A TCL TV displaying "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte"
Josh Hendrickson

Samsung’s Frame TV is beautiful and expensive. When it’s not in use, it displays works of art. But if you have smart TV already, you can accomplish something similar with an app or Chromecast. Here’s how.

Of course, your TV will use more power if it’s displaying images instead of powered off. That’s the point of Samsung’s Frame TV, too: Rather than showing an empty black screen or a garish home screen, you can display art or photos instead. Whether it’s a Roku, Chromecast, or Fire TV, you can approximate the Frame TV experience.

Choosing Your Images

An image of the Milky Way, taken by NASA telescopes
This image works well on TVs, thanks to its wide aspect ratio. NASA

Before you continue, think about what you want to show on your TV. Some of the solutions below offer built-in art gallery modes that will automatically provide beautiful art for you, so you won’t have to fuss over images.

If you’re using your own photos, remember that selfies, photos you’ve taken in portrait orientation, and old film shots you digitized with a scanner likely wouldn’t look good blown up to your 40+ inch horizontal TV.

But if you’re confident you have plenty of horizontally orientated images taken at high resolution, you should go through them and choose the best of the bunch. If you’re using a Chromecast, you’ll load your photos to Google Photos. For FireTVs you’ll upload to Amazon Photos. Roku TVs can use either images from your phone or Google Photos. And Apple TVs use iCloud storage for their screensavers.  Regardless of the platform, we recommend creating a dedicated album named “TV slideshow” so you can easily remember and find it.

Just keep in mind any storage limits you may face when loading high-resolution images to Google Photos, iCloud photos, and Amazon Photos. Google Photos offers unlimited storage for photos if you let it reduce the size of the picture. If you want full resolution, you only have 16 GBs for free. Amazon Photos gives Prime subscribers unlimited storage space, and everyone else 5 GB’s of space. iCloud offers five GBs of free space and charges $1 a month for 50 GBs of space.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the Art Institution of Chicago, which hosts high-resolution images of famous artwork, or you could use images from NASA. Family photos that fit everyone in the frame will most likely work well too.

How to Display Images with Roku

Roku screensaver settings dialog, with PhotoView selected.

We think Roku is one of your best options for a Smart TV. If you have one, you can easily display Google Photo albums on your TV, and even set up a screensaver effect to start the album slideshow after a period of activity.

You have two options with most Roku TVs: Choose photos from your phone, or install the Photo View channel.

If you want to use photos on your phone, open the Roku iOS or Android app, and tap on the Photos+ option at the bottom of the screen.

Roku app with box around Photos+ option.

Choose the screensaver option, then the album you created with the photos you’d like to display. Once you’ve selected the images you want the screensaver to show, you should start seeing them appear on the screen right away. The downside is, you’ll have to update this group of photos manually with the Roku app whenever you want to make changes.

Alternatively, you could use Google Photos to power your Roku screensaver. The benefit is, you can change out what photos display from any computer, tablet, or phone. All you have to do is add or remove photos from the connected album.

To display a Google Photo album screensaver, you will need to install the Photo View channel. Open it, and follow the prompts to sign in with your Google account (through the sign in with Google feature).

Once you have Photo View installed, you can choose an album to pull images from, set Photo View as Roku’s screen saver, and even adjust the amount of time before the screensaver starts, all from Roku’s settings. Go to Settings > ScreenSaver > Change Screensaver. Then pick the PhotoView option. Settings > ScreenSaver > Change wait time let you change the amount of time before a screensaver starts, doublecheck that it’s not disabled.

Roku screensaver time settings dialog, with 5 minutes selected.

We recommend you create a dedicated album in Google Photos, and load either images of artwork you like or some of NASA’s amazing still shots of space. In any case, you should curate an album specifically for your TV. Portrait orientated photos, selfies, and so on likely won’t display very nicely on a large television. Family photos, on the other hand, can work well provided they are oriented horizontally.

How to Display Images with FireTV

FireTV Display & Sounds settings dialog.

Amazon’s FireTV doesn’t have access to Google Photos, unfortunately. But it does have its own easy to use options. If you like the idea of photos of nature displaying on your television, Amazon already has everything you need in place. All you need to do is turn on the screensaver option and accept all defaults.

But if you want more control, and would rather make your own custom album of artwork or family photos, you just need to download the Amazon Photos iOS or Android app. Or sign in on the web.  Amazon Photos offers unlimited storage for Prime users or 5 GB’s of space for everyone else.

Once you log in, upload the photos you prefer and create a folder for them. On your FireTV, go to screen saver settings and change the source to your album. Customize any other settings you want, such as timing, and you’re all ready to enjoy art on your TV.

How to Display Images with Chromecast

Google Home Ambient Mode settings, with Google Photos selected.

Chromecast may be the easiest option if you want to display art—and it’s relatively easy to customize with photos as well. Chromecast’s screensaver feature works exactly like the Google Nest Hub’s ambient screen (formerly known as Google Home Hub) and uses the same controls.

To display art, open the Google Home app and find your Chromecast device. Tap on it, tap Ambient mode, tap Art Gallery, and then you’re done.

If you would rather display family photos or images you’ve taken, you’ll want to load them to a specific gallery in Google Photos. Then choose that Google Photos Album in the Ambient settings.

Regardless of the method you use, displaying art or photos on your TV will only look good if your TV is up to the task and the images you choose look great in large formats. As long as you have those two aspects covered, any method you choose should lead to great results.

How to Display Photos with Apple TV

If you have an Apple TV, you’re in luck as the device natively supports screensavers created from your iCloud photos.

Once your photos are in iCloud, you’ll want to turn on iCloud integration in your Apple TV’s settings options. When you turn iCloud on, it will ask if you’d like to turn on Photo Stream and use that as a screensaver. You can choose yes, but if you made a specific album as we suggested above, then you’ll want to choose not to use Photo Stream as a screensaver.

Instead, you’ll go to the screen saver options in your Apple TV’s settings dialog, choose Photos, and then iCloud. Here, you’ll be given a choice of what album to use.

Using USB or Plex

Plex Interface on Screensaver options.

Many smart TV platforms have USB ports or Plex apps you can use to display screensavers with. You’ll need to load up your photos to either a USB drive or to your Plex server, and then add them as an option for a screensaver.

If your main interface is your Plex server, then you’ll want to set up a personal album to set as a screensaver. But depending on the smart TV, you may need to go into the TV’s screensaver settings and find an option to use either USB or Plex as the source of the photos.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code.
Read Full Bio »