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Building a Linux-Driven Digital Picture Frame, Part 1

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A picture might be worth 1,000 words, but does that make it worth $1,000? If you want a digital picture frame, you can expect to pay anywhere between $300 and $2,000. Fortunately, options are available for those who like the idea, but not the price tag. In this article, Seth Fogie provides a very inexpensive alternative that can give you much the same effect, but for a fraction of the cost. For about $50, you can enjoy your very own Linux-driven digital picture frame.
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The digital camera is quickly becoming a household necessity. While a few film diehards are still around, most people have found the convenience and cost savings of the digital image too attractive to ignore. Not only are digital cameras easier to use, but you no longer have to worry about bad photos. If you don't like it, delete it! Or, if you have the time and inclination, you can use photo editing software to manipulate the image to your liking.

There are many other benefits; however, there's also one major disadvantage. The digital photo is hard to hang on a wall or put in your wallet. While it's true that you can set up a computer with a slideshow, how many people want to devote an entire system to showing off their photography?

There are electronic devices that can display digital images. In fact, some televisions have built-in Secure Digital/Compact Flash slots that allow an owner to turn that $2,000 TV into a very expensive picture frame. For those consumers who are looking for something less costly, other dedicated applications range from the 10.4-inch $499 frame to the smaller 3x5-inch $150 frame. Be careful when buying these products, though; many of these plug-and-play solutions require a subscription fee to load them with new photos.

I'm not a millionaire, nor would I want to spend that much money for something that I know can be built for less. So I decided to create my own digital picture frame for under $50. In addition, I wanted to create not just one, but several of these devices, and give them to my parents/in-laws. This meant that I not only had to create a cheap digital picture frame (DPF), but also make it easy to use, visibly acceptable, and fairly robust.

Cost Breakdown

The goal of this project was to create a DPF for less than $50. Meeting this goal was going to be challenging. Since I was under rather extreme financial limitations, I first created an outline of my expected expenditures:

  • Laptop: $30–40 (including shipping)
  • Stand/Frame: $5–8
  • Extra stuff (paint, screws, etc.): $3.00

Notice that this list leaves out one important piece: the operating system. Unfortunately, any Windows-based OS would have increased my costs by at least $20 (Windows 95 retail on eBay). This left only one choice: Linux.

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