Digital photo frames as Digital Signs
Digital photo frames provide the lowest cost of entry into the field of digital signage with hardware prices starting at around $49 for a low-resolution 7″ screen and around $200 for a better, medium-resolution 15″ frame.
If you do decide to start with a digital photo frame take a careful look at the resolution, brightness and general quality of the image before you buy. In general, 7″ photo frames are simply not worth buying: they typically use very low resolution displays (480×234), have poor brightness, limited viewing angles and overall, they lack impact. We recommend sticking to displays 8″ or larger and a resolution of 800×600 or better.
Another essential attribute you will want if you use a digital photo frame is immediate playback on power-on. Avoid any display where you have to find the remote, and click on a menu to start playback. If the power goes off for any reason, when it comes back on you want your display to start immediately.
Photo frames and flash-memory players are cheap to maintain because there’s no software – so no maintenance fees and no time spent applying patches and updates to your players. USB sticks and flash memory cards provide a robust and reliable way to deliver your content to your displays and are great for content that is seldom updated. But for more frequently updated content you might want to consider a network connected player. These are typically based on a small form factor PC running Windows or Linux and they pull content from a central server. As such they can update themselves automatically with new content as you update it on the server. The downside is cost: a network connected signage solution typically costs 10x as much as a flash memory-based solution.
A photo-frame solution might also have limited mounting options. Many are provided only with a stand to support them on a counter and do not include VESA mounting holes like you’ll find on most other monitors and displays.
Unless you need a particularly small form-factor display you may well be better off buying a separate monitor or TV and combining it with a stand-alone flash-based player. This approach is often cheaper than buying the equivalent larger sized digital photo frame and it gives you more flexibility in the future as you can switch players while preserving your investment in displays.
These days there’s even a display format that’s smaller than a photo frame, namely a lapel mounted display, ideal for tradeshows and conventions.
If you do decide to go with a photo-frame as your digital signage display you’ll need to find a vendor whose software supports creating content specifically for your photo-frame. In particular the software needs to create JPG files and it needs to place them on flash memory cards (USB, SD or CF) in the correct order for playback because photo frames typically do not provide any support for playlists to define the correct playback order. The software should also create each image at the correct resolution and aspect ratio for your given display otherwise the image will look blurred, render slowly, or appear stretched.
Most digital signage vendors do not support digital photo frames. One vendor that does support photo frames is signswift.com, we allow you to use any kind of player including digital photo frames.