Digital Photo Frames: Fading from View

Plus: Best Buys in Small- & Large-Screen Models

The price and availability of digital photo frames decreased dramatically in the past 4 years. As a result, you’ll encounter a narrower selection and no technological improvements when it comes to today’s models.

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Digital photo frames are like aging professional athletes: Their best days are behind them. A dramatic contraction in the digital-photo-frame market led to decreased prices and virtually no introduction or expansion of innovations in the past 4 years. As a result, experts tell us that today’s digital photo frames are as good as you ever will get, so if you purchase one today, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience buyer’s envy tomorrow.

In 2014, you’ll have fewer models from which to choose. Furthermore, in the years ahead, digital photo frames likely will appear on store shelves only during the peak gift-buying times of the year, such as Christmas, experts tell Consumers Digest.

PHOTO FINISH. Since 2010, the number of digital-photo-frame models decreased by 77 percent, largely because half as many digital-photo-frame manufacturers now exist. We found 12 digital-photo-frame manufacturers and just 40 models at press time. Independent analysts whom we interviewed say manufacturers left the market primarily because of plummeting sales. U.S. sales of digital photo frames dropped to $88.6 million in 2012 from $159.4 million in 2011, according to market-research company The NPD Group. Through September 2013, sales for 2013 accounted for $21 million, which was the most recent figure that was available at press time and which represents a 49 percent decrease from the previous year.

What happened? Manufacturers tell us that consumers don’t upgrade digital photo frames as they do with other electronics devices. They say digital photo frames often are given as gifts, and consumers aren’t compelled to replace the digital photo frame until the one that they have breaks—sometimes not even then. Furthermore, the increased use of tablet computers and image sharing via websites and social media has helped to reduce the appeal of digital photo frames, according to Ben Arnold of NPD.

“Even though digital photo frames were a great idea for displaying your photographs, mainly what consumers share [now] is online and through photo services,” Arnold says.

In other words, now that consumers have other outlets in which to share their digital images easily, fewer people want to purchase a digital photo frame.

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Although we believe that quality manufacturers still exist, many of the most recognizable manufacturers no longer make digital photo frames in 2013. Four of the six manufacturers that accounted for our Best Buy selections 4 years ago stopped making digital photo frames. Pandigital went out of business in November 2012, and Kodak emerged from bankruptcy in September 2013. In addition, eStarling and Sony dropped digital photo frames from their lineups. Sony tells us that it left the digital-photo-frame market to focus on making tablets, because tablets do more than just allow you to display images. Sony wouldn’t disclose its digital-photo-frame sales figures, but it intimated that slack sales led it to stop making the product.

PRICE IS RIGHT. Prices for digital photo frames decreased compared with 4 years ago, largely because the price of manufacturing the digital photo frame’s screen decreased, and manufacturers passed those discounts on to consumers. The average retail price for a digital photo frame that has an 8-inch screen dropped to $54 for the first 7 months of 2013, compared with $63 in 2011, according to NPD, and some price drops have been dramatic. For example, you now can buy a 10-inch digital photo frame that has 2GB of built-in memory for as little as $72, which is $177 less than what you’d have had to pay for a similar model in 2011.

However, independent experts whom we interviewed don’t expect prices to drop much further, so it’s unlikely that you’ll save much money if you wait to buy a digital photo frame. If anything, waiting to buy means that you might have even fewer models from which to choose, experts say. Furthermore, digital photo frames likely will become more difficult to find in brick-and-mortar stores.

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