Meural Canvas II review: If you can’t go to the art museum, bring the art museum to you

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Meural Canvas II review: If you can’t go to the art museum, bring the art museum to you

Even when travel restrictions are relaxed, and social distancing becomes less critical, many of us will remain reluctant to travel long distances to visit the world’s great art museums. Install the Meural Canvas II in your home, and you can bring many of the world’s great art museums right into your home.

Available in two sizes—16×14 inches ($400 and up, depending on finish and accessories) and 19×29 inches ($600 and up)—the Meural Canvas II (I’ll just refer to it as the Meural from here) is essentially a digital picture frame. But it’s nothing like the cheap tabletop photo frames introduced in the 1990s. The Meural consists of an AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle) LCD display panel capable of displaying 16.7 million colors at a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. AHVA is great for off-axis viewing, and in that respect it is similar, if not superior, to LG’s IPS and Samsung’s PLS display technologies. In addition to that, the Meural glass is treated with an anti-glare coating that prevents reflections from detracting from the art.

From a pixels-per-inch perspective, 1920×1080 resolution might not seem that impressive, but the paintings, photographs, and animations I displayed on the Meural Canvas II looked fantastic—to the point where I could discern the brushstrokes in some paintings, particularly in the works of the Impressionists. Deep black levels result in excellent contrast between light and dark areas of paintings, photographs, and photos of sculptures. And since you own the display, you can give any image closer inspection than any museum would be comfortable with if you were examining the original. I won’t go so far as to say the experience equals standing in front of the original works, but it is certainly the next best thing.

meural 1 Meural/Netgear

The Meural Canvas, a digital smart frame for displaying fine art, is available in two sizes (we reviewed the smaller 16×14-inch model).

More specs and features

Both frames are available in either black or white painted plastic, or dark or light stained wood, with a 1.75-inch plastic matte surrounding the display itself. (This review is based on the 16×24-inch model with a light stained wood finish.) Each one is outfitted with a 1.8GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A17 processors, 2GB of DDR3 memory, and 8GB of onboard storage. Networking heavyweight Netgear acquired Meural the company in 2018, and these products are outfitted with dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (2.4-/5GHz 802.11ac) adapters, plus Bluetooth 4.1 radios for initial setup. There’s also an ethernet port on the back of the panel.

The Meural requires electricity to operate, so the biggest drawback to the frame is its dependence on a chunky (roughly 3×2 inches) wall wart. The eight-foot cord that delivers power to the frame is wrapped in an attractive fabric, but the only way to get around having an ugly string hanging down the wall from your beautiful art is to build a recessed electrical box in the wall behind the frame (the back of the frame isn’t deep enough to hide the adapter should you already have an outlet in the middle of the wall).

That’s something most people would hire an electrician to do, although there is one means of ditching the adapter: The aforementioned ethernet port supports Power over ethernet (PoE). While that low-voltage solution is a relatively easy DIY project (provided you have a switch that supports PoE), you’ll still need to cut a hole in your wall. And once you’ve done that, you’re not going to want to move the frame to any other location.

meural canvas ethernet port Michael Brown / IDG

The Meural Canvas II’s ethernet port supports Power over ethernet (PoE), which would eliminate the need for its chunky power adapter (and bringing power to it using that low-voltage tech wouldn’t necessarily require you to hire an electrician).

The frame comes with a mounting cleat with a built-in bubble level, along with two hollow-wall anchors that I’m not entirely sure I’d trust to support its substantial weight (15.49 or 19.74 pounds respectively). If you’d prefer, you can set the Meural on an easel or a tabletop and lean it against the wall (a small non-slip pad is provided for this purpose).

The Meural can be oriented either horizontally (landscape) or vertically (portrait), and you can switch between the two modes either by lifting it off the cleat or picking it up off whatever surface it’s resting on. When you do this, you’ll need to take care that you don’t inadvertently touch the on/off switch that’s on one side of the frame. An optional rotating mount is also available for $50, and I would heartily recommend buying it if you think you’ll change its orientation often—dropping the frame while trying to rehang it on the cleat would be a tragedy. The Meural app can be set so that the frame only displays art that’s in the correct orientation for the frame: Images in portrait mode won’t be shown if the frame is in landscape mode and vice versa. Defeat this setting and you’ll see all the images in a playlist, but some of them might be unpleasantly cropped.

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