The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon

How I built a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame with a Rasp­berry Pi

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In this arti­cle, I will show you step-by-step how to build a high-qual­i­­ty dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. As a part-time pho­tog­ra­ph­er and self-tutored elec­tron­ics tin­ker­er, I have spent count­less hours research­ing this sub­ject since 2005.

Build­ing a high-qual­i­­ty dig­i­tal pic­ture frame (or dig­i­tal pho­to frame as they are also called) requires the right soft- and hard­ware ingre­di­ents. It is so much more than slap­ping a small com­put­er on an old com­put­er mon­i­tor.

Images have become so impor­tant in our lives and more and more are tak­en every day. Read on to find out how you can make your pic­tures shine at home or in cor­po­rate envi­ron­ments.

You don't buy a Picas­so and put it in an IKEA frame

Well, I am not sug­gest­ing that you or I own a Picas­so. But we all have images that we hold dear and that, for us, are price­less.

If you love great images and you don't want to let them rot in the prover­bial shoe­box (or to put it in a bit more up to date word­ing: hard­disk fold­er), you should get a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame to enjoy them every day.

You can buy dig­i­tal pho­to frames off-the-shelf, but if you are a cre­ative per­son who likes to build things, then you will doubtless­ly be inter­est­ed in this project.

There is no rea­son to be afraid of any hard- or soft­ware issues. In a series of arti­cles on this web­site, I will walk you through every step in minute detail, so that you too, can cre­ate a great dig­i­tal pic­ture frame and dis­play your favorite images in your liv­ing room.

This arti­cle describes the hard­ware part. To learn how to install the soft­ware please read my post "How to con­fig­ure the soft­ware for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in 60 min­utes".

How it all began

In 2005 I bought my first dig­i­tal pho­to frame from Pho­toVu, a US-based com­pa­ny that pro­duced tai­lor-made dig­i­tal pho­to frames with a high-qual­i­­ty mat­ting and frame.

The largest size at that time was only a 19 inch­es screen, but with the mat­ting, it looked quite big. You insert­ed a USB stick and it beau­ti­ful­ly dis­played the pho­tos with a high num­ber of ran­dom tran­si­tions between them. It turned itself on in the morn­ing and off in the evening. It didn't come cheap at around $ 1,500 (€ 1,350), but it was very well built and worth it.

My first Pho­toVu

Four years lat­er, my Pho­toVu frame died, but since we had got­ten so used to dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion in the liv­ing room, we ordered a sec­ond one, this time their largest mod­el was 22 inch­es. It last­ed until mid-2014 and then it, too, broke.

My sec­ond Pho­toVu

By then, Pho­toVu had gone out of busi­ness, so the choice of order­ing a third one was gone.

I start­ed exten­sive inter­net research on avail­able off-the-shelf alter­na­tives but came up emp­­ty-hand­ed because of my list of cri­te­ria that asked for high dis­play res­o­lu­tion, a high-qual­i­­ty screen with wide view­ing angles and great image tran­si­tions - real­ly impor­tant once you get used to it.

Hav­ing had stopped com­put­er home­brew­ing many years ago, I looked at var­i­ous alter­na­tives like the use of an Apple TV box, but the lack of cus­tomiza­tion options made it a no-go.

In an online pho­tog­ra­phy forum, some­one sug­gest­ed using the Rasp­berry Pi, a mini-com­put­er which had only been released a few years ear­li­er. It didn't quite meet all my cri­te­ria, but it looked like a fea­si­ble home­brewed dig­i­tal pic­ture frame with the option of a future upgrade.

So I went on a long jour­ney to put togeth­er the right soft- and hard­ware mix.

Many peo­ple have made this project pos­si­ble through ideas, instruc­tions and forum advice and in the spir­it of reduc­ing the pain for peo­ple with sim­i­lar ambi­tions, I have out­lined on this blog the crit­i­cal steps for the set­up.

Let's get to work

This arti­cle describes the hard­ware side of how to build a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

Basi­cal­ly, all you need is a suit­able mon­i­tor, a Rasp­berry Pi with acces­sories and a frame.

The mon­i­tor

I spent con­sid­er­able time look­ing for the right screen that is suit­able for DSLR pho­to aspect ratio (3:2). The prob­lem is that you prob­a­bly won't find a mon­i­tor that has 3:2 for­mat.

Most are 16:9 today, but I was lucky to find the ASUS VS24AH in 16:10 for­mat. Only one unit away from 15:10 (which would have been per­fect) but still good enough.

I also com­pared ener­gy con­sump­tion lev­els, but luck­i­ly with LED tech­nol­o­gy, most screens aren't as ener­­gy-hun­­gry as they used to be. The ASUS needs 20 W which means that if the frame runs 16h a day, it boils down to about three $/€ a month in ener­gy costs (obvi­ous­ly depend­ing­ly on the elec­tric­i­ty prices of the coun­try you live in).

The old Pho­toVu frame had a small­er screen, used three times as much and became quite hot in the process.

Also impor­tant are the view­ing angles of the screen because in a typ­i­cal liv­ing room set­ting you will often see the frame from an angle.

There is a lot more to say about find­ing the right screen for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, and I detailed my thoughts in the arti­cle "Select­ing the right dis­play for your Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame". I rec­om­mend read­ing this before you make your choice.

The com­put­er

The Rasp­berry Pi, cre­at­ed in 2012 to get UK stu­dents inter­est­ed in pro­gram­ming and engi­neer­ing, has been a run­away suc­cess and has already sold over 19m units by ear­ly 2018.

It is tiny, low pow­er (3W), ful­ly inte­grat­ed and only costs $35 (€35).

$35 was the com­mu­ni­cat­ed price point of the Rasp­berry Pi foun­da­tion all along, and even for the most recent mod­els, $35 was still stand­ing. Includ­ing the pow­er sup­ply, SD card, and a small case, you are look­ing at around $50 (€50), but this is still very afford­able for a mini com­put­er.

In terms of per­for­mance, it may not com­pare too well with the aver­age lap­top com­put­er, but it has more than enough pow­er to run a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame 24h very reli­ably. By the way, the tiny Rasp­berry Pi has much more pow­er than the onboard com­put­er on the Apol­lo 11 had for the first moon land­ing.

Enough pow­er to land on the moon

It runs on Rasp­bian, a Lin­ux dialect for the Rasp­berry Pi, very sim­i­lar to Debian. This should not deter users who have nev­er used Lin­ux before, as you do not need to know much about it as every­thing is described in this post. As a mat­ter of fact, my own entire Lin­ux "mas­tery" comes from good instruc­tions and tuto­ri­als found on the inter­net.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant advan­tages of the Rasp­berry Pi is that it comes with an ardent com­mu­ni­ty of home­brew­ers and self­less com­put­er hob­by­ists that pro­vide advice and ideas in many inter­net forums or blog posts.

To under­stand every­thing about the hard­ware com­po­nents that you need and how to install the soft­ware, please have a look at my arti­cle "How to set up your Rasp­berry Pi for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame".

It is very detailed and has up to date step-by-step instruc­tions.

The frame

Unlike the Pho­toVu frames that I had used before, I decid­ed against mat­ting this time and opt­ed for a more mod­ern look with a sim­ple black anodized met­al frame only.

I would prob­a­bly not rec­om­mend a met­al frame any­more (although they look mar­velous) because it seems to reduce the sig­nal qual­i­ty of the wifi mod­ule slight­ly, but this depends on how much space you have between the frame and the wall. It works fine in my cur­rent set­ting with the Rasp­berry Pi 3+; the old­er Rasp­berry Pi 2 B showed occa­sion­al wifi out­ages.

My next frame will be a wood­en frame, and that is what I would rec­om­mend to you.

Giv­en the met­al bor­der around the naked dis­play of about 0.8 inch­es (2 cm), it wasn't easy to find the right frame mod­el right away. So, if you have a fram­ing shop near­by (unfor­tu­nate­ly quite rare these days), I would encour­age you to take your LCD pan­el and try var­i­ous frames. Or you go to a DIY store and try out the avail­able frame pan­els.

The frame itself had a depth of 1.2 inch­es (3 cm). Not enough to house the screen, cables, and the Rasp­berry Pi but a small dis­tance from the wall is absolute­ly accept­able. The entire depth would be 2 inch­es (5 cm) which still looks nice.

Make sure that your frame con­struc­tion is solid­ly built as it needs to house the screen and the Rasp­berry Pi reli­ably. You don't want your frame com­ing off the wall.

Remov­ing the mon­i­tor bezel

Before you strip down the mon­i­tor, I would rec­om­mend that you get your Rasp­berry Pi work­ing, con­nect it to the mon­i­tor and test your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame appli­ca­tion. Once that works, you can move on to a more tricky bit. But don't fear, the chances are high that you will suc­ceed.

ONE NOTE AND DISCLAIMER UPFRONT: DISMANTLING A COMPUTER MONITOR MIGHT EXPOSE YOU TO DANGEROUS ELECTRICAL VOLTAGE. THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT GUARANTEE THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF ANY INFORMATION PUBLISHED HEREIN AND SHALL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ERRORS, OMISSIONS, OR DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF USE OF THIS INFORMATION.

Mon­i­tors do have few or no screws but rather parts that snap togeth­er and that are not always obvi­ous to spot.

For­tu­nate­ly, there a quite a few YouTube videos show­ing how to peel the plas­tic off a brand new screen with­out ruin­ing it and expos­ing just the bare elec­tron­ics. This varies with every mon­i­tor, but my rec­om­men­da­tion is to watch some YouTube videos before you try it with your own mon­i­tor. You may even find a video for your exact type of mon­i­tor.

Once you have care­ful­ly removed the mon­i­tor bezel, this is what you get:

The mon­i­tor has no clothes

Just for the fun of it, here is the emp­ty shell of the mon­i­tor:

The remains of the day

My ASUS mon­i­tor had a met­al piece that was pro­trud­ing and which need­ed to be sawed off with a Dremel.

Before you do that, you should care­ful­ly seal all holes of the back of the dis­play with an adhe­sive plas­tic foil, or else tiny met­al pieces may enter the inner elec­tron­ics of the screen which could cause a short cir­cuit or even worse dam­age.

Be care­ful with that part and clean every­thing neat­ly before pro­ceed­ing!

What sticks out is cut off

Now put your met­al frame togeth­er and care­ful­ly slide in the LCD screen. Be espe­cial­ly care­ful with any cor­ners to not dam­age any cables.

Tight­en every­thing up, and your frame should now look like this:

A work of art

Now, you can start with the wiring. The impor­tant thing is that you get a bent HMDI cable (there are two types, get the one which goes up) and you also need a bent pow­er sup­ply cable for the mon­i­tor.

The pow­er sup­ply cable defines the dis­tance between the frame and the wall, so the flat­ter a mod­el you can find, the bet­ter.

Use tem­per­a­ture resis­tant glue (most gen­er­al pur­pose qual­i­ty glues will do) to attach the Rasp­berry Pi case and its 5V pow­er sup­ply (get one of the very flat ones).

It's prob­a­bly not a bad idea to let the glue hard­en out for 24 hours before pro­ceed­ing. Then care­ful­ly attach the cables and fix them with plas­tic con­nec­tors wher­ev­er pos­si­ble and a bit of glue if nec­es­sary.

Nobody will look behind your frame

It is impor­tant not to mount the Rasp­berry Pi case too high as you need to save some space for the wall mount lat­er.

I also used a fair por­tion of gaffer tape to tight­en up any loose ends. The lit­tle switch­es that come with the mon­i­tor should remain acces­si­ble if you want to adjust the pic­ture qual­i­ty of the mon­i­tor lat­er. In fact, I haven't used them once yet.

BE CAREFUL WITH ELECTRIC WIRING, AND DON'T DO IT IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DOING!!!

Con­nect the pic­ture frame to elec­tric­i­ty and hope that every­thing still works.

How to wire the elec­tric­i­ty cable

An impor­tant issue that real­ly makes a dif­fer­ence in appear­ance is vis­i­ble pow­er cables.

If you want a nice dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in your liv­ing room or an office for that mat­ter, pow­er cables run­ning away from the frame are just plain ugly.

So go the extra mile and either put the frame in a spot on the wall where there is already a pow­er con­nec­tion e.g. a lamp or a pow­er out­let or extend a cable from a mains out­let by care­ful­ly slit­ting up the wall.

A clean cut for a great look & feel

I under­stand that this is not pos­si­ble every­where, but a lit­tle cre­ativ­i­ty can go a long way and will make the pho­to frame a lot more pro­fes­sion­al look­ing. I have been asked many times if my dig­i­tal pic­ture frame was bat­tery pow­ered because peo­ple were almost expect­ing a cable.

Mount­ing it on the wall

For the wall mount, I used three stacked 19 inch­es (47 cm) wide boards with a thick­ness of 1 inch (2.5 cm).

The actu­al thick­ness that is right for you depends on the depth of the com­po­nents that extend beyond the depth of the frame, in my case, that was depen­dent on the mon­i­tor pow­er cable which was the "thick­est" com­po­nent.

I mount­ed two hinges on the board to hold the pic­ture frame and put some black paint on the end­ings of the board to make them vir­tu­al­ly invis­i­ble when look­ing at the frame from the side (which prob­a­bly doesn't hap­pen too often, but any­way).

Hang it up

Turn it on

Jump­ing of joy

Note: If the col­ors on your mon­i­tor look strange­ly exag­ger­at­ed, make sure that you have set the ASUS mon­i­tor to sRGB mode in the pre­sets. This is typ­i­cal­ly best for pho­to view­ing. For oth­er mon­i­tors, there may be a sim­i­lar set­ting.

Con­grat­u­la­tions!