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.