Why build­ing your own dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is great fun

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You build your own dig­i­tal pic­ture frame for two rea­sons. Either you just like home brew­ing and tin­ker­ing with elec­tron­ics or you have no oth­er choice because the right thing that you want is just not avail­able on the mar­ket.

Of course, there are good dig­i­tal pic­ture frames out there that you can buy but depend­ing on your require­ments, they may not exact­ly cor­re­spond to what you want to have in your liv­ing room.

How my addic­tion began

In 2005 I bought my first dig­i­tal pho­to frame from Pho­toVu, a US-based com­pa­ny that pro­duced rather beau­ti­ful dig­i­tal pho­to frames with a high-qual­i­­ty mat­ting and frame. The largest size at that time was 19 inch­es screen, but with the mat­ting, it looked quite big. You just insert­ed a USB stick, and it beau­ti­ful­ly dis­played the pho­tos with a great num­ber of ran­dom tran­si­tions between them. It even came with a wifi stick that you could use to con­fig­ure the frame set­tings.

It turned itself on in the morn­ing and off in the evening, pow­ered by Lin­ux. It didn't come cheap at around US$ 1,500, but it was very well built and worth it.

Four years lat­er, the Pho­toVu frame died, but since we had got­ten so used to dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion in the liv­ing room, we ordered a sec­ond one, this time their top mod­el was 22 inch­es. It last­ed until mid-2014 and then it, too, broke.

As the rear cas­ing was com­plete­ly closed, there wasn't much of a repair effort I could under­take.

By then, Pho­toVu had gone out of busi­ness, so the choice of order­ing a third off-the-shelf dig­i­tal pic­ture frame was gone.

Road ahead closed. What now?

I con­duct­ed exten­sive inter­net research of avail­able alter­na­tives but came up emp­­ty-hand­ed because of my list of cri­te­ria that includ­ed a 24 inch­es high-res­o­lu­­tion screen, a 16:10 aspect ratio and great image tran­si­tions (fun­da­men­tal once you get used to it).

My wife kept putting a lot of gen­tle pres­sure on me to quick­ly come up with a new solu­tion because our liv­ing room with­out the dig­i­tal pho­to frame didn't feel the same any­more. You may shake your head but trust me; the right dig­i­tal pic­ture frame caus­es a cer­tain degree of addic­tion!

I had to get an alter­na­tive, fast.

Hav­ing had stopped com­put­er home brew­ing many years ago, I had to get back in the sad­dle and edu­cate me on state of the art. I looked at var­i­ous alter­na­tives like the use of an Apple TV box, but the lack of cus­tomiza­tion options made it a no-go.

Res­cue is nigh

A mem­ber of a pho­tog­ra­phy forum sug­gest­ed to me that I should take a look at the Rasp­berry Pi com­put­er intro­duced in 2012 by a few genius­es in the UK. It didn't quite meet all my cri­te­ria, but it looked like a fea­si­ble home-brewed dig­i­tal pic­ture frame option.

Let's make it count

With lot's of help­ful advice from the Rasp­berry Pi forums from around the world, we had a fresh­ly home brewed dig­i­tal pic­ture frame up and run­ning on the wall with­in a few weeks. WAF was huge, and I was a hero.

Ever since I have built many dig­i­tal pic­ture frames for fam­i­ly and friends and was always eager to see what improve­ments could be made.

I also kept mon­i­tor­ing the mar­ket to see if and when a man­u­fac­tur­er would come up with a large liv­ing room com­pat­i­ble dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. And yes, there are now some large high-end frames that you can buy. But I feel that in the mid-size seg­ment around 24 inch­es, the choice is still some­what lim­it­ed, espe­cial­ly if you want a 16:10 aspect ratio.

What to expect of a great dig­i­tal pic­ture frame?

When I look at a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, I look at a piece of fur­ni­ture that has to fit into the liv­ing room.

It should look neat, well built and be unob­tru­sive. It's built qual­i­ty should be in line with your style of dec­o­rat­ing.

It should have a dis­play size where nice images can come into effect and not just have a mas­sive mat­ting to make the frame look big­ger.

It should have image tran­si­tions that mul­ti­ply the num­ber of uploaded pho­tos because every smooth tran­si­tion will almost cre­ate a new image expe­ri­ence (more on this most crit­i­cal sub­ject in anoth­er post).

It should be dead-sim­­ple to update the images from wher­ev­er you are, not have a sub­­scrip­­tion-based mod­el and be afford­able.

In short, it should do great pho­tos jus­tice.

Since Pho­toVu went out of busi­ness, I have yet to see an off-the-shelf dig­i­tal pic­ture frame that I would rec­om­mend. I am quite dis­ap­point­ed that most dig­i­tal pic­ture frames a not great. They have small low-res­o­lu­­tion screens, an ugly frame with vis­i­ble but­tons or even big logos, and most of them look like a cheap Chi­na tablet.

Now, to be fair, there are dig­i­tal pic­ture frames like the Meur­al that look beau­ti­ful. But they come at a price, and I am not a big fan of the 16:9 aspect ratio that they have because it crops pho­tos that are typ­i­cal­ly tak­en in 3:2 or 4:3 for­mat, far too much.

A man has to do what a man has to do

On the oth­er hand, it is quite easy to build your own pic­ture frame that you and your fam­i­ly will love.

All you need is a 24 inch­es mon­i­tor (see my post "The right dis­play for your Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame"), a Rasp­berry Pi 3 B+ (rec­om­mend­ed) and a suit­able frame.

Alto­geth­er, you are look­ing at less than US$300 in com­po­nents, depend­ing on the dis­play and frame of your choos­ing.

You will find plen­ty of detailed instruc­tions on this blog to get the right soft­ware up and run­ning quick­ly and add any options that you may like to explore.

I have gone through a lot of research, despair, and pain but with a lot of help from my friends on var­i­ous forums, I have learned every­thing that you need to know to eas­i­ly build a high-qual­i­­ty dig­i­tal pic­ture frame that will make you proud. And shar­ing my knowl­edge is what this web­site is all about.

Con­clu­sion

So, build­ing your own dig­i­tal pic­ture frame still very much feels like the right thing to do. In the end, you will build some­thing you'll love, whether it's in your home, your office, or your busi­ness.