Digital Picture Frames

Digital picture frames: what to look for when shopping

This article is here to give you some helpful tips on buying digital picture frames. Now that pretty much everyone takes digital photos, it seems like the best way to show them would be with digital frames. They have some advantages over traditional picture frames. You don’t have to worry about standard photo sizes or finding cheap frames for those family snaps!

The benefits of digital picture frames

For some people, nothing beats a printed photo in a standard picture frame. However, consider some of the main benefits of digital photo frames:

  • No printing necessary
  • A single digital picture frame can show thousands of different photos
  • Some models can automatically update photos from photo sharing sites like picasa, flickr, or even Facebook
  • Most models allow you to just plug in your camera’s memory card and show off your photos in a slideshow
  • Bright, saturated colors show photos well even in dimly lit areas
  • Play video clips and music (some models)
Digital photo frame, photo by Hustvedt via Wikimedia commons [CC Licence]

The downsides of digital picture frames

Before we dig into the various features of digital frames, let’s remember it isn’t all roses. Digital picture frames haven’t been around as long as traditional picture frames. Some of the kinks are only just getting worked out. Here are a few things to keep in mind about the digital side of framing:

  • Power cords! Consider where you might want to put your frame, remember it will have a cord coming out of the back to get power. Even if a frame promises battery power, don’t believe it will fix this. Most batteries will only power your frame for a couple of hours.
  • Picture Rotation. Not all digital picture frames can tell whether your picture is in portrait or landscape orientation. You may have to go through all of your pictures and rotate them to fit the orientation of your frame
  • Not all digital photo frames are wall mountable due to weight and shape.
  • User interfaces can be cumbersome or counter-intuitive. Many models are not well suited for non-tech users.

Key features of digital picture frames

Here are some of the main features to be aware of when shopping for digital photo frames. Once you understand the features you can decide for yourself what’s important and what is marketing fluff!

Frame Size / Display Size / Screen Size

Unlike standard picture frame sizes, frame size is usually talking about the actual display size where your pictures are shown. Just to be sure, check for language like “screen size” or “display size” and make sure that matches the size you are looking for. Keep in mind that since these are digital displays they are measured in much the same way as your HD television, using the diagonal dimension. Depending on the aspect ratio of the screen the actual area of the screen can vary dramatically.

Display resolution (should be 640×480 bare minimum)


This is the most important feature for image quality. When digital photo frames first started showing up, their resolutions (the amount of pixels in the actual screen) were terrible. Things have improved since then but you still need to be on your toes. Avoid any frame below 640×480, even in a 7″ frame size. Lower than 640×480 will guarantee that pixelated or blocky look from the early days of digital. To get sharp pictures an okay rule of thumb is roughly 100 pixels on the long edge per 1 inch of diagonal screen.

Aspect ratio

The shape of the display is known as the aspect ratio. Typical digital picture frame ratios are 16:9, 2:3, and 4:3. Standard photo sizes are closer to 2:3 and 4:3 depending on the camera. If your camera’s aspect ratio doesn’t match the digital frame, it will still be shown but with black bars on the edges. Since most photos will show this way on a 16:9 frame, we recommend sticking with a 2:3 or 4:3 ratio digital frame.

Photo storage and transfer

The best digital picture frames will have more than one option for accessing your photos. Most include a small amount of internal storage, enough for 200 or more pictures, but check the description carefully. Support for camera memory cards is fairly widespread, and that can be great because you can easily pop your latest photos into the frame right from your camera. Wi-fi and bluetooth connectivity are becoming more popular, and USB ports to connect your camera also common.

Automatic Rotation

Staring at a slideshow of sideways photos is not fun. Some of the best digital picture frames will automatically rotate photos to fit the orientation of the frame. An interface for rotating pictures is a very nice feature. Unfortunately these tend to be poorly documented in product descriptions. Be sure to read customer reviews before making a purchase.

If all else fails you always have the option to rotate your pictures to fit the orientation (landscape vs portrait) before putting them on the frame. A basic photo editor like pixlr or GIMP can help with that.

Remote control

You may not always want your frame to be on, or you might want to be able to manually advance photos in a slideshow. Wireless remotes are a common feature.



As long as you have a fancy digital picture frame, it might as well play music, right? This can be fun for creating a little mood for your slideshows, but don’t expect world class audio here.


The ability to play video can very handy. Much like audio, don’t expect digital picture frames to replace your 42″ TV. This is supposed to give you a quick way to show off clips of your baby taking its first steps and it will do a great job at that 🙂

Web Feed

Sometimes digital picture frames are equipped with Wi-Fi might also integrate with your Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, or other web image-hosting service. This makes it super easy to stream photos directly from your social media onto your wall or mantle. Pretty slick!

Motion Sensor Power-on

Although the power consumption on most digital picture frames is relatively low (~ 7 watts on average) some have the ability to turn their displays off when nobody is around. After all, if nobody’s looking, what’s the point?

Where to buy digital picture frames

Online retailers such as Amazon and Newegg tend to have great pricing for electronics, and digital frames in general. As long as you have a good idea of what you want this is the cheapest way to go. Don’t underestimate brick-and-mortar stores for the ability to actually hold the item in your hand, but keep in mind because of inventory costs this usually comes at a price!

Now that you are armed with all the information you need to make a purchasing decision, go forth! Start sharing those family moments instead of letting them rot on your computer or camera memory card!!