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What is a Digital Picture Frame?

By Brad Cole
Updated May 16, 2024
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A digital picture frame, also called a digital photo frame or a digital image display, is an electronic device that displays digital pictures. There is no industry-wide standard for these devices, they often look, perform, and sometimes even sound very differently from each-other depending on the company that makes them.

Digital picture frames have become more popular as digital photography has become more prevalent. The logic is simple: digital cameras don’t take physical pictures, so why do their pictures need to be physically printed in order to be displayed? A digital picture frame also has viewing options that a traditional single photo frame does not, making it more desirable to many consumers.

When choosing a digital picture frame, it is important to know what, specifically, is to be displayed. Some frames will only display JPEG-based digital pictures, while others will show numerous image types including BMP, TIF, and GIF. For those looking for more active displays, frames that show videos in QuickTime, MPEG, and Windows Media Player (WMP) formats are available. Some digital picture frames even play digital music while displaying images, creating a complete audio/video experience. Almost all digital picture frames will display multiple images in a slideshow-style format if more than one image is available in memory.

The display panel is the most important part of a digital picture frame, it is where the actual digital picture can be seen. These panels are usually liquid crystal displays (LCDs). The resolution of these screens determines how clearly a digital picture can be viewed, and is written as a width-by-length dimension in the form of (AAA)x(BBB). Seven-inch picture frames commonly have a resolution of 430x234, but higher quality digital picture frames have larger resolutions: an 800x480 resolution frame, for example, would have a better display than a 430x234 digital picture frame. Furthermore, digital pictures with dimensions significantly different from their frames may be distorted when displayed; a cheap digital picture frame with a 6x4 resolution aspect ratio might have to compress or stretch a panoramic 20x7 image to display it.

How the digital image is stored is also very important when considering a digital picture frame. Most frames have no internal memory, and require that a media card, sometimes called a memory card, containing the pictures be inserted into the digital picture frame in order to work. Other frames have internal memory, and digital photos can be transferred to them from a computer via a USB cable or other connector. A few high-end frames are wireless, and use Wi-Fi™ or another signal method to download images to their internal memory.

Every digital picture frame has one thing in common: they all require a power source in order to display images. The power source, however, varies; some take standard batteries, some take rechargeable batteries, and others use power cords that plug directly into a wall socket. Since the power source can impact long-term costs associated with the digital picture frame and where the frame can be placed, it is an important consideration when choosing the correct digital picture frame for a specific location.

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