From the outside, my home might look like a humble Cape Cod, but inside priceless art lines my walls. At the moment, I've got a rotating gallery of some of the most renowned names in painting, like impressionists Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet, and even modern realist Edward Hopper, whose work I've always wanted to hang in my office.
But the collection doesn't end there. There's 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 here's the catch: I only have three frames.
Over the past few weeks, I've 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 don't want to paint these products with a broad brush, but prior to installing them, I didn't 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.
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, it's 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 frame's content is controlled by an accompanying smartphone app. Users can chose from more than 20,000 pieces curated by the EO2's user community. If you want the masterpieces, a $9.99 per month membership to Electric Object's Art Club will let you put museum-quality works on your wall.
As far as the concept goes, the EO2's 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. ( There is an auto-brightness setting, but it’s buried in the app, and not turned on by default.) Also, offering only HD video, the videos it displays looked blurry at closer than five feet away. But if you're 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 it's 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 "lightbox" edition, which makes the display appear to be floating within its light wooden frame. If you opt for the Meural, I'd highly recommend upgrading to this setup. It looks crisp, clean, and authentic.
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. Meural's cord is punctuated with a giant power brick at the end. This is worth noting because if you're 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 it's going to take a bit of creative wiring to make that happen. Sure, you could cover the wire with a cable channel, but if you're 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, it's designed to be a premium décor piece for the home or office. With frame finishes ranging from gold leaf to wood grain, there's 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 it's 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 that's currently free to frame owners, but won't 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. (It's worth noting that anything you download before the store opens, you get to keep – so Klio owners, get downloading!)
And while Klio does offer some of the classics, it's specializing in digitally native art. Crafted for screens, not for canvases, digital art can be everything from animations to GIFs to videos. "Digital art is not new," 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 décor, 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 didn't inspire me as much as the old-school art did. This surprised me, because I've 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 aren't for me. Still, I'm considering them, and that's 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.
"A function of art is décor," says Golding, "and décor could be described as a mood." 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 Amazon's 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 that's an art movement I can get behind.