My SmugMug Digital Photo Frame

digital photo frame

For a few years I’ve had a home-made digital photo frame on the wall in the breakfast room, composed of an 24-inch monitor and a Western Digital media player. I described it in an article I wrote back in 2012 but forgot to blog about.

Recently, as I’ve done a few times already, I uploaded a bunch of vacation photos to SmugMug, and then put the identical photos on a USB stick for the photo frame. Why am I doing this? I asked myself. It would be great if the photo frame just ran off of SmugMug.

But, neither the Western Digital media player nor Apple TV had a browser. That’s what I really wanted. All those media-player features (e.g., Netflix, YouTube) were irrelevant. I had a spare Intel NUC running Linux, but the NUC is too much for photo frame, and I liked having the Linux computer around. I tried a Raspberry Pi, but it was was under-powered.

Then I discovered a Chromebit, essentially ChromeOS on a dongle. That is, a Chromebook without the keyboard, touchpad, or screen. A Chromebox, but much smaller and cheaper ($83 or so).

Perfect! It tucks behind the TV even better that the media player did, and, as it runs ChromeOS, I’m totally familiar with it. I just browsed to SmugMug, started a slideshow, and I was in business. (The photo shows it un-tucked.)


I didn’t want a browser logged into my Google account in such a public place, so I created a new Google account just for the slideshows.

The Chromebit worked OK, but not as well as I would have liked. It seemed that the images didn’t always fill the screen, I couldn’t vary the time as much as I wanted, and I didn’t want all that web traffic, as the photo frame runs all the time. (The browser caches images, but I’m not sure to what extent. Some of my slideshows have over a thousand images.)

So, I took a Chrome App I already had, SmugMugBrowser (in the Chrome Web Store), and added a slideshow feature. As a bonus, it’s much easier to navigate to the show you want than it is on the SmugMug site. It caches the whole show, so the only internet traffic is for the first trip through the slides.

Now all my SmugMug galleries are instantly available to show, not just the few I had on the USB stick. From time-to-time the media player seemed to corrupt sticks, and that’s gone, too.

With a monitor and a Chromebit, you’re not limited to SmugMug, of course. If you have some other site that provides slideshows, you can go there just as well.