DIGITAL photo frames used to be the go-to solution at Christmas for relatives with few technical skills who nevertheless wanted to be able to see the latest pictures of their extended family.
There are still plenty of those around, at various sizes and resolutions, and all can be pre-loaded before being gift-wrapped with an album of images on an SD card, which then display in rotation whenever someone presses the On button.
But given the advances in technology of late, an ornament on the mantlepiece might just as well be an antique. A big-screen TV can display photos in far better quality than a frame ever could - and if you set it up right, it can animate and update them as well.
For £30 or less, you can gift a streaming stick next week that will, for a recipient with a smartphone and a reasonably up-to-date TV, transform the day-to-day viewing of family pictures and videos.
The basic version of Google’s Chromecast, which is reduced during offer periods to £19, is perhaps the most seamless way of viewing pictures, especially for relatives with an Android phone, given its tight integration with the company’s photo sharing platform.
The Chromecast requires only a spare HDMI socket on the back of the TV set to work. There is no remote control - you use your phone instead, by finding what you want on the handset and then beaming the output to the big screen.
In this way, your family members can bring up the Google Photos app on their phone and see on the TV the latest pictures that have been shared with them. This includes videos and automatically-generated collages and animations.
If a voice-activated Google Home device has also been installed, they can bypass the phone and speak directly to the TV. The command, “OK Google, show me Google Photos” is all they need say. Of course, it does depend on how comfortable they are talking out loud to an inanimate object. In less enlightened times, people were locked up for less.
The Chromecast, which is primarily a video receiver for the likes of Netflix and the BBC iPlayer, is by no means the only way of viewing pictures on a TV. Amazon’s Kindle Fire stick, which costs £25 including a remote control, will also work, though it lacks the same integration with Google Photos.
And although this is gift giving time, you might be able to turn an existing Smart TV into a part-time photo frame at no cost at all. Recent Samsung models, for instance, can use a companion app to display what is on the screen of a phone - and nearly any smart set can access Google collection on its built-in web browser.
For the music lovers in your family, the £30 audio version of Chromecast also makes a switched-on present. This little dongle plugs into an amplifier instead of a TV and allows audio stored on a phone or a cloud service such as Spotify to be streamed to the best speakers in the house. Spotify itself is a credible Christmas present these days - the service with adverts is free, but for £15 a month you can have a family account that lets up to five people listen offline to their heart’s content.
Given that Spotify’s library is pretty much unlimited, you might even be able to persuade someone to finally pension off the old CD player this Christmas. There will be a space in a cupboard somewhere - next to those old photo frames.