Back in the day when I used to shoot 35mm slides I loved the bright, rich colors I could get when projecting photos. The downside to projecting slides though is that it kind of makes an evening into a bit of a production. You have to set up the projector, the screen and a tray of slides and then you turn off the lights and view slides. Friends and family didn’t always appreciate the experience—but I always wanted to display my photos to the best effect.
I often thought it would be nice to find some way of getting that richness and contrast in a print but I was always disappointed by the relatively flat-looking prints I would get from my slides. And the other problem is that you can only display a handful of prints in a typical home. I’d love to be able to change photos on any given day.
Much later, after digital photography had become well established I thought that there must be some way of displaying different photos on a bright screen. Digital projectors now exist and some are quite good—but the good ones are often quite expensive. And, projection still makes viewing slides into a production.
So, over the years I’ve looked around and I’ve found some digital frames but everything I could find was very small and low-res. These days you can find some frames that are a little larger and that will support HD resolution (1920 x 1080). And there are some large (55-inch) screens but they tend to be niche products which require a PC to provide the video source. And these large screens still don’t generally support anything higher than HD resolution. In spite of this progress I hadn’t been able to find a compelling solution. Each product had some disadvantage that made its offering less than persuasive.
Samsung’s “The Frame” TV/Photo Display
Then I stumbled across Samsung’s The Frame TV. This is a 4K TV which also has a mode that is optimized for displaying photos. The Frame has an elegant appearance and the main menu system also looks refined. There’s a second menu system which is more basic; I’ll have more to say about that below.
The most important factor (other than cost) is that photos displayed on The Frame look really good. I could even say they look more “artsy” on The Frame than on my Eizo monitor. Now, my PC monitor is clearly more accurate but the photos on The Frame have something special that gives them a very attractive appearance. One thing I can identify is that there’s some sort of digital texture built in—and I find that I generally like it. Also, the screen has a matte finish which contributes to the illusion of being a print rather than a TV.
There is also something about seeing a photo displayed in a large format that alters your perception of the image. And I would include my The Frame’s 43” diagonal screen as “large.”
I have a 32” 4K monitor connected to my PC and it was a huge step up from the 24” 1920 x 1200 pixel monitor it replaced. But my 43” The Frame is another substantial step up. Seeing my photos on The Frame kicked the Wow! factor up another sizable notch.
When comparing print/display sizes it’s important to remember that it’s the area that must be compared, not the diagonal screen measurements. E.g., my 24” monitor measures about 20” x 12.5” = 250 sq. in. My 32” monitor measures about 28” x 16” = 448 sq. in. The ratio of the diagonal measurements is 32 / 24 = 1.3 but the ratio of the areas is 448 / 250 = 1.8. The latter number is more useful for determining the effect on a viewer.
Similarly, my 43” Samsung The Frame measures about 38” x 22”. The ratio of the diagonals between that and my 32” monitor is 43 / 32 = 1.3 while the ratio of the areas is 836 / 448 = 1.9, nearly double.
Also, important is the UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) that The Frame offers. Seeing all that detail while standing at a comfortable viewing distance is a big improvement over what most digital frames offer.
You may find, however, that the UHD display’s aspect ratio (16 x 9) is not optimal for displaying photos. That 16 x 9 ratio works out to 1.8—a relatively wide, short rectangle. By comparison, 35 mm slides were actually 36 mm x 24 mm so the aspect ratio works out to be 1.5—a significantly taller shape. I’ve been cropping my photos to match The Frame’s aspect ratio but this can be limiting. This constraint can ruin a composition. I suppose I could keep the original crop and let The Frame letter-box it; haven’t tried that yet.
One of the things that separates The Frame from regular TVs is that it has been designed to look like a framed print. That means slimming down the display and removing any controls, LEDS, etc. from the front panel. There is a separate box to contain the TV electronics and just a single slim cable attached to the display. To make the print illusion complete you can run the cable behind your home’s drywall so that nothing is visible to give away the secret. The electronics box (OneConnect) can be located out of sight but you need to be sure the box is accessible after installation so that you can insert a USB drive whenever you want to change photos.
Limitations—Brightness, Photo Orientation
The Frame’s maximum brightness could be a limitation. On an overcast day or early/late in the day The Frame’s brightness is fine but if located in a bright, sunny room the picture might not be bright enough to look attractive.
Another problem this frame has, like any digital frame, is that it must be set up in either landscape or portrait orientation. Once you’ve done that you’ve locked yourself into displaying only about half of your photos. You might, of course, be able to crop a portrait orientation shot for display in landscape format, particularly if you have a high-res camera. But that’s not the point of a properly composed portrait orientation photo.
The Frame is not cheap. I paid about $1000 for my 43” model. But making prints and getting them matted and framed is not cheap either. In addition to print, matte and frame you also have to add a picture frame light which you could end up paying $100 or $200 for.
If you want to make your own prints you end up spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a high-quality printer and fancy inks and papers. You do get to retain full creative control of the resulting print—but then you also have to develop your craft sufficiently so that you can achieve the result that you envision.
If you send your photos out to be printed you simplify the process, but you lose a lot of creative control. And you may wind up paying for several test prints before you get what you want.
So, from my point of view the expense of The Frame is reasonable given the alternatives.
Each photo automatically gets a matte. If you don’t want mattes, you have to edit the settings for each photo and remove the matte. If you do want a matte you generally are provided with several options for the matte size. But some photos mysteriously have only one choice for the matte type: Shadowbox matte. When that happens that really is your only choice—you cannot even choose to have no matte on that photo. Is The Frame making an artistic choice??
Another choice you don’t have is the order in which photos are displayed. It does what it does and that’s what you get.
The provided remote control is overly sensitive when pressed. Very often when I try to press a single time it registers two presses, thus propelling me into the wrong mode for what I’m trying to do. This is annoying in any case but is especially so while one is still learning how to use The Frame.
You can preview images on a USB drive, but you cannot set them to display as part of your My Collection photos from this preview mode. The photos have to be imported as part of a separate process in a different menu.
There’s a USB drive preview option in both the dedicated remote control and in the SmartThings phone app but they work entirely differently. Curiously, photos previewed on a USB drive display brightly—which may be different than your ArtMode brightness setting.
Limitations—Storage Space for Photos
This is a serious limitation. The Frame claims to provide 480 MB free space for your photos which is not a lot—but it seems you don’t actually get even that much. According to my The Frame I had 332 MB free when I tried to add four JPEGs (total size less than 16 MB) but it said I didn’t have enough free space. So, I removed four photos and it then said I had 360 MB free. I tried copying my four new photos again, but it still said I didn’t have enough room.
Eventually, I ended up deleting more photos from my The Frame and was able to copy the new files I wanted to add. But the limitation to what appears to be only about 100 MB of photos is either a serious design error or a serious bug.
There’s no excuse for the paltry amount of memory provided. Right now, I can buy a 2 GB USB drive for less than $3. An additional $3 in the cost of The Frame would not have deterred me from the purchase.
Automatic Power Off/On Failures
I had some problems with the TV turning itself on during the night (while in ArtMode). Several times so far, I have turned it off at night, but it was on the next morning when I got up. There are no children, animals or other sources of motion/noise in my house. Regardless of any motion, when I turn a device off I expect it to stay off until I turn it back on. Somehow, that basic product requirement does not seem to be implemented correctly.
Similarly, if a product has a motion detector and an auto-off feature I expect it to work consistently and reliably. However, with motion sensitivity set on low and with no one and nothing moving in the room the frame sometimes fails to turn itself off or there is a long delay—much longer than the 15 minutes I specified. (Low sensitivity works better for me than the other options but I still experience the problem described here.)
There is no timer mode. You have to manually turn The Frame on every morning/afternoon and off every night (well, except for when it erroneously turns itself on in the middle of the night).
And when you turn it on it starts by playing the first photo in the list. If you have the slideshow set to display photos for more than about an hour each you’re not going to see very many of them. E.g., if you are changing slides every 6 hours you can only see 4 slides in 24 hours of operation.
There are some settings in a menu called Eco Solution but these settings were disabled in my TV. There’s another setting titled Auto Protection Time but both this and the Eco Solution settings appear to work only when in TV viewing mode. No information is provided about power consumption in any mode.
When previewing photos on a USB drive there’s an option called 360° View which allows you to deform a photo to show a different apparent point of view. It also can show a photo as though wrapped around a cylinder (and/or cone?). It struck me that this could be useful for viewing panoramas but it appears that this feature is only available in preview mode, not normal ArtMode view mode. Given that, one wonders why the feature is included. I couldn’t find any mention of it in the manuals.
In preview mode The Frame automatically adds a slight push in (zoom in) to each photo as it appears. That looks kind of nice. But that, like the 360° mode, is only available in preview mode, not in the real slideshow. So, what’s the point?
Quirky, Non-Intuitive User Interface
The user interface is quirky and not at all intuitive in many places. Menus don’t follow normal conventions; e.g., pressing the joydisk center button on the remote can mean Select or OK—as you would expect—but it can also do what you would expect a Back button to do.
Some functions can only be done on the dedicated remote while others can only be done with the phone app. In some cases, it might be possible to do a thing on either but the dedicated remote is usually more convenient. I’m not sure what good the app is other than to provide Samsung a way to gather more information about me.
One thing Samsung did right—they dedicated the Color button to function as a brightness control when in ArtMode. This makes it easy to quickly adjust the brightness without stopping the slideshow and navigating through the menus.
You have to have the frame on the same Wi-Fi network as your phone. I would have preferred to keep the frame on my guest network as that provides improved security.
Samsung’s The Frame occupies a unique niche in the high-def TV market. The presentation is elegant in terms of both the frame itself as well as its rendering of photos. Unfortunately, the user interface is clumsy and a variety of errors or design flaws make an awkward user interface even more difficult to use. But if you’re looking for a good way to display digital photos in a sophisticated style The Frame may be worth enduring the glitches.