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

10 essen­tial tips for pick­ing the right mon­i­tor for a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame

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The selec­tion of a suit­able dis­play for your Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame project is prob­a­bly the most impor­tant com­po­nent deci­sion that you will make.

If you want to cre­ate a real­ly impres­sive dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, here are some use­ful tips for you.

In short, get a slim 24 inch­es mat­te IPS mon­i­tor with a res­o­lu­tion of 1920 x 1200 (aspect ratio of 16:10) and down­ward fac­ing HDMI and pow­er input.

Let's go into a bit more detail.

Dis­play size and res­o­lu­tion: When size real­ly mat­ters

There are plen­ty of 15 or 17 inch­es (and small­er) dig­i­tal pho­to frames on the mar­ket to buy. How­ev­er, their size, image qual­i­ty, con­trast, and res­o­lu­tion is gen­er­al­ly not enjoy­able for very long, and you or your fam­i­ly will lose inter­est quick­ly.

What you want is some­thing that will bring up mem­o­ries, will cre­ate con­ver­sa­tion­al top­ics and lets you dream. You want your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame to be a high­light of your liv­ing room. This is why the size mat­ters a lot.

Look at how aver­age tele­vi­sion screens sizes have gone from a mere 30 to 75 inch­es in the last twen­ty years (not to men­tion Samsung's "The Wall" tele­vi­sion shown at Las Vegas CES 2019 with 219 inch­es). The baby boomers will remem­ber their first com­put­er screens hav­ing a size of 13 or 15 inch­es.

A large screen pro­vides a much bet­ter visu­al expe­ri­ence to a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame and this is why you shouldn't pick a small one.

So how big can you go?

The Rasp­berry Pi has an HDMI port which allows a max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion of 1920x1200. There are some tweaks to increase it but you will encounter plen­ty of prob­lems with the dis­play soft­ware, so I would rec­om­mend not to go there.

So go with a 24 inch­es mon­i­tor with a 1920 x 1200/1080px res­o­lu­tion. It's ide­al.

If you choose a mon­i­tor larg­er than 24 inch­es and keep the res­o­lu­tion at 1920 x 1200/1080px, the dot pitch size (the dis­tance between pix­els on a dis­play) will increase, and the image qual­i­ty will not be as sharp.

If you plan on using your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in adver­tis­ing or you need a larg­er screen size and don't care so much about the best pos­si­ble image qual­i­ty, then use the largest qual­i­ty screen you can find that works at 1920 x 1200/1080px res­o­lu­tion. As a guide­line, the clos­er peo­ple can get to a dis­play, the bet­ter the res­o­lu­tion should be.

With today's Rasp­berry Pi's tech­ni­cal archi­tec­ture, a 24 inch­es mon­i­tor is ide­al. Of course you can pick a small­er mon­i­tor depend­ing on your spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion but for a liv­ing room, 24 inch­es is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

As soon as the Rasp­berry Pi con­sor­tium launch­es a tech­ni­cal upgrade which allows for a high­er res­o­lu­tion (dream­ing of 4K), I will update this post. Hav­ing a tack sharp 30 inch­es dis­play and big­ger is some­thing I can't wait to build.

Aspect ratio - why does it have to be so con­fus­ing?

The mag­ic rec­tan­gle no more

Since the 1920s the com­mon­ly used aspect ratio for movies was 4:3 as deter­mined by Thomas Edi­son. They called it "the mag­ic rec­tan­gle" and it was used in movie the­aters and lat­er at home in tele­vi­sion sets.

When in the 1950s the Cin­e­maS­cope tech­nol­o­gy made the wide-screen for­mat pop­u­lar, the aspect ratio of movies was changed for­ev­er to wide-screen, and tele­vi­sion sets lat­er fol­lowed this form fac­tor to a cer­tain degree (wide screens at the movie the­aters are still much wider than most "wide-screen" tele­vi­sion sets).

In pho­tog­ra­phy, the Sin­gle Lens Reflex (SLR) stan­dard for film and slides had a for­mat of 36 x 24 mm, which trans­lat­ed into an aspect ratio of 3:2. This hasn't changed with the arrival of dig­i­tal SLR cam­eras.

But the cheap­er com­pact dig­i­tal cam­eras and their sub­se­quent replace­ment by mobile phones have lead to many dif­fer­ent for­mats.

There are micro four-thirds cam­eras (as the name implies 4:3 aspect ratio), cam­eras that let you choose between dif­fer­ent aspect ratios and mobile phones that are 4:3, 1:1 and many more.

This makes it dif­fi­cult to choose a dis­play. Or not. Because in con­trast to movies, most of the pho­tos are gen­er­al­ly tak­en in either 4:3 or 3:2 for­mat.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the man­u­fac­tur­ers of com­put­er dis­plays have fol­lowed the wide-screen trend of tele­vi­sion sets.

Above a screen size of 24 inch­es, you will be hard pressed to find a mon­i­tor that doesn't at least have 16:9 or even a wider aspect ratio. Luck­i­ly, there are still a few 16:10 mon­i­tors in the 24 inch­es size range to be found. But not too many and I won­der for how long.

The wider screen dis­play you choose, the more your images will have to be cropped or have a black frame around.

Sor­ry about your eyes

Nei­ther is ide­al.

I would rec­om­mend that you go with a 1920 x 1200 px mon­i­tor which pro­vides a 16:10 aspect ratio.

View­ing angle

This is also an impor­tant issue as it defines how well you can see what is on the screen from a mul­ti­tude of view­ing direc­tions. The image may become dark­er, gar­bled or show strange col­ors if the view­ing angle is low.

Espe­cial­ly in a liv­ing room or in a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting, you want to have a screen that can be viewed just as well from about any direc­tion. The the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum view­ing angle is 180 degrees both hor­i­zon­tal­ly and ver­ti­cal­ly.

The indus­try has made a lot of progress in this area, so that most mod­ern IPS dis­plays allow for view­ing angles greater than 160 degrees hor­i­zon­tal and 140 degrees ver­ti­cal which are excel­lent for any liv­ing room appli­ca­tion.

But it always helps to check!

Con­trast - make it look beau­ti­ful

The con­trast ratio of a dis­play is indi­cat­ed as "Typ­i­cal" and "Max­i­mum." As with so many tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions here, they tend not to be very con­sumer friend­ly.

Look for the "Con­trast Ratio (Typ.)" which for a good screen is at around 1000:1 (the high­er, the bet­ter).

For­get about the oth­er "Con­trast Ratio ("max­i­mum" or "dynam­ic") which is indi­cat­ed with rather use­less val­ues like 80,000,000:1.

Most com­put­er mon­i­tors man­u­fac­tured in recent years will cor­re­spond to these val­ues.

Glossy ver­sus mat­te - screen glare or very vivid col­ors

Do you pre­fer more vivid col­ors (glossy) or a non-reflec­t­ing screen (mat­te)?

This is a sub­ject of much debate.

Apple has changed all of its com­put­ers to glossy screens because they pro­vide great col­ors. Many of their com­peti­tors have fol­lowed their lead.

Now you see me, now you don't

But espe­cial­ly in sit­u­a­tions with direct sun­light but also indoor with light sources shin­ing on the dis­play, you will see notice­able reflec­tions which can make a glossy dis­play pret­ty much unus­able in direct sun­light.

Mat­te screens car­ry an anti-glare coat­ing and are there­fore bet­ter at pre­vent­ing reflec­tions. How­ev­er, their ren­der­ing of col­ors is con­sid­ered to be some­what less vivid.

Even­tu­al­ly, it all boils down to your per­son­al pref­er­ences.

My per­son­al expe­ri­ence is that mat­te dig­i­tal pic­ture frame are prefer­able for any liv­ing room sit­u­a­tion. The col­ors are great and not as exag­ger­at­ed as glossy dis­plays. A mat­te dig­i­tal pic­ture frame blends in nice­ly into a social set­ting with­out draw­ing too much atten­tion.

I work with glossy com­put­er dis­plays all day, but for a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, I would still choose a mat­te screen.

For a dark­er set­ting like in a muse­um with lights com­ing down straight from the ceil­ing and the sun­light com­ing through the frost­ed glass, reflec­tions are less of an issue, and glossy screens will look great.

It's a mat­ter of taste and intend­ed appli­ca­tion area.

HDMI Dis­play Con­nec­tor - the only one you need

The Rasp­berry Pi comes with an HDMI con­nec­tor so that is what you should be look­ing for on the mon­i­tor side.

There are adapters from DVI to HDMI but this takes up pre­cious real estate behind your mon­i­tor and the wall, so it is prefer­able to avoid it.

Don't use a VGA to HDMI adapter as the image will be ana­log instead of dig­i­tal and may induce flick­er.

What's impor­tant is the direc­tion of the HDMI con­nec­tor. Make sure that you choose one which points down­wards instead of out­wards as the lat­ter will increase the depth of your pic­ture frame.

If that is not pos­si­ble, there are right angle HDMI cables. When you pick one of those, make sure that the direc­tion of the right angle cable is what you need, most like­ly one that goes upward from your HDMI out­put.

Depth of mon­i­tor - phys­i­cal dimen­sions to make your frame fit nice­ly

The phys­i­cal depth of the dis­play will deter­mine the dis­tance of your frame from the wall.

Over­all mod­ern IPS dis­plays have got­ten quite slim, but there are still sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences.

Units with an inte­grat­ed pow­er sup­ply are deep­er by design than those with an exter­nal pow­er adapter. And high-end dis­plays tend to be a bit thick­er than basic types.

Unless you want to make a large rec­tan­gle hole in your wall which may not be extreme­ly pop­u­lar with your sig­nif­i­cant oth­er (spousal guid­ance rec­om­mend­ed), you may want to look at the phys­i­cal dimen­sions of the screen.

You will remove the mon­i­tor stand any­way, so you can deduct this when you com­pare screens. The dis­play itself is only about 0.4 in/1 cm thick, but the pow­er sup­ply and the LCD con­troller often take up anoth­er 0.8-1.2 in/2-3 cm.

The back of a dig­i­tal frame makes every home­brew­er proud

Usu­al­ly, the rather bulky pow­er sup­ply is locat­ed in the mid­dle of the dis­play, and you can use the space on the sides to mount your Rasp­berry Pi with its pow­er sup­ply and cables, but that still means that you have a dis­play to wall dis­tance of about 2.7in/7 cm.

So assum­ing you have a frame con­struc­tion that has a depth of 1.2in/3 cm, you will end up with a dis­tance between frame and wall of 1.2-1.6 in/3-4 cm which is per­fect­ly fine and help­ful for prop­er ven­ti­la­tion of the elec­tron­ics.

My rec­om­men­da­tion is to look for a screen that has a total net depth (=with­out the mon­i­tor stand) of not more than 1.2-1.6 in/3-4 cm. The final dis­tance to the wall will increase a lit­tle bit any­way with cables.

Pow­er con­sump­tion - don't make your elec­tric­i­ty bill go up

My first dig­i­tal pic­ture frame built in 2005 had an ener­gy con­sump­tion of about 60 watts, my lat­est one from last year only 20 watts. The dif­fer­ence was the more mod­ern IPS tech­nol­o­gy which is a lot more ener­gy effi­cient than the old­er dis­plays.

Less is more cli­mate pro­tec­tion

Elec­tric­i­ty prices vary great­ly from coun­try to coun­try, but as your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is like­ly to be lit around 16 hours every day, it does make sense to choose a mon­i­tor that is both excel­lent and friend­ly to your wal­let.

A mod­ern 24 inch­es mon­i­tor should not exceed 20 watts in pow­er con­sump­tion with no com­pro­mise on image qual­i­ty. There are even good mon­i­tors that only con­sume 10 watts.

Strip­ping it down to the core - how to peel your com­put­er mon­i­tor

The ques­tion is, how easy it is to take the mon­i­tor apart so that we can put it into the frame.

Usu­al­ly, the mon­i­tor, pow­er sup­ply and LCD con­troller is one unit and you only need to remove the front bezel.

If the dis­play comes in a met­al hous­ing, it will be com­pli­cat­ed to take it apart. Most of them, how­ev­er, come in plas­tic enclo­sures which are easy to dis­man­tle. Those are the ones that you should choose.

This is a point that requires some con­fi­dence, but you may find just the right instruc­tion video on YouTube for man­u­als. Tools like the ones sold by iFix­it are very help­ful for this, but the com­plex­i­ty is low­er than you would think.

Inter­nal or exter­nal pow­er sup­ply - both have their trade offs

Does the mon­i­tor have an inter­nal or an exter­nal pow­er sup­ply?

It used to be that all mon­i­tors had an inter­nal pow­er sup­ply, but with the intro­duc­tion of mod­ern dis­play tech­nolo­gies and the ensu­ing reduc­tion in pow­er con­sump­tion, many mon­i­tors nowa­days have an exter­nal pow­er sup­ply.

Dis­plays with exter­nal pow­er sup­plies tend to be slim­mer, but then you need some space behind the frame to put the pow­er sup­ply block in. If it's exter­nal, check how big the pow­er sup­ply is and if you can fit it behind the frame.

It's always a mess with those cables

Dis­plays with an inter­nal pow­er sup­ply should have a down­ward fac­ing con­nec­tor which will reduce the space between the frame and the wall (like with the HDMI con­nec­tor). If that isn't the case, get right angle pow­er cables.

What you don't need to care about:

Touch screens

For a large dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, I have found them of no use as the con­trol hap­pens with your mobile phone, desk­top com­put­er or via Alexa/Google Home voice com­mand.

Mon­i­tor Stands

As the dis­play is being stripped any­way, the mon­i­tor stand will be put removed. Unless of course you don't want to put the frame up on the wall but put it on a piece of fur­ni­ture instead.

Speak­ers

As the pic­ture frame is about image and not sound, they won't be need­ed.

Con­clu­sion

I hope these points will prove to be help­ful when you go on the search for your dis­play for your Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame project. It makes great sense to put some thoughts into this.

Of course, you can pick any old dis­play that you have lying around, but if you love your pho­tographs as much as I do, invest $150 in a good dis­play. After all, you haven't bought an expen­sive cam­era to show your dig­i­tal images on an infe­ri­or screen.

To make it even more con­ve­nient for you, I will short­ly upload a list of rec­om­mend­ed com­po­nents that I had a good expe­ri­ence with, and add it to the Buyer's Guide sec­tion.