From the outside, my home might look like a humble Cape Cod, but inside priceless art lines my walls. At the moment, Iâve got a rotating gallery of some of the most renowned names in painting, like impressionists Paul CÃ©zanne and Claude Monet, and even modern realist Edward Hopper, whose work Iâve always wanted to hang in my office.
But the collection doesnât end there. Thereâs Van Gogh and Vermeer, Blake and Banksy. I have portraits, photographs, cinemagraphs, and videos; morph art, video art, animations and even GIFs. In all, I currently have more than 50,000 works in my collection. But hereâs the catch: I only have three frames.
Over the past few weeks, Iâve been enjoying three oversized digital art frames, looking to see if some digitally-delivered modern and classic art could help me shake my November funk. I donât want to paint these products with a broad brush, but prior to installing them, I didnât expect the framed displays to inspire me all that much. Far from a fine art fan, I expected to load some of my iPhone snapshots into their oversized screens and call it a day. The reality, however, has been a much more vivid experience than I expected.
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The first and smallest of the three frames I reviewed was the $299 Electric Objects EO2. A 23-inch, matte-finish, LED-backlit display, the EO2 is the simplest of the three products when it comes to frames, boxing in the 1080-by-1920 resolution screen in a basic wood or aluminum case. Because of its (relatively) smaller size, itâs good for admiring art in closer quarters, even though the EO2 has a 179-degree viewing angle.
Connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi, the frameâs content is controlled by an accompanying smartphone app. Users can chose from more than 20,000 pieces curated by the EO2âs user community. If you want the masterpieces, a $9.99 per month membership to Electric Objectâs Art Club will let you put museum-quality works on your wall.
As far as the concept goes, the EO2âs execution is great. Its easy-to-use app lets you pick pieces and even pull together playlists of your favorite art. But its optics are another story. Compared to the competition, the screen seems just a bit too bright for the art to look like the real McCoy. Also, offering only HD video, the videos it displays looked blurry at closer than five feet away. But if youâre only going to display still works, at that price, the EO2 is worth a gander.
The next frame, The Meural Canvas, might be my favorite of the trio. Starting at $595, the 27-inch, 1080p LCD display packs some anti-glare and true black tech that makes its art look so realistic, you want to reach out and touch the brush strokes. But just like in museums, touching the art is frowned upon with the Meural. Controllable and customizable via an Android and iOS compatible app, the frame also has sensors embedded in its matting (a clever touch) so you can change the image or get artist information with a wave of your hand.
With hardware that lets you easily re-orient the frame from landscape to portrait, and easy on the eyes whether itâs leaning against the wall, sitting on a table or propped up on an easel, the Meural looks good even without art on its screen. The version I reviewed was the $695 âlightboxâ edition, which makes the display appear to be floating within its light wooden frame. If you opt for the Meural, Iâd highly recommend upgrading to this setup. It looks crisp, clean, and authentic.
The Ever-Growing Art Bubble
One major knock I have to give this product is its power cord. Boasting a lovely woven fabric cable, Meural is obscuring the facts that: 1. All these gorgeous frames have hideous rat tails, and 2. Meuralâs cord is punctuated with a giant power brick at the end. This is worth noting because if youâre dreaming of hanging your Meural over an electrical outlet to make it look like a real frame, you better have a drywall saw and an electrician handy, because itâs going to take a bit of creative wiring to make that happen. Sure, you could cover the wire with a cable channel, but if youâre spending hundreds on a digital frame to view fine art, you should really pony up the extra money to hide the cord properly. And while electrical outlet access is an issue for all these frames, with the beefiest power supply of the bunch, Meural takes this knock harder than the competition.
Still, in partnering with organizations like the New York Public Library and Pantone to bring curated collections of art to its frames, Meural delights on a daily basis. And with a screen that packs less of a glow than its competition, it looks right at home in my office.
The largest and most expensive display in this roundup, Klio, is a 42-inch, ultra-high definition display with a range of hand-finished frames priced from $999 to $1,499. Large and heavy, itâs designed to be a premium dÃ©cor piece for the home or office. With frame finishes ranging from gold leaf to wood grain, thereâs a Klio that will match any environment.
But at its size, Klio is designed to be the focal point of the room. Its 4K display lets viewers enjoy its art up close or far away, and the image can be changed with either its iOS app, browser interface, or (kind of chintzy) remote control. Its display is glossier than the others, which can be problematic in certain settings. But this might be nit-picking, because itâs really no different than putting framed art on your wall behind a pane of glass.
Connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi, Klio pulls its work from an online art marketplace thatâs currently free to frame owners, but wonât be forever. Sometime next year, the company behind Klio, Art.com, aims to open an Amazon Kindle-like store for art, where digital artists can sell their work directly to consumers. (Itâs worth noting that anything you download before the store opens, you get to keep â so Klio owners, get downloading!)
And while Klio does offer some of the classics, itâs specializing in digitally native art. Crafted for screens, not for canvases, digital art can be everything from animations to GIFs to videos. âDigital art is not new,â says Paul Golding, the director of innovation labs and chief scientist for Art.com. Pointing to popular digital art platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, he says the emerging genre has been difficult to enjoy as home dÃ©cor, but has otherwise been burgeoning. Klio is designed to give users the opportunity to experience these different, newer aesthetics, while not abandoning the old ones.
Speaking subjectively, the digital art displayed on the Klio didnât inspire me as much as the old-school art did. This surprised me, because Iâve fallen into many a daydream staring at mindless Microsoft screensavers. I also found the movement on the screen to be a distraction in my periphery, more than something I wanted to focus on and consider for any stretch of time. The works bundled with the Klio are beautiful and painstakingly made, to be sure, but they arenât for me. Still, Iâm considering them, and thatâs part of the point of Klio, which can also display your own photos.
But one thing I love about Klio is how forward-looking the frame is. With IFTTT integration coming soon and Amazon Alexa compatibility on the horizon, I could easily see making the investment in Klio as I continue to tailor my smart home to my liking.
âA function of art is dÃ©cor,â says Golding, âand dÃ©cor could be described as a mood.â The idea is that digital art and objects can help modulate the mood in your home. So, if you want to feel calm, you can set up a scene via Amazonâs Alexa software that makes your Philips Hue lights a soft amber color, puts some classical piano music on the Echo, and queues up some tranquil imagery on my Klio. Now thatâs an art movement I can get behind.
This story was originally published on TIME.