Last year, I backed the Electric Objects Kickstarter, a campaign to produce a digital picture frame built from a 23-inch 1080p panel and integrated ARM computer. It's something that, on paper, sounds like something you could just build yourself--you can buy a similarly-sized IPS panel for under $150 and attach it to a $35 Raspberry Pi. What Electric Objects is going for, however, seems to be an elegant and intentional design in both the hardware and software--a complete solution that works right out of the box. That box arrived earlier this month, and I've been using the Electric Objects EO1 frame for the past week. As a screenprint collector, here's what I think about it so far, and what it's trying to accomplish.
On the hardware side, the display itself is a matte 23-inch 1080p panel with a 250 nit backlight--pretty standard for 16:9 monitor you can get from monitor makers like Dell. The custom stuff is all in the frame around that panel to make it look like a framed piece of art. The 3/4-inch bezel is in line with the frames I like for my 18x24 screenprints, is even on all sizes, and has a slightly angled taper toward the back. The "frame" itself isn't as thick as most monitors, but the computer hardware--a 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 system with built-in Wi-Fi and bluetooth--bulges from the back, so it does float a little bit off the wall. Mounting hardware is included.
The quality of the screen is good, with all the perks of an IPS panel: good color reproduction, high contrast, and wide viewing angles. It being matte also helps a lot with visibility in daylight, though it will look washed out from certain reflective angles. Of course, the LCD has downsides as well, as images with black backgrounds don't look completely black in the dark (even with auto-brightness), and 250 nits isn't bright enough to make images pop in a fully day-lit room. I didn't notice any backlight bleed, though. With the intent of keeping the hardware as simple as possible, there's no OSD for calibrating the display--only a single button for putting the EO1 to sleep when you don't want it on.
Other than the fact that this is an active backlit display, the most obvious difference between this and a piece of printed art is the image resolution. 1080p is sufficient for putting up photos or animated GIFs and appreciating them from afar, but get up close to the EO1 and you're going to notice the pixels. One of the things I love about screenprints is being able to scrutinize the minute details and nuances natural to the printing process. Even with fine digital prints, there's a physicality in the CMYK separations that lets you know how an artist intended the work to be seen when you put your eyeball up to the paper. You can't do that here--art on the EO1 is meant to be appreciated from at least a few feet away.
But these limitations, in the eyes of EO1's creators, are features inherent to their vision of the digital canvas. Digital art is fundamentally different than printed art, and maybe you're supposed to experience and enjoy it differently. And the most notable "feature" of the Electric Objects display is its inability to run slideshows.