Best LCD television for use as a digital photo display?


Looking at the cost of custom framing and the cost of flat-screen televisions, it occurs to me that it will be cheaper and obviously more flexible to mount an HDTV on the wall and use it to show photos than to print photos and frame them with non-glare glass. It also will be a lot more useful for business discussions because one can use the wall space for showing a document.

“Photo quality” is generally defined as 200 pixels per inch. That means, unfortunately, that an HDTV will be lower resolution than a print as soon as it exceeds about 10 inches in width. However, the quality in some ways might be better due to the backlit nature of the TV. (I’m aware that televisions complying with the new 4K standard would have much more resolution but they don’t seem to be available at a consumer price yet.)

So… who has tried this out? How does it look compared to a regular print that is behind glass?

Also, what is the best TV to use? Here are the criteria:

  • must be programmable so that it comes on in “photo display” mode so that there is no need to monkey with a remote control after a power failure (or maybe default to photo display mode if a USB stick is plugged in); I have found the deep menus of modern HDTVs to be truly painful
  • must be programmable to shut itself off at midnight, for example, and back on at 8 am (to save power)
  • must be daylight-viewable (means LCD is better than plasma?)
  • must have low power consumption (implies LED-lit)?

I would like to get these in sizes ranging from 50 to 60 inches.

Thanks in advance for suggestions.

[I asked a somewhat similar question a couple of years ago, but any model/brand suggestions would be out of date.]

27 thoughts on “Best LCD television for use as a digital photo display?

  1. Peter: Thanks for the time suggestion, but I think the way that the TVs are likely to be mounted it won’t be easy to get to the plug and there may in fact not be a way to manipulate a timer without pulling the TV off the wall. Not something I would want to do after every power failure (when the timer will no longer have the correct time).

  2. Guys: Why would I need an external timer for a device that is in fact always on and has a massive computer system inside? says that a basic Samsung HDTV has an “on/off” timer. Surely at least some HDTVs have the ability to turn themselves on and off every day, no? I pulled the PDF manual for the Samsung and it indicates that it can be set “to turn on automatically at a preset time”. There are three timers and one option seems to be for “Contents” and USB is an option. I wonder who has actually tried this, though.

  3. Phil: Amazon does not sell a digital picture frame larger than 15″. Most are 10″ or smaller. I want something that covers a wall the same way that a framed print would (I would typically make prints from medium format negatives on 20×30″ paper and sometimes as larger as 40×50″). As a digital picture frame is a backlit LCD panel, I don’t see why it would consume less power than an LCD HDTV of the same size.

  4. Thanks, Joe. Hmm…. it plays 1080p video, has a remote control, has internal speakers, and is 42″ diagonally. It sure sounds like a 42″ HDTV! The FAQ make it sound as though they buy a cheap HDTV from Westinghouse and then stick an Apple TV motherboard inside to make it talk to WiFi. It draws 112 watts maximum, so it isn’t especially energy efficient. They do have a 55″ model. I’m not really sure what they are selling except maybe the packaging of the Apple TV inside a frame with a TV. Or the idea of wrapping a wooden frame around a TV?

    What I would look for in a purpose-built digital photo frame would be higher resolution than HDTV, since photo content is generally available in much higher resolution than HDTV (only 2 megapixels; a Nikon D800 is 36 megapixels). Even the new 4K standard is just 8 megapixels. That’s like a digital camera from the year 2003!

  5. Phil. I did not find any special TVs designed for this type of application right now, Just ordinary 40-60 inch TVs that cost $500 to $1500. Plus there are lots of small picture viewers for $100 or so. You know what you want more than us so good luck.

    But a spin off of this would be a great idea for a start up company or division of Sony or LG. Big window size viewers with way less TV electronics but some display electronics so lower cost. Sort of like picture viewers but a lot bigger and rigged to a good backside camera. These screens could replace ordinary windows in offices and provide changeable views via the camera or loaded with pictures via wireless remote or hooked to a computer for a presentation. They could be insulated to reduce heat/cooling loss versus ordinary glass but still provide a nice outside view when not in use for other things. Plus with a good outside camera you could zoom in on outside views or scan left or right as you wanted to change the view. Sort of like the screens in a security center. Lots of views but no windows. You could also add sound pickups to the outside camera for added funtionality. Then you could listen to the birds sing while you watch them in the trees and shut out the traffic roar during the day by filtering that out.

    Given that big double windows cost $500ish plus installation this seems like a good price trade off for the added functionality of a viewer with sound and weather proofing.


  6. Bill: I think your idea of virtual windows would work well in a !

    Anyway, right now I’m not looking for anything that special. Just wanting to hear from folks who actually own, e.g., a Samsung, and have successfully programmed it to power up at 0800 and read photos from a USB stick. That’s better than dragging a big TV home, mounting it on the wall, and then discovering that it can’t be made to work as a photo frame.

  7. @philg, @Bill. They are way ahead of you.

    Should be here in a couple years. Phil why not just go to costco and buy some cheap tvs and in 5 years you can retrofit your entire house with Smart windows!!!!!

  8. To build a dashboard at work, I used an old junker Dell running linux, with the VGA output driving the 42″ LCD TV at 1920×1080. It uses a $40 Iguanaworks USB/IR dongle to turn the TV on and off with shell commands, called from cron. FBI handles the slideshow and scaling.

    I don’t think it looks nearly as good as a print, especially up close. (It’s certainly fine for my application; displaying graphs, weather maps, and calendars.)

  9. If you want resolution, just mount an iPad 3 on the wall, there are plenty of mounts available, and given the LED backlight and less than 5W power consumption, you won’t be incurring large utility costs.

    Otherwise, it looks like what you want is a TV designed for digital signage applications like the Samsung H series, which has a built-in USB reader. It’s a specialized market, and they won’t be as cheap as a Costco special. On the plus, they will be designed for the longer duty cycle and last longer (although given how much time the average American spends in front of the TV, the distinction between always-on and consumer-grade may be moot).

    Alternatively, you could hook up a regular TV to a $35 RaspberryPi, AppleTV or equivalent using HDMI. The TV won’t change inputs when you power-cycle it, unlike whatever passes for “smart” functionality that probably gets reset.

  10. Fazal: Thanks for the iPad idea. That was my initial thought when it came out, actually, that people would keep them propped up on coffee tables as digital photo frames when not in use. It does not seem to have worked out that way, though, and obviously they are much too small for most wall locations.

    Why does one need a digital signage TV or an external box? If I read the Samsung manual correctly, a standard Samsung HDTV can be programmed to turn on at 0800 and read a folder from a plugged-in USB stick. I suppose that the main hassle will be resetting the time after every power failure, but perhaps some of these HDTVs have a short battery backup?

  11. You might consider one of the many Google TV integrated displays, available from Sony, LG, and probably others. Since they run Android, you can install any of a variety of apps for displaying photos or just write your own. Likewise, since it’s just Unix under the hood, you can invest the time/effort/agony into understanding how to turn the thing off and on again via software.

    (You really want to save power? Hack up software to turn the TV on and off based on a motion sensor.)

    From a reasonable distance (say, 8 feet), a 1080p display will do the job fine. If you want to stick your nose into the screen and see little details, no current HDTV panel will make you happy. You might not even be happy with a hypothetical 4K display, even if you could stomach the price.

  12. On May 19, 2011, SHARP in collaboration with NHK demonstrated a direct-view 85 in LCD display capable of 7680 × 4320 pixels at 10 bits per pixel.[22]

    In April 2012, NHK (in collaboration with Panasonic) announced a 145 in (370 cm) display (7680 × 4320 at 60 fps), which has 33.2 million 0.417 mm square pixels.[26]

    You can do wall of iPad and have special software send sections of images to
    each screen via AirPlay. some one in your school create it in a day if they know obj-c.
    Apple had a application at wwdc showing all the App Icons animating as they are purchased in wall of ipads.

    4 retina MBP would gives you 25 Megapixels. in 40 inches diagonal space
    that is only 2100*4= $8400 (edu price disc. – sales tax).

    4 27″ 3686K screen gives = 14.7 Megapixel in 72 inches diagonal space.
    Displays can be daisy chained using Thunderbolt. one mac can drive two displays.
    unfortunately retina version will probably be next year.

  13. Go for the google tv. There are plenty of nicely designed apps for android that will be a lot easier to use than the Samsung. I have a first generation google tv made by sony and I really like it. Sadly it looks like little progress has been made in this field for quite sometime. Maybe this is an opportunity for an entrepreneur. Look at this article from the year 2000.

  14. We came to a similar conclusion about a year and a half ago. We purchased a Samsug TV. I don’t’ know the model, but I was looking for an online owners manual a few months ago and saw it was no longer produced.

    Our experience has been mixed. The first issue is that we can either crop the images for the TV, or not have full screen. This sounds trivial timewise, but does impact the images. I shoot for the frame and tend to think about cropping for the standard aspect rations of prints. I find myself sometimes having difficulty cropping an image for the TV that I spent time framing to my liking when I took the image. It’s irksome to see the cropped image on the wall, know the “real” image is so much better. I’ve tried to train myself to think about the TV cropping when I shoot, but it’s hard to overcome 30 years of experience. If you have enough image size/pixels to work with you can shoot loose and crop later. (I soooo miss medium format!)

    The TV has three different timers and each timer can be set for different days of the week, so you could have a weekly/weekend schedule. You can set the default folder to start in, so if you have a big enough USB drive, you could have different folders throughout the day. We tend to just turn it on and turn it off. We switch the folders by hand.

    We actually have about 10 USB drives sitting by the TV and will switch them out as our temperament/guest experience dictates.

    People do tend to look at the TV pictures more than the prints. Like so many things, this is both good and bad. Pictures on the wall tended to be the start of discussions; the rotating pictures on the screen tend to dampen discussions until they been run through a few times. Some people find the flashing images distracting. I’ve seen people move to other chairs so the TV is out of their line of sight.

    We need to get a UPS for the TV. It looses the time of day at the slightest voltage drop. Wiring the TV mount flush with the wall AND have an easily accessible USB port is important. I ran an USB extender to a separate wall plate at normal outlet height under a table. The USB dive is easily switched, yet not in danger of being cracked off by a passerby.

    We never had a TV in our living room before. In the past if there was a sporting event some guest might be interested in, we would have one room with the TV and the living room was a haven for those not interested. We now get people switching to the game or at least asking to switch and looking annoyed when we don’t’ switch. Think long and hard before deciding if it is just a picture frame or a TV/picture frame.

    There is a difference between seeing a picture printed and seeing it on the TV. This can be both an improvement or a determent to different pictures. I think washed out pictures and dark greys look worse. As always, it’s different, you have to accept that.

    Overall we’ve been happy, but I’m not sure the price we paid was worth it. TV’s are cheaper now, so I’d have ot say, at these prices, it’s probably worth a shot. A neat, clean installation takes some thought and may take more cable fishing than yo think. Don’t forget some walls have firebreaks halfway up the wall. This makes fishing wires vertically a challenge.

    I’d love to hear your experiences if yo go this route.

  15. TV_Guy: You say that people “find the flashing images distracting”. Is it possible to set the time interval between images to 15 minutes? Longer? I would think that would cut down on the distraction factor.

  16. Only three settings on speed, “fast”, “normal” and “slow”. Slow is about 10 seconds/image. I’ve toyed with the idea of just having one image/USB drive, but haven’t followed through. On the same vein, when the timer gets screwed up we go a few weeks before resetting it. It’s really just as easy to press the “on” button on the remote when we’re going to be spending time in the room.

    The TV has an input for a laptop, I’ve thought about buying a chip PC (link below) and just installing a better slide show program on it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    I had a whole house MythTv installation, which could run different slide shows on different screens all over the house…but the HD array died and I haven’t resurrected it. The state of broadcast TV doesn’t make it worth it. Still, for what you want, it might be an option as well, but you will need to add Linux system manager to your monthly job duties. I think the local diskless PC is a better option for what you want.

    I’ve found the software on the TV’s very limited. Samsung claims they would provide software updates (the TV has an Ethernet port), but I haven’t seen them. It was actually why I was looking for when I saw that it had been discontinued. The TV can access images file on servers throughout the house, you don’t actually need to use the USB drives. Cool idea, just immature software.

    The MythTV had a much higher WAF factor than the “TV as Picture Frame”, though it still scored positive on that metric.

  17. TV_Guy: 10 seconds/image is “slow”? I guess a Korean’s definition of slow is different from mine. Maybe that is why the Korean economy is growing so fast! That could be a deal-killer for me. I want these to be mostly static.

  18. Samsung uses PVA panels. Excellent contrast (very black blacks), but the off-angle performance blows. Ditto for Sony and Sharp. Most LG and Panasonic TVs have IPS panels. The blacks are grey (which is only apparent in a dark room), but they have minimal color shift when viewed off-axis, and generally have accurate colors out of the box.

  19. re: Image change speed

    Perhaps a somewhat inconvenient solution would be to put multiple copies of one image in a row. Or would there still be a noticeable transition between the copies?

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