A Rant About Digital Picture Frames (and a few other things)

By: Brett Freeman , Contributing Writer
In: Technology

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued new Energy Star guidelines for digital picture frames, computer monitors, and other displays.  If all digital frames and displays meet the Energy Star standards (which is unlikely), this will eventually lead to $1 billion in annual savings, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to those produced by 1.5 million vehicles. The savings from more energy  efficient digital picture frames, according to the EPA, would account for about 10 percent of this energy and emissions savings. The EPA also notes that more than 9 million digital picture frames shipped in 2008, and this number could approach or even surpass 20 million by 2015. Finally, the EPA says these new standards achieve this energy savings by making Energy Star displays 20 percent more energy efficient than current models.

"Hey, look at these pictures from our ecotourism trip!!!"

"Hey, look at our ecotourism pictures!!!"

The EPA press release caught my attention because I’d recently heard someone on NPR’s All Things Considered talking about the environmental costs of digital picture frames, which theoretically (very theoretically) could eventually use energy equivalent to the output of five new power plants. I don’t know offhand the typical output of a new power plant, but I’m certainly capable of looking a little more deeply into the EPA numbers. By making digital frames 20 percent more efficient, the energy savings from the Energy Star frames is 10 percent of $1billion, or $100 million a year, and the emissions savings is equal to that produced by 150,000 cars. That’s the energy and exhaust saved. If that represents a 20 percent improvement in efficiency, then the energy used by these things would be four times that amount, or $400 million, with emissions equal to that produced by 600,000 cars. This doesn’t even take into account the energy wasted when computer monitors are turned into de facto digital picture frames with screen saver programs that run an endless slide show of your digital images.  That’s a lot of juice, and a lot of pollution, and for what?

I’m not anti-tech, but I am anti-waste, and these things just seem like a gimmick-run-amok to me. I do like to look at my close friends’ and family’s vacation or party pictures. Once. Maybe. But isn’t it more powerful to pick one or two or three images that really capture the experience and display them in real frames, as opposed to having all the images–the great ones, and the mediocre ones–in constant rotation? Aren’t great pictures worth taking a long look at?

And is there a point to having the constant slide show playing to an empty room? Some newer models at least will dim or shut off when lights go off. Others are activated by motion sensors, and some can be programmed to turn on and off at certain times. These improvements make digital frames more palatable, and should be mandated, but I still don’t get the notion of using so much electricity for something that, to my mind and eye, is inferior to the non-energy consuming pictures and frames that are being replaced.


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  1. 9 Responses  to “A Rant About Digital Picture Frames (and a few other things)”

  2. Buddha
    Aug 29, 2011
    Good grief. Lucy's parents "just looooved" the digital frame that they got, but she views it as some sort of worthless invention? Isn't there a contradiction here (or at least an indication that this is not as straightforward as the "rant" argument would imply)? People love something - not just any people, but Lucy's parents - and yet the thing that they love is a worthless invention. Heck, I love my dog, but she doesn't do much except consume food and poop. Maybe I should ditch her.
  3. Mary
    Aug 29, 2011
    My digital frame is great. I love it! Not like old print frames gathering dust. And did the author bother to check that most frames use a fraction of the electricity of a standard light bulb?
  4. driftwood
    Aug 29, 2011
    I agree. I had received one as a present, and I'd let it gain dust but the other day I started it up. Put it next to my laptop. I'm like, really? I can look at this on my other lcd screen.... And then I feel too guilty to leave it on all day, so I turned it off. A picture would seem to be a lot easier.
  5. Aug 29, 2011
    It's going to get worse, Lucy. Newer digital frames are wifi/web enabled, so you can get the daily news and weather, browse, etc. Which would be a legit function, except most people can already do that from...everywhere. I check the daily news and weather on my Blackberry before I get out of bed. My kids do the same on the Wii. All so we can get this "vital" info before we hit the kitchen (where the laptops are charging) for breakfast. Maybe we're just not that sophisticated, but I really think we can survive without having info stations situated every 10 feet throughout the house.
  6. Aug 29, 2011
    Daniel, I can't say I think you'll like my latest post--so far you've liked nothing I've written--but it does relate more directly to old houses.
  7. Daniel
    Aug 29, 2011
    I'm not surprised this topic appeared here. Oldhouseweb was a pretty good resource for old house related info for a long time. About the last year or so, there's been big changes and even bigger departures from relevent topics. I'm thinking oldhouseweb sold out to more commercial interests (just look at the new home page). This new blog illustrates the point further. Some of the contributing writers to this blog really don't contribute much of value for "old house enthusiasts". I don't think I'll be visiting anything here except the forum anymore.
  8. Neil S. Chums
    Aug 29, 2011
    Need to disagree with you. You think that printing pictures out on paper and wasting trees is a better, more environmentally friendly solution? I am not advocating to continuously play the frame (that would be pretty wasteful), but the digital frame may be a better eco alternative than you state.
  9. Lucy
    Aug 29, 2011
    Totally agree. Digital picture frames are one of the most useless inventions to come along recently. The problem is not that people don't care about how wasteful they are, it's that the people who are likely to own digital picture frames don't know or think about that kind of stuff. E.g. my brother bought one for my parents this past Christmas (that's another problem, they are commonly given as gifts, so people feel obligated to use them). I couldn't bring myself to share my feelings about the contraption on Christmas morning for fear of once again being the Grinch (I have many issues with this consumer-tastic holiday.) and also my parents just looooved it. In fact, my Dad asked me to help him upload photos that afternoon before our relatives arrived for dinner...
  10. poptart12
    Aug 29, 2011
    Wasteful! I have a visceral response to digital picture frames. So unnecessary.