A Photo Display System

It seems to me that the day of the framed photograph may about to be superseded by digital technology. Think about a digital (LED or other similar technology) display thinner than a typical photograph + frame. Such displays already exist.

Why not put an LED screen on the wall as an object of art; that is, why not display photographs on an LED as a household or office decoration?

What are the advantages over a traditional framed photograph?

  • Lit-up brilliance A photograph on an LED can take advantage of the lit-up capability and add a new dimension to both traditional, modern, and future photography. An LED can also display muted colors; it doesn’t have to be brilliant.
  • Multiple photos  Such a display system is not limited to one photograph. Photographs can be changed as often as desired.
  • Power The power for such a system can be provided by batteries or by normal electricity build into the wall.
  • Computer controlled Such a system can be computer controlled (e.g, desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone).
  • Low cost The cost of such a system can be low today and will get lower in the future.

These are some characteristics to play with in designing a digital display system. Below is one example of how such a system might work.

This is my idea of a living room art system:

  • Six LEDs of varying sizes on the walls.
  • Controlled by a computer (e.g., a smartphone app).

This system, although seemingly ambitious, can be assembled to cost less than a serious stereo sound system. What can you do with such a system?

  • Change the photographs displayed occasionally to avoid boredom.
  • Create themes for the photographs displayed and use different themes for different occasions or for different looks (e.g., parties, Christmas, baroque, impressionist, etc).

The photographs for the 6-LED system will have to be ultra-high resolution (8K – 8192 x 4320) in order to display effectively on large LEDs and be usable in the future. Vendors will sell packages of photographs that meet the ultra-high-resolution requirements. Fine art photographers will take care to shoot photographs that meet the ultra-high-resolution requirements.

Sensors An HD (1920 x 1080) photograph requires a 2MP sensor. Virtually all digital cameras have more powerful sensors today. But an 8K photograph requires a 35MP sensor. Most of today’s digital cameras do not meet such a requirement. But an 8K photograph is only necessary for very large displays. So, a 5K photograph requiring only a 14MP sensor is a good interim standard to aim for. Keep in mind that most software will automatically enlarge an image that’s too small for the requisite display. But enlargement means a potential loss of quality. Thus, a higher resolution photograph is desirable.
Photographs can’t be fuzzy in large displays

The software for a LED system will enable a user to set the amount of lit-upness and other visual qualities for each photograph. So, it will be difficult to tell looking at an LED inside a wooden frame whether the display is an actual photograph print or a digital display.

Beyond photographs by photographers, there’s another dimension: photographs of art. People buy posters and coffee-table books in art museum shops published with photographs of the art in the museums. Why not digital display versions?

Keep in mind that the primary missing ingredient of an LED display of art is the texture. But you will be able to elect to add appropriate texture simulation via the software.

Of course, not all art lends itself to being displayed well on an LED screen. But a lot of art does. And some art looks better in photographs than the original work of art itself. My 6-LED system can turn a living room into an art museum.

17th April 2020, No. 2 iPad Drawing © David Hockney

By the way, my research shows that such a system is readily available today, primarily for commercial use (i.e., video wall systems for offices and business buildings) and very expensive. One application you will recognize is signage. For instance, in fast food places today, the menus are on LEDs. Although such systems are expensive today, prices will come down dramatically as systems become popular for home use. Digital components are not terribly expensive, and the software is simple.

But what about those of us who are still listening to AM radio, never had a big-time stereo system, and can’t afford such a 6-LED system? Well, LED screens of various sizes are inexpensive today and will be cheaper in the future. They are cheaper than many art frames today and will perhaps be as cheap as inexpensive frames in the future.

The system I have outlined doesn’t have to have six LED screens. It can have just one. The system uses LEDs as dumb terminals (receptive-only devices): in essence computer monitors. The screens are hooked up to power from the building; they have only enough storage for one photograph; they don’t have software; and they don’t have a CPU (computer). The image storage, software, and CPU are provided by a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. In other words, the computer-driven LED is likely to be the photograph frame of the future.

Of course, portable digital display devices have been available for a long time. They are self-contained with power (batteries), storage, CPUs, software, and LEDs all built in. They are designed to be setup on a flat horizonal surface, such as a table or desk; and they are intended primarily for friends and family snapshots.

So, the idea of using LEDs to display photographs is not a new one. And my 6-LED-room-display system in this article is just one idea of hundreds that might be devised using digital display technology; technology that exists today; technology that is about to revolutionize the future of photographs on display.

Will frame shops become extinct? Probably not. Frame shops may provide attractive frames for LEDs, perhaps frames that can be easily changed to match different photographic themes. Frame shops may also become the place to buy an LED-home-display system.

What about photographers? How will you sell your photographs? As NFTs? As 8K JPGs? In a copy-protection sales system such as Kindle or iTunes? In theme packages of multiple photographs? Something to think about.

Author: Joseph T. Sinclair

Photographer since 1950.

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