How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes


How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes 1

In this article, I will describe in detail how to set up your Raspberry Pi as a platform for your digital picture frame.

To follow my instructions, you do not need any knowledge of the Raspberry Pi or Linux. Also, you do not require a computer monitor, a keyboard or a mouse connected to your Raspberry Pi.

At the end of this post, you will have the operating system Raspbian Buster installed on your Raspberry Pi, your file sharing and WiFi connection working and a few other useful things are taken care of.

Required hardware

You need four parts at this stage:

A Raspberry Pi 4 Model B minicomputer

This model was launched in June 2019 and is ideal for a digital picture frame.

The most significant advantage compared to previous models is that this board comes with 4K HDMI output, up to 4 GB in memory and USB 3.0.

How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes 2
The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

In the past, I have also built digital picture frames with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ and the Pi 2 Model B, and it worked just as well. The difference that I like about the Pi4 is the 4K HDMI output.

As the latest Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is really affordable, I would recommend getting this model even if you have an old one lying around.

A Case for your Raspberry Pi

When you shop for your Raspberry Pi, you will be no doubt prompted to a selection of cases.

Make sure that you get one that is compatible with the Raspberry Pi 4. Although the outer physical dimensions between the Models 4 and 3 have not changed, USB and Ethernet port have changed place.

You do not need a fancy case, nor a case with a heatsink. Running the digital picture frame application will not cause your computer to become overly hot, mine is usually running at 65 °C (149 °F) which is a perfectly fine operating temperature for the Raspberry Pi.

What you should watch out for is that you can easily take out your Raspberry Pi from its case even when you have glued the case to the back of the monitor; this is crucial should you need to change the SD card at one point.

My preferred choice is this official Raspberry Pi 4 case in raspberry/white color or in black/grey. They are easy to handle, very slim and a good bargain.

A micro SD card

The critical thing to consider when you shop for a micro SD card is not the speed but durability.

Speed is vital for an SD card in a high-performance camera where you want to write new images to the card quickly; it is not so important for a digital picture frame use case.

But unlike a camera, a digital picture frame is typically powered on 24 hours a day and will execute many read/write cycles, and this is what will determine the life expectancy. There are special Endurance SD cards that allow for many read/write cycles which makes your card a lot more reliable.

Also, the GB size will help to improve the reliability of your SD card. If your SD is always close to maximum capacity, there is a higher degree of wear of the memory sectors as there is less free space available.

Although you only need about 1.5 GB of space for about 1,000 images (formatted at 1920 x 1200 px in highest jpg quality) in your folder plus about 4 GB for the operating system and other applications, I would recommend picking a 32 GB microSD card.

They are only a little bit more expensive than a 16 GB card but will give you peace of mind over the lifetime of your digital picture frame.

I have had good experiences with High Endurance Cards made by Sandisk (32 GB High Endurance), but I am sure that other quality manufacturers like Samsung (32 GB, PRO Endurance) and Transcend (32 GB, High Endurance) are just as good.

Note: Make sure you buy a micro SD card, not the regular SD cards that you use for cameras. The micro SD card will come with an adapter so that you can use it in a standard SD card reader which is essential for the installation of the operating system. For the Raspberry Pi, you won’t need the adapter anymore.

A power supply

Two things that are important here: Enough power and a slim form factor that fits nicely behind the screen.

Let’s start with power: The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B requires a power supply of 5 V and a minimum of 3A. Don’t get a weaker one than 3A. You may end up with all kinds of issues that seem unexplainable, but in the end, it’s because of a power supply that is not up to the task.

The slim form factor is crucial because we must always keep in mind that there isn’t too much space behind the monitor and the wall. So pick one which has enough power but it still small.

This is all the hardware that we need for the minicomputer powering your digital picture frame. I will assume that you have access to a regular desktop or laptop computer with either Microsoft Windows, macOS or Linux including an SD card slot or external reader.

Installation of Raspbian Buster

Now that we have all the hardware components together let’s breathe some life into these electronics. You will need about one hour for these steps if you are doing it for the first time.

The Raspberry Pi runs on many operating systems like several Linux dialects, but also a variant of Microsoft Windows 10 (IoT Core).

For the digital picture frame, we will use Raspbian, the official operating system for all models of the Raspberry Pi. It’s free to use and easy to install.

Use your regular desktop/laptop computer for the following steps:

Download the Raspberry Pi operating system

Go to https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/ and click on Raspbian.

You will see three variants; find “Raspbian Buster with desktop” and “Download ZIP.”

How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes 3
All you need is Raspbian Buster

The ZIP file is about 1 GB in size, so depending on your internet connection, enjoy a cup of coffee while you wait.

Unzip the file.

Download Etcher

Go to https://www.balena.io/etcher/, download and install the Etcher 64-bit installer for your operating system. Etcher (also known as “balenaEtcher”) is a software utility to flash the Raspbian image which you just downloaded to your SD card.

Put your micro SD card in the SD card adapter (unless you have a micro SD card reader; in this case, you don’t need the adapter).

Flash image onto the micro SD card

Launch Etcher, select the image, point to your SD card and hit “Flash.”; this takes about 3 minutes.

Funnily enough, at the time of my recording, Etcher was advertising a digital picture frame as an ideal application for a Raspberry Pi. I couldn’t agree more. (You will find the best instructions on this website!)

When Etcher finishes, your SD card will be unmounted (“soft eject”). Take out your SD adapter from your card reader and reinsert it. This way, it will be mounted again.

Adding the information about your WiFi network

In macOS or Linux, launch the Terminal application that comes with your operating system. For Microsoft Windows, you will have to download and install the free PuTTY app (or use the new Microsoft Terminal app.)

Here are the steps using the Terminal app on a Mac or Linux computer. For Microsoft Windows and PuTTY, it should work in the same way.

cd /Volumes/boot
touch ssh
nano wpa_supplicant.conf

An editor will open. Copy the following text and paste it into the editor window.

Enter your country code, your correct SSID (WiFi station name) and your password.

The Country Code is the ISO/IEC alpha2 code for the country in which you are using your Raspberry Pi. Examples are

  • US (United States)
  • GB (United Kingdom)
  • DE (Germany)
  • FR (France)

You will find the full list under the link above.

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
update_config=1
country=US
network={
ssid="yourssid"
psk="yourpassword"
key_mgmt=WPA-PSK
}

Press CTRL-O to save the content and CTRL-X to exit the editor. Close the Terminal app and eject your SD card.

Starting up the Raspberry Pi for the first time

Take the microSD card out of the adapter and insert it in the Raspberry Pi like this:

How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes 4
This is what it looks like

Connect the power supply to the Raspberry Pi; it will boot up automatically. There is no on/off switch on a Raspberry Pi. You do not connect need to connect your display monitor to the Raspberry Pi at this stage.

Finding the IP address of your Raspberry Pi on your WiFi network

When your Raspberry Pi connects to your WiFi network, your router will give it an IP number. We need this IP number to access it remotely.

Look up the list of connected clients in your router settings and find “raspberrypi.” Next to it should be an IP number like this:

How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes 5

Open Terminal again (for Microsoft Windows use Putty) and connect to your Raspberry Pi with the IP number that you found (example: pi@192.168.178.46):

ssh pi@your-ip-address

Enter the default password “raspberry” (without brackets)

You have now connected to your Raspberry Pi. Next, let’s do some housework.

Installing system updates and basic configuration

It is always a good idea to run a system update on a fresh system.

In Terminal enter

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

This will take some time.

Once this is finished, open the configuration utility

sudo raspi-config

Make the following changes:

  • Under 1: Change User Password
  • Under 2: Network Options – N1: Hostname: Change to the name that you want to for Raspberry Pi on the network. The default setting is “RaspberryPi”. Feel free to change it to whatever you like.
  • Under 3: Boot Options – B1 Desktop/CLI: Choose B2 Console Autologin
  • Under 3: Boot Options: Wait for Network at Boot: Yes
  • Under 4: Localisation Options: Choose I2 and set your timezone.

Go Back and finish. It will ask you to reboot.

Wait two minutes for the reboot and connect again to the Raspberry Pi with

ssh pi@your-ip-address

Installing network settings

We are now installing a file-sharing software that works for Microsoft Windows, Mac and Linux machines using the SMB (SAMBA) network protocol. This allows you to access your Raspberry Pi on your network to add images and program files easily remotely.

In Terminal enter

sudo apt install samba -y

When this window comes up, choose “No”.

How to configure the software for your digital picture frame in 60 minutes 6

Now, install a user

sudo smbpasswd -a pi

(where “pi” is your username, feel free to change it as you like)

Set a password and confirm it. Don’t forget your password!

We need to make a change in the SAMBA config file

sudo nano /etc/samba/smb.conf

Scroll down to the last section called “===Share Definitions===”

Replace the section called “homes” with this code:

[pi]
comment = Pi
Directory path = /home/pi
browseable = yes
read only = no
guest ok = no
create mask = 0700
directory mask = 0700
valid user = %S

If you are macOS user, you may find the following lines quite useful to show a nice sidebar symbol for the Raspberry Pi and add some tweaks for use in Mac networks. Scroll up in the conf file and add under [global]:

[global]
min protocol = SMB2
vfs objects = catia fruit streams_xattr
fruit:metadata = stream
fruit:model = RackMac
fruit:posix_rename = yes
fruit:veto_appledouble = no
fruit:wipe_intentionally_left_blank_rfork = yes
fruit:delete_empty_adfiles = yes

Hit CTRL + O to write the file to disk and then CTRL + X to exit the editor.

Finally, restart SAMBA:

sudo /etc/init.d/smbd restart

You should now see the name of your Raspberry Pi in your network. Connect to it using your username “pi” (in our example) and your password.

Whenever you reboot your Raspberry Pi, file sharing will automatically start.

Stop the screen from going blank

By default, the screen will go blank when there is no keyboard or mouse movement detected. As we don’t even have a keyboard or a mouse for the Raspberry Pi, this would be awkward.

So let’s disable the automatic screen saver.

In Terminal enter

sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

After the editor opens, change the content to this:

@lxpanel --profile LXDE-pi
@pcmanfm --desktop --profile LXDE-pi
@xset s off
@xset -dpms
@xset s noblank

Hit CTRL + O to write the file to disk and then CTRL + X to exit the editor.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You have successfully set up your Raspberry Pi as a platform for your digital picture frame.

Now read the article “How I added crossfading slide transitions to my digital picture frame using Pi3D” to install the slide show software and you’re done!

Wolfgang Männel

Photography has always been a passion of mine. Since 2005, I have looked at countless ideas on how to enjoy beautiful images digitally, making the experience entertaining, amusing, and stimulating. In my other life, I am an entrepreneur, consultant, and bicyclist based near Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

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