How To Buy A Digital Frame
Keep in mind that the digital picture frame's physical dimensions are going to be larger than the stated display size. How much larger depends on the style and design of the model. You won't want to use the display size as a precise measure to determine whether it will fit into that nook in your bookshelf.
Display size is the diagonal measure of the viewable area of the screen. It is the same measure as with a television or computer screen. The frame surrounding the screen will take up additional space in both height and width.
Digital Picture Frame Location
Equally important is the distance between the digital picture frame and the person viewing it. Typically you'll already have an idea for where you want to put it in your home or office. You already know you can't expect a 5 inch display to appear as anything more than a blob of shifting colors from twenty feet away.
The digital age doesn't affect choice of size and location very much. You would use the same judgment as you would for a standard picture frame. It is still primarily a matter of taste, style, and home decor. However, those preferences are crucial in choosing the display's resolution. In turn, display resolution is a major factor in the price you'll expect to pay for a new frame.
Digital Picture Frame Display Resolution
This is a measure of your frame's display capacity, in pixels, when showing one image. It represents the number of pixels the screen can show at once. It expresses a grid of pixels, width by height; for example, 800 x 600. The greater the numbers, the more true to life the detail appears.
Many suggest 800 x 600 as a minimum choice for showing high quality images. While probably an OK guideline for frames in the seven to eleven inch range, it can be deceptive, if taken too literally. That's because the guideline fails to account for pixel density.
The larger the display area the greater the area the pixels spread out in. It results in a lower density of pixels per square inch. This means the higher the pixel density, the closer you can be. You'll still experience sharp, crisply detailed, true to life pictures.
Conversely, the lower the pixel density, the farther away you have to be. You have to be far enough away to avoid noticing distinct, individual pixels. At closer ranges, a low density display ruins the viewing experience. This is true even if the frame has the supposed minimum resolution. This happens when you can't position it far enough away to compensate for the low pixel density.
Aspect Ratio of Your Photo Collection and the Digital Picture Frame
Where resolution is a measure of display capacity, aspect ratio is a measure of scale. It expresses the relationship of width to height as a ratio. For instance, an aspect ratio of 4:3 means there are 4 inches in width for every 3 inches of height. The ratio works the same way using inches, feet, or millimeters, etc. It means the same for displaying both photos and movies. The term predates the digital age. It means the same now as it did before.
For the display to reproduce an image accurately, its aspect ratio should ideally match the one used in the image produced by your camera. If the two aspect ratios don't match, the display can distort the image or chop edges off the image to make it fit (called cropping). Another choice is to resize the image, keeping its original scale, to fit either the height or width of the display. This leaves unused areas of the display in the other dimension.
Most common digital cameras produce 4:3 images. The same ratio worked for older televisions. Newer widescreen televisions use an aspect ratio of 16:9 or 16:10. These formats allow for more of a panoramic effect. Getting that effect requires a camera to use the same aspect ratio. Some cameras and displays use other aspect ratios. These aren't common in consumer devices. They're more for professionals and hardcore hobbyists. The noteworthy point is to avoid uncommon aspect ratios unless you have a specific need.
You typically won't worry about mixing up any of the 4:3, 16:9, 16:10 aspect ratios between cameras and displays. They are all close to the same ratio. Even so, if one aspect ratio is forced to translate to another, some mild stretching or distortion occurs. The usual effect of mixing them up is an unused portion of your display. This is either above and below the image, or on the left and right sides of the image, to keep the image centered, and in correct proportion. It only becomes unappealing when there is a large difference between the aspect ratios of the image and the display.
One Important Exception
It is, however, worth checking the photo resize features of the frame you are thinking about. A serious lack of photo resize options affects a tiny number of popular frames. These few frames don't support image cropping, and they don't preserve the original aspect ratio of the resized photos. This means translating the aspect ratio of the photo into the aspect ratio the frame uses.
If the two aspect ratios were identical to start with, this kind of resizing can work well. With unmatched aspect ratios, your satisfaction with the image distortion, even if mild, is unlikely. It is especially displeasing when this affects the display of your entire photo collection.
You can still use such a frame if you photo-edit your collection before loading it into the frame. Such frames often have nice trade-offs, such as a much higher resolution, or a much lower price point, or both (Click here for a specific example). However, photo-editing a large collection can be a lot of work. It can be worthwhile, but it's usually only satisfactory if you know about it before buying the frame.
Copyright 2011 Wayne Hynes
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