The Problem with Digital Picture Frames

I’ve been a big proponent of digital pictures frames since the beginning of digital photography.  They offer a solution to one of photography’s most timeless problems – what to do with all the pictures taken?  It’s a universal problem that relegates stacks of family memories to boxes, photo albums, or worse, most likely never to be viewed again after the initial print is generated.  Oh sure, everyone has a few gems that get displayed on the mantle, neatly tucked into frames.  But what’s the point of taking a picture of something if it’s never going to be seen or remembered ever again.

Hence the potential of the digital picture frame.  In what can only be described as a simple implementation of today’s available technology, digital picture frames can easily and efficiently serve as a platform by which ALL of a person’s photographic memories can be continuously redisplayed and enjoyed, validating the initial act of shooting the picture.

As LCD prices continue to drop, we’ll continue to see more digital picture frames enter the saturated market.  But for all the potential the product has, I’ve yet to see a really great implementation of it.  Manufacturers continue to peddle frames with the same features and flaws, turning their devices into “flavor of the day” gadgets rather than a cherished piece of home decor.

The first major problem with most of the small, table top digital picture frames on the market is the aspect ratio of the screen.  While it’s understandable that LCD manufacturers don’t mass produce LCD screens specially sized to match the aspect ratio output by today’s digital cameras, that doesn’t mean the digital picture frame manufacturer can’t provide a solution that correctly masks the unused portion of the LCD so the picture being displayed is properly sized to fit the frame.  I’ve never seen a standard 5×7 picture frame that shows “bars” on each side of the print and nobody should see bars on a digital frame.

Secondly, the low profile of standard wall mount picture frames needs to be mimicked.  With super thin LCD screen and OLED technology on the horizon, there is no reason why wall mounted digital picture frames can’t take the same form factor as their non-digital counterparts.  Manufacturers may cite the circuitry required to drive the device or the space needed for the buttons by which the user interacts with the device.  But if digital picture frames were just digital picture frames, rather than including other features such as weather stations, movie players, calendars, and countless other essentially useless frills that only add novelty, not true value, to the product, their form factor could be slimmed and visual appeal enhanced.  Nobody wants to hang something on their wall that is going to stick out 3 inches.  It doesn’t look good.

Similarly, if digital picture frames matched the general look of regular picture frames and thus the two were almost indistinguishable, the devices could assume more prominent locations within the home.  Nobody puts their family portrait in a black or gray plastic bezel with an IR sensor in the matte.  That doesn’t look good and severely detracts from the subject material.  If the frames were designed with simple PC based setup routine and wireless connectivity, the need for user interaction after installation almost goes to zero, thus eliminating the need for IR sensors and arrays of pushbuttons.

Finally, and admittedly more challenging, manufacturers have to create novel ways to power the devices and thus eliminate the power cord.  A beautifully implemented wall mount digital picture frame has no value if a power cord is dangling from it.  Maybe a wireless power solution will be this product’s “killer app”, but until then, I’d not expect the frames on the market today to ever emerge past gadget status.

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