I can't afford it (and I couldn't get gifs to work on it) but the Meural 'Smart Art' Canvas is still kind of awesome

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Statistically, I probably won’t own a home anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about what I’d do with one.

There’s always a part of me that loves the experience of hanging up art on the walls and that part of me loves what Netgear are offering with their expensive-but-futuristic Meural “Smart Art” displays.

Pitched as a smaller, cheaper, more-dedicated alternative to lifestyle TVs like the Samsung Frame, the Meural Canvas is a smart art frame that lets you mount and display all sorts of things.

The Canvas itself a 1080p IPS display that’s approximately 27-inches in size. Netgear say there’s a proprietary technology here called TrueArt that allows the Canvas to render images in a more “lifelike” and “textured” way than other displays - though what that means exactly is a little and unclear.

Credit: Netgear

Getting close and personal with the Canvas, I couldn’t really tell the difference between it and a regular display. Maybe it’s the kind of thing where you need a side-by-side comparison to really see in action.

There are three main ways to control the Meural Canvas. There’s the Meural app, the Meural website and a set of gesture controls located at the base of the frame. These work in a way that’s not particularly tactile but intuitive nonetheless. You can swipe left and right along the bottom edge of the unit to change the currently-display artwork.

It also supports Amazon Alexa commands. Meural say that additional smart home and assistant integration is likely to come in the future.

In Australia, the Meural Canvas comes bundled with a three year subscription to their premium Meural Membership. This gives you access to a collection of thousands of artworks. Meural say they’re working to give artists about half of the profits they get whenever someone chooses the permanently add that piece to their collection - but weren’t super clear about how the financials break down nor whether there were any notable Australian artists embracing the platform.

There are even select limited artworks that utilise the Canvas’ ability to support video playback by incorporating motion or animation. We saw one of these during our hands-on demo with the product and it seemed really neat.

Unfortunately, that extra dimension of playback isn’t directly accessible to consumers at this time. We weren’t even able to get it to play gifs (though we did get it to show off some pretty good memes).

Update: Netgear has since reached out with some additional information on this. They insist that the Meural does support images, videos, GIF art and cinemagraphs in the following formats: jpg, jpeg, png, bmp, svg, gif, mp4, mov. Unfortunately, we're still waiting on an answer regarding why that support didn't seem to be there when we had our hands-on session with the product.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Of course, there are a few caveats.

To begin with, there’s the cost. Mueral’s smart art displays look great but at a starting price of AU$1199, they’re far from an impulse purchase. American buyers can actually purchase the Canvas for about US$599 (though they don’t get the bundled Meural Membership subscription) - so it seems like the Australian tax has levied a heavy toll here.

The other caveat is the cable. Where Samsung’s Frame relies on the tech giant’s slick and innocuous One Connect Cable, the Meural Canvas we saw rocked a very noticeable black plastic one - which hurt the appeal. We were told that the shipping units would offer a more discrete threaded solution and that a special stand that concealed the power cable would also be available - but it’s still clear this is a bit of a drawback. It's enough of a problem that you'll notice that the cable has been seemingly 'shopped out of every product photo you can find.

There’s also the power issue. Running a secondary display 24/7 in your house is inevitably going to rack up a bill of some sort and it wasn’t super clear what that would look like. Potentially, the ability to fold it into an Alexa routine or schedule it using the app might help alleviate this issue - but it still feels like an aspect of the product that requires some fine tuning.

Still, honestly, I really do dig the Meural Canvas. I’d love to own one. Hell, I’d love to own more than one. Cabling and power management irks aside, it looks like a really slick and the notion of having a bunch of picture frames I can swap out around my house is a really appealing one.

And as someone who loves to host a good shindig, my mind is already abuzz with the kind of ridiculous and interesting possibilities the Canvas presents. Even if you're not an art aficionado, I feel like you could have a lot of fun with a product like this.

I could never afford it but Meural’s Smart Art Canvas is kind of awesome.

If you can afford it (and you feel just as excited as I am), you can find the Leonora (Black) version of the Canvas for an RRP of $1199. The Winslow (Walnut) version of the Meural Canvas is priced slightly higher at an RRP of $1299. You can find out more about the Meural Canvas through the Netgear website here. It'll be available from late April/early May at select Harvey Norman stores.

Credit: Netgear

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