD controller, a modded old IKEA frame, and build a budget version for $20.
The software is public domain and free of charge, and you will find all the instructions for many different features here on this blog.
If you are looking for a present for your family to stay in touch and enjoy the memory of great photos, get a tabletop frame from Nixplay between $150 and $300. It will be grandparents-proof as long as they have a WiFi connection in their home. There are often promotions with substantial discounts.
If you are an amateur photographer and you want something larger in 24 or 27 inches with high-end display quality, Netgear Meural Canvas is the way to go at about $600 to $900.
And if you want to build a unique masterpiece exactly customized to your needs, and learn some programming skills around the Raspberry Pi in the process, have a look at the multiple instructions on this website.
But whatever you end up deciding, rest assured that a high-quality digital picture frame will bring a lot of joy to you and those you have given one – every day.