Home > Electronics > The Fix for Digital Photo Frames

The Fix for Digital Photo Frames

A couple of years ago, my wife bought me a Nextar N7-110 7-inch digital photo frame for Christmas. To her credit, it was a great gift – but unfortunately, I haven’t used it much since then due to the time it takes me to upload new photos to the SD card for it. Let me explain:

Digital photo frames (at least ones like the Nextar unit I have) mostly come with a 16:9 aspect ratio screen. This means that for every 16 pixels wide, there are 9 pixels in height. This wouldn’t be an issue if we all had 16:9 aspect ratio cameras. However, most digital cameras are built to provide a 6×4 picture which is very close to a 3:2 aspect ratio.

The other issue, is the N7-110 frame has a resolution of 480×234 pixels. This 480 pixels in width and 234 pixels in height is a 3:1.47 aspect ratio in square pixels. Also, to confuse matters a bit, pixels can be rectangular, and that’s where the “stretched” look comes from when you put regular photos in a 16:9 photo frame like this:

Regular 4:3 landscape picture as shown on the Nextar’s screen in 16:9 mode.

When flat-panel TV’s first hit the market around 2000-2002, watching regular (non-HDTV) TV gave us this same result. This is because flat-panel televisions are widescreen (16:9), but the signals being sent over the airwaves were 4:3. Eventually, flat-panel TV manufacturers began auto-sensing the signals and adjusting the screen as necessary, which was a major help. To correct the “stretching” problem with my Nextar frame, I can do one of two things: 1. Press the 16:9/4:3 button on the Nextar’s remote control to change the mode, or; 2.) Prepare the pictures in an image editing program like Adobe’s Photoshop® specifically for the frame. It sounds like an easy decision, right? You, might be thinking, “Why would you waste your time opening each image in Photoshop when you can just push the button to fix the problem?” The short answer, is size, speed and rotation. Here’s the longer answer: First, the size of images from most of today’s cameras are between 4 and 16 mega-pixels. The Nextar frame has a resolution of only 480×234, or about 1/11th of one mega-pixel. The Nextar frame can display higher resolution (higher mega-pixel) images, but it takes a really long time to load each image; like 20-30 seconds to load a 10 megapixel image. Secondly, if you have portrait (tall) images, you end up with something like this:

Regular 4:3 portrait picture in 16:9 mode and before the rotate button is pressed as shown on the Nextar’s screen.

Imagine waiting 20-30 seconds for the image to load, only to find it needs to be rotated. Secondly, the Nextar frame doesn’t remember the orientation of the image one it moves to the next image, so you’re constantly waiting and rotating the images. Needless to say, this is very frustrating. The bottom line is, if you want a lot of images to fit on an SD card and load quickly, you have to make them smaller, or resample them.

Therefore, in an effort to allow more images on the SD card and to avoid having to rotate each image, I created a new template image for the Nextar frame in Photoshop. After playing with the size and aspect ratio, I found that I had to set the size to 480 pixels wide by 360 pixels high with an aspect ratio of D1/DV PAL Widescreen (1.42). Here’s a screen shot of the template setup:

Photoshop dialog settings for the template image in Photoshop.

Using this template allows me to resize (and pre-rotate if necessary) the images to be saved to the SD card for the Nextar frame. Putting images into the template is as easy as opening the original images, selecting the entire image, then copy and pasting into the template. Once the image is in the template, I use the transform tool to scale and rotate as needed. I pay close attention to the scale amount for both portrait and landscape images. This saves me time when doing many images.

Screen shot of the template image in Photoshop.

Another point to mention are the guides (green lines). These guides let me know where the boundaries and the center of the screen are located. It took me a little longer to nail down the location of the guides, but now that they’re there, they prevent me from losing any image content on-screen.

The only thing left to do is to turn on layers in Photoshop and save the images from the template onto the destination SD card using Photoshop’s Save to Web feature.

Formatted 4:3 landscape picture as shown on the Nextar’s screen in 16:9 mode.

Formatted 4:3 portrait picture as shown on the Nextar’s screen in 16:9 mode.

The only setting I have to make sure is set correctly, is that the frame is in 16:9 mode, otherwise, the images will look squished.

Here’s a animated GIF file of the difference between the original image and the image that I formatted for the frame:

Something else to keep in mind, is that the images load very quickly and I can fit many more images on the SD card than I would have otherwise. On the average, the images I format and save to my SD card are about 1% of the original image size, allowing me to save about 97 images more than I originally could. That’s improvement.

While my post is about a 2 year old digital photo frame, the same techniques could apply to many newer digital photo frames. The only differences would be in setting up the template. I’ve used a similar technique for a digital Christmas ornament, uploading many more images to it than I could have if I would have used the original images.

So, all in all, if it were a little easier to upload the pictures, the frame would save the rotation adjustment of the images, and the pictures would load faster, I think I’d tend to update and use the digital frame more often. Until I find a better unit, you now have a better idea what I’ll be doing with this one.

If this post has helped you, please leave me a comment below and let me know. If you have questions regarding a specific frame, let me know and if I have the time I’ll try to help you out.

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  1. December 12, 2011 at 11:25 am | #1

    Man, that is one spectacular yard you’ve photographed there! ;)

  2. Cheryl
    December 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm | #2

    This is so far over my head! I wonder where you got your smarts?

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