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

The best 3 image view­ers for your Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame project

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One of the key suc­cess fac­tors of a great dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is the selec­tion of the slideshow or image view­er pack­age.

That soft­ware con­trols the image play­back process and offers more or less sophis­ti­cat­ed types of image tran­si­tions. There is more to this than you may think.

In this arti­cle, I will talk about three very dif­fer­ent slide view­ers that you can choose for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame project.

For each option, I will also show you how to install and run it.

What to expect of a slideshow soft­ware for a dig­i­tal pho­to frame

The require­ments for an image view­er are dif­fer­ent depend­ing on if you are look­ing at dis­play­ing pho­tos (Dig­i­tal Pic­ture Frame) on the one hand and adver­tis­ing (Dig­i­tal Sig­nage) on the oth­er.

One slideshow pack­age may be ide­al for pho­tos but not suit­able for adver­tis­ing. So keep your intend­ed use in mind when you make your pick.

This arti­cle will focus on the best slideshow pro­grams for dig­i­tal pic­ture frames.

This may look like an easy choice, but there is a lot more to it when you take a clos­er look.

I will start with a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves that I want to see in a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. Feel free to empha­size dif­fer­ent points that are impor­tant to you to deter­mine your best choice.

My must-haves for use as a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame for pho­tog­ra­phy

  • Abil­i­ty to include images in sub­fold­ers. You will prob­a­bly want to order your pic­tures at least by year so that lat­er edit­ing is easy. So you will have plen­ty of sub­fold­ers with pho­tos.
  • Ran­dom play­back. Lin­ear play­back is bor­ing for a res­i­den­tial frame. You want to be sur­prised by what is com­ing next.
  • Abil­i­ty to define the slide delay from five sec­onds to 24 hours
  • Fea­tur­ing cross­fad­ing tran­si­tions. It's nice to have oth­er image tran­si­tion options but cross­fad­ing, in my opin­ion, is the best option for home use.

The nice-to-haves are:

  • Paus­ing and mov­ing back
  • Man­u­al playlists
  • Smart playlists based on Exif data
  • Full-screen mode to extend non-aspect ratio con­form images
  • Pos­si­bil­i­ty to use remote image stor­age with stream­ing

So now, let's look at each of the can­di­dates and see how well they stack up to these require­ments. I will only focus on fea­tures that are rel­e­vant to our use case and based on a Rasp­berry Pi.

feh

feh is a light-weight, con­fig­urable and rather ver­sa­tile image view­er with fea­tures like file lists and var­i­ous image sort­ing modes.

It seems like feh has always been around. The ear­li­est ref­er­ence I could find was from 1999, many gen­er­a­tions ago in inter­net time. It's like the Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle among the slideshow play­ers. It just works.

It is one of the most fre­quent­ly used image view­er for the Rasp­berry Pi and has many fans. At the time of writ­ing, ver­sion 3.1.3 was the most up-to-date release.

It was devel­oped by Tom Gilbert and lat­er Daniel Friesel with oth­er con­trib­u­tors.

When I built my first dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in 2010, I used feh, and many instruc­tions for dig­i­tal pic­ture frames on the inter­net still fea­ture it.

feh is like a Swiss army knife and huge­ly ver­sa­tile. Let's see which of the must-have cri­te­ria are met.

What I like about feh:

  • Abil­i­ty to include images in sub­fold­ers
  • Ran­dom play­back
  • Paus­ing and mov­ing back an image
  • Man­u­al playlists can be man­aged via com­mand line where you spec­i­fy the direc­to­ry
  • Smart playlists based on Exif data
  • Full-screen mode to auto zoom images
  • Very sim­ple to install and run; ful­ly com­­mand-line dri­ven

What I find lack­ing

  • No image tran­si­tion effects oth­er than a hard cut. While this is fine for dig­i­tal sig­nage appli­ca­tions, not hav­ing smooth tran­si­tions can be star­tling when you notice some­thing mov­ing just beyond your field of view when the bright­ness of images changes. This can cre­ate quite some dis­com­fort, espe­cial­ly when it gets dark­er out­side.

How to install on your Rasp­berry Pi:

sudo apt install feh -y

You can run this code for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame

feh -qrYzFD120 --zoom fill /home/pi/Pictures/your-images

where­by -q = qui­et mode, r = recur­sive, Y = hide point­er, z = ran­dom­ize, F = full screen, D120 = delay of 120 sec­onds and --zoom fill = fills your screen.

There are many more spec­i­fi­ca­tions which you can find here:

Should you get the com­mon error

feh ERROR: Can't open X display.  It *is* running, yeah?

then enter

export DISPLAY=:0

in Ter­mi­nal.

Would I still use it for a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame?

Despite its ver­sa­til­i­ty, feh is lack­ing one fea­ture which is cru­cial for res­i­den­tial dig­i­tal pho­to frames, and that is the abil­i­ty to show cross­fad­ing slide tran­si­tions. The dif­fer­ence in look & feel is a game chang­er. That's why I stopped using it and switched to Pi3D.

If you don't care about cross­fad­ing image tran­si­tions, feh is ide­al and rec­om­mend­ed.

Alter­na­tives to feh

There are count­less image view­ers for the Rasp­berry Pi. Although I have not checked all of them in detail, my impres­sion was that they don't offer much beyond feh.

Such as GPicView, a light­weight, no-non­sense image view­er devel­oped by Hong Jen Yee in 2007, but I find it a lit­tle out­dat­ed.

It also does not offer any smooth image tran­si­tions. It comes by default with the Rasp­bian dis­tri­b­u­tion and fea­tures a graph­i­cal inter­face. The lat­est update that I was able to find is from 2016; the doc­u­men­ta­tion is less detailed than feh.

Pi3D

Most peo­ple will not know Pi3D. When you search for "image view­er," you are unlike­ly to find it. It is prob­a­bly the best-kept secret in slide show soft­ware for the Rasp­berry Pi.

Pi3D was ini­tial­ly intend­ed for enabling both 3D and 2D ren­der­ing and to pro­vide a host of com­mands to load in tex­tured or ani­mat­ed mod­els, cre­ate frac­tal land­scapes and shaders. This capa­bil­i­ty had also been put to use for cre­at­ing remark­able image tran­si­tions in slideshows.

To this date, I am not aware of any oth­er image view­er soft­ware for the Rasp­berry Pi that can match Pi3D's func­tion­al­i­ty.

Pi3d was writ­ten in 2012 by Tim Skill­man, Pad­dy Gaunt, Tom Ritch­ford. When I stum­bled across it, I knew I had found the ide­al image view­er soft­ware for the Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. I have writ­ten about my jour­ney from feh to Pi3D in "How I added cross­fad­ing slide tran­si­tions to my dig­i­tal pic­ture frame using Pi3D".

That was back in 2015 and ever since Pad­dy has made some care­ful refine­ments to the pack­age.

What I like about Pi3D:

  • The won­der­ful cross­fad­ing image tran­si­tions. I have yet to see a slide view­er soft­ware that offers the same smooth cross­fades as Pi3D!
  • Ran­dom play­back
  • Full-screen mode to auto zoom images
  • A very respon­sive and active devel­op­er com­mit­ted to evolv­ing Pi3D

What I find lack­ing

  • At the moment there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of fil­ter­ing on Exif dates but I have been test­ing a beta ver­sion where this fea­ture has been includ­ed

Despite the remark­able graph­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties, Pi3D is rather sim­ple to install. It is not called up via the com­mand line like feh but has a script in which the vari­ables are defined.

The advan­tage is that you define the val­ues in the script once and then call the file with­out any lengthy para­me­ters.

The ini­tial con­fig­u­ra­tion is not very hard, and you will find all the details in the arti­cle men­tioned above.

In a nut­shell, you install Pi3D with

sudo pip3 install pi3d

and

wget https://github.com/pi3d/pi3d_demos/archive/master.zip
unzip master.zip
rm master.zip
mv pi3d_demos-master pi3d_demos

Then open the file

PictureFrame.py

in the

pi3d_demos

fold­er and edit your user vari­ables.

With

python3 PictureFrame.py

you will launch the script.

Hav­ing slow cross­fades between images will make a huge dif­fer­ence as you can see in this video.

FRAMEN Pho­to App

The third alter­na­tive for an image view­er I want to talk about is the FRAMEN Pho­to App.

It is not a soft­ware pack­age for the Rasp­berry Pi but a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent approach to turn­ing your Rasp­berry Pi into a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

It is prob­a­bly the most com­fort­able option of the three and is free of charge as well.

This app was devel­oped by the Ger­man com­pa­ny FRAMEN who sell dig­i­tal pic­ture frames and relat­ed ser­vices. When they wrote their soft­ware to con­trol their brand of dig­i­tal frames, they decid­ed to make it plat­form inde­pen­dent.

This means that you can use it on your Rasp­berry Pi with your home brewed pho­to frame.

Tech­ni­cal­ly, it is much more than an image view­er as it is an inte­grat­ed solu­tion that includes pho­to man­age­ment. It has sim­i­lar func­tion­al­i­ty as feh but in a much more com­fort­able way.

It has playlist man­age­ment and an ele­gant remote man­age­ment func­tion where you can see on your app which image is appear­ing on one of three pos­si­ble pic­ture frames.

What is miss­ing today, is the abil­i­ty to make play­back ran­dom and no cross­fad­ing image tran­si­tions. These are impor­tant points, but the com­pa­ny has told me that they are work­ing on a new release which might incor­po­rate those fea­tures.

There is no instal­la­tion on your Rasp­berry Pi but rather a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the start­up file which launch­es the Chromi­um brows­er and con­nects to the FRAMEN ser­vice.

This solu­tion is ide­al for some­one who would like to have an inte­grat­ed solu­tion which includes a remote con­trol for the pic­ture frame and a pho­to library man­age­ment.

The FRAMEN Pho­to app is also the only solu­tion of the three pack­ages that does not store the images local­ly but streams them from the Cloud.

Con­clu­sion

feh, Pi3D and the FRAMEN Pho­to App are each excel­lent choic­es as image view­ing soft­ware of your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. They are all very dif­fer­ent in their approach.

feh is the stan­dard work­horse that offers a plain vanil­la expe­ri­ence that is suit­able for com­mer­cial appli­ca­tions where you don't need smooth tran­si­tions between images.

Pi3D is the mag­ic potion which turns a Rasp­berry Pi project into a pro­fes­sion­al pic­ture frame thanks to the per­fect cross­fades.

And the FRAMEN Pho­to App is a free, albeit closed-source alter­na­tive which includes full-ser­vice image man­age­ment and is super easy to work with.

See for your­self which one meets best your needs and let me know what your expe­ri­ence has been.