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.
At the end of this post, you will have Raspberry Pi OS installed, your file sharing, and WiFi connection working, Pi3D PictureFrame as your image viewer installed, and have everything start at boot automatically. All the software you need for a digital picture frame.
Tested with: Raspberry Pi Imager v1.6, Raspberry Pi OS March 2021 version, Raspberry Pi 2, 3, and 4, Pi3D 2.43, PictureFrame 2021.03.20, 1080p and 4K displays. Although Pi3D PictureFrame also works with a Pi Zero, we found that it becomes very unstable as soon as you have other applications running at the same time.
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 of the Pi 4 compared to previous models is that this board comes with 4K HDMI output, up to 8 GB in memory, and USB 3.0.
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 and the much faster overall speed.
As the latest Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is affordable, I would recommend getting this model unless you have an older 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 Models 4 and 3 have not changed, USB and Ethernet ports have changed place.
You do not need a fancy case with a fan. 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 the Flirc case. It’s made of aluminum, looks great, even improves your WiFi performance, and keeps your Pi up to 20°C cooler than most other cases. There is even a version for the older Raspberry Pi 3.
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 crucial for a digital picture frame use case.
But unlike a camera, a digital picture frame is typically powered on 24 hours a day. It 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). Still, I am sure that other quality manufacturers like Samsung (32 GB, PRO Endurance) and Transcend (32 GB, High Endurance) are just as good.
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.
Software installation – The basic stuff
Installation of Raspberry Pi OS
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, and not even 15 minutes if you have done it before.
It used to be that you had to download the Raspberry Pi OS image and a separate software utility for flashing it onto the SD-card, but since the arrival of the Raspberry Pi Imager for Windows, macOS, and Ubuntu in March 2020, this process has gotten even easier.
Download version 1.6 for the operating system of your regular computer and install it. The latest version, 1.6, has a hidden feature that will save you time and make it even easier.
The Raspberry Pi Imager is a little software package that has one purpose: To flash several possible operating systems to an SD-card, the most prominent being, of course, the Raspberry Pi OS in the “32 bit with desktop” version. There is a light and a full one, but the recommended version is exactly what we need for our digital picture frame project.
The new version 1.6 now allows you also specify the name of your Pi, your password, setup the WiFi connection, activate ssh, timezone and keyboard layout. All things that you had to enter manually in a somewhat more complicated way. And you can even save these settings for all future fresh image installations.
Start the app and insert a micro SD card with the adapter into your card reader. Click on “Choose OS” and select the first option, “Raspberry Pi OS (32-bit)”. Then choose your SD card. Do not click “WRITE” just yet!
Hit the three keys “Ctrl-Shift-X” together. A “secret” menu will appear.
In the top drop down menu you can specify if you want these options “for this session only” or “to always use”. I recommend the latter.
Disable overscan if you get a black frame around your screen. You can also change this option later.
In “Set hostname”, define the name of your Raspberry Pi on the network.
Enable ssh, use “password authentication” and specify a password.
Then set your WiFi parameters SSID and password, and specify your WiFi country.
Scroll further down
to set your time zone and your keyboard layout.
You can check all “Persistent Settings”. “Enable telemetry” will send a ping to the Raspberry Pi website to help the developers with some statistics.
Click “SAVE” to close the secret menu and then “WRITE”. It will now write first and then validate the image.
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:
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 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
Note: If you are a Windows user and you are completely new to the idea of a Terminal app, have a look at this video.
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:
Open the Terminal app on your Mac/PC/Linux computer and connect to your Raspberry Pi with the IP number that you found (example: email@example.com):
Enter your chosen password.
You have now connected to your Raspberry Pi. Next, let’s do some housework.
Note: I do recommend entering all commands through a Terminal connection from your main computer. It is the fastest way and all my instructions have been written for using the Pi without keyboard nor mouse.
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 a few minutes.
Once this is finished, open the configuration utility.
Make the following changes:
- Under 1 System Options: S6 Network at Boot – Set to “Yes”.
- Under 2 Display Options – choose D4 Screen Blanking and disable it.
- Under 5 Localisation Options: L1 Locale. Choose your country code. If several are available, pick the UTF-8 version. Select the default locale.
Go Back and finish. It will ask you to reboot.
Wait two minutes for the reboot and connect again to the Raspberry Pi with
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”.
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
This file contains many options and can be very confusing.
My recommendation is to delete every line by typing CTRL + K. Just hold down the keys until all lines are deleted.
Then, copy and paste this text into the file:
[global] client min protocol = SMB2 client max protocol = SMB3 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 security = user encrypt passwords = yes workgroup = WORKGROUP server role = standalone server obey pam restrictions = no map to guest = never [pi] comment = Pi Directories browseable = yes path = /home/pi read only = no create mask = 0775 directory mask = 0775
Hit CTRL + O to write the file to disk and then CTRL + X to exit the editor.
If you have any troubles with the Samba configuration, please have a look at my more detailed article here.
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.
Note: If you have a problem editing the SAMBA config file, have a look at this article which includes an entire, albeit minimum config file that you can just copy and paste.
If you have not set this option in the Raspberry Pi Imager and the display on your screen is not completely filled but instead shows a black border, you will need to disable Overscan.
sudo raspi-config nonint do_overscan 1
Installing the image viewer software
After having installed all the basic software packages on your Raspberry Pi, the only thing that is now left to do is the image viewer.
My favorite Raspberry Pi image viewer software “Pi3D PictureFrame” has been completely rewritten and enhanced in March 2021 and I have updated the installations for the Raspberry Pi model 2, 3, and 4 accordingly.
This is why you should now head over to “How I added smooth crossfading image transitions to my Raspberry Pi digital picture frame” to complete your installation.
Congratulations! You have successfully set up your Raspberry Pi as a platform for your digital picture frame.
There are many more additions that you can choose to install. Just browse the “Building a digital frame” menu item and discover image management solutions, integration options in your Home Automation settings, voice control, and many hacks & tweaks.
Are you missing something? Let me know!
- Installing Samba on your Raspberry Pi and optimizing it for macOS computers
- How I added smooth crossfading image transitions to my Raspberry Pi digital picture frame
- Check the wifi signal strength of your Raspberry Pi digital picture frame before you hang it up on the wall
- Discover the complete hard- and software setup of my Raspberry Pi digital picture frame (March 2021)