Buyers Guide

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Digital Picture Frames

A Buyer's Guide to Digital Picture Frames

As with all electronics the manufacturers like to baffle us with impressive sounding features and numbers plastered all over the packaging. Most of us don't really know what it all means, so generally go with the hype or just look at the price. To help you make a bit more sense of the box waffle here is my buyer's guide of what the features of Digital Picture Frames actually mean to you.

Picture Frame Resolution

The display of a digital picture frame is made up from tiny squares of colour known as pixels. The picture frames resolution is the measurement of how many pixels make up the image. For example an 800 x 600 frame has 800 pixels left to right and 600 pixels top to bottom.

When you look to buy a digital picture frame you will see that the frames size is advertised in inches or centimetres, as they would be with a traditional photo frames. This however, does not reflect the quality of the picture, for that you need to look at the resolution.

For example you can buy a 7” frame with a resolution of 480 x 234 or 800 x 480. This means that the pixel size of the 480 x 234 frame is 67% bigger than the 800 x 480 frame. The effect of this is that your photos will show less detail and have more of a mosaic affect about them.

image resolution example
Resolution: 800 x 480
image resolution example
Resolution: 480 x 234

A simulation to show the effect of resolutions on a photo shown on the same sized photo frame with different resolutions.

This will be less noticeable across a room but if you intend on having a frame on a desk then a higher resolution would be preferable. So if you're off to buy a nice big 15" frame for your wall, expecting to get the same image quality as your computer monitor then just compare the resolutions to smaller frames. You may well find that the resolution is the same as a 10" or even a good quality 8” frame. Better still compare them in store and see which suits you.

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Memory Cards

Some frames come with built-in memory to store your pictures in and some don’t. They nearly all allow additional memory cards to increase the amount of photos that can be shown and also allow you to take the memory card from your digital camera and put it straight into your photo frame. There are many different types of memory card available on the market and not all of them are supported by digital photo frames. So if you want to use a digital photo frames to show pictures from your digital camera you need to check it can use the same type of memory card.

Storage Capacity

Each type of memory card is available with many different storage capacities measured in megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). These are usually available in sizes like 128MB, 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB etc. It is generally regarded that 1000MB = 1GB for memory storage though your computer will show a different figure. I won't get into the technical details but when you put a 1GB memory card into a computer don't be alarmed when it shows 957mb available. It's basically down to measuring the memory capacity in two separate ways and will be explained away in the small print.

How many pictures then?

All you really need to know is how many pictures can you put on what size memory card. It would be nice to be able to give a straight answer but there are too many ifs in the answer. So instead here is a comparison chart for two digital picture frame resolutions and three digital camera resolutions. This is just a guide based on jpg picture format, there are many factors that will give different results but this will give you an idea.

Memory
128 mb
256 mb
512 mb
1 gb
2 gb
4 gb
8 gb
480 x 234
1113
2226
4452
8695
17391
34782
69565
800 x 600
365
731
1462
2857
5714
11428
22857
1 megapixel
245
490
980
1915
3831
7662
15325
5 megapixel
66
132
264
516
1032
2065
4130
10 megapixel
40
81
162
318
636
1273
2546
based on Jpg file size for each resolution and mb measured at 1000 kilobytes and gb measured at 100000 kilobytes.

As you can see resizing the photos to fit your frame allows you to considerably increase the amount of photos you can have in a slide show compared to pictures straight from a digital camera.

Memory Card Types

Compact Flash
Smart Media
Multi Media Card
Secure Digital
Memory Stick

xD
USB
type I, type II

MMC, RS-MMC, MMCplus, MMCmicro
SD, miniSD, microSD, SDHC, miniSDHC, microSDHC
MS, MS Pro, MS Duo, MS Pro Duo, MS Pro-HG Duo
MS Micro(M2)
xD, xD M, xD H
USB Flash Drive

More information and pictures of memory cards are available here

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Screen Types

LCD (liquid crystal display) is currently the most common display used for digital picture frames and most other flat screen displays such as TV's, mobile phones, portable games consoles, laptops etc. Other display types are being developed of which OLED (organic light emitting diode) have started to be used by Kodak which offer a much better viewing experience for digital picture frame users and I would expect as the technology becomes cheaper will become the display type of choice.

LCD displays do a good job as the images are usually vibrant and clear but there are a few limitations. The viewing angle and lighting will need to be considered when deciding where to put your picture frame. The quality of the screen will also have an affect on the colours as LCD displays don't display a full range of colour shades meaning the black is more of a dark grey and similar shades are combined into one colour. This can cause colour banding as seen in pictures of the sky. Though the JPG image compression will also be a factor in this. As with all electronics you get what you pay for and a cheaper frame will not represent your picture as well as a similar featured frame by a major manufacturer.

LED Back lighting
LCD displays have to have a white back light for you to be able to see the image. The light shines through colour filters of the LCD display to create the image. Standard displays use traditional light tubes around the edge of the display to illuminate the LCD image. The downside is the black parts of the image will be more of a charcoal colour as the filters cannot block 100% of the light.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) back lighting is a technique where LED lights are used at the edge of the display instead of the tube lighting. The advantage of this is LED's can be dimmed so the back lighting can be reduced if an image is dark allowing darker regions to be closer to black.
In more expensive displays the LED's are arranged in clusters across the back of the display this allows regions of the image to be dimmed producing a much better colour range meaning dark regions can be much darker giving the image a better and crisper contrast.

The other advantages of LED back lighting is they are more energy efficient than standard back lighting and they extend the life of the display. One of the first things that can fail on an old display is the back light. LED's have a significantly longer life than standard back-lighting.

When a display is advertised as being a LED display it does not mean that the image is made up of LED lights, it means the LCD image is illuminated by LED back lights.

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Viewing Angle

lcd display Viewing Angle explained
For a picture frame with a 130 deg viewing angle you can view the picture from the white area but not very well in the blue area.
LCD displays are best viewed straight on but the point of a digital picture frame is to display your photos so you can see them from anywhere in the room as you would with a traditional picture frame. When you view a digital picture frame from different angles the colours and brightness change. This is more significant when viewed from above or below as at nearly 90 degrees the picture looks more like a negative than a photo.
As most picture frames in the home will be on a shelf, cupboard or on the wall you are very much likely to be lower down when sitting on a sofa. This along with the angle of the frames stand will mean the display is also not at 90 degrees so you will need to consider the best location for you frame. But of course the power lead won't be long enough to reach the plug socket from there!
OLED viewing angle is 180 degrees so can be viewed from anywhere in the room. The viewing angle is shown as H 130 V 110 where H = horizontal and V = vertical and the numbers refer to the viewable angle from the centre of the display.
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