Hard drive connection to my HDTV?
November 28, 2009 6:30 PM   Subscribe

In the market for an HDTV, but what should I know beforehand to ensure that I can connect it to a separate hard drive and watch videos already stored on the drive?

I have quite a few videos backed up on my hard drive (Intel iMac), and I want to find out the most painless way to watch those videos on an HDTV. Most are standard quality, and a few are high-def videos I'd like to play at the native 720 or 1080 on the TV.

The TV and computer are in separate rooms, so my idea is to either use the external hard drive I have now (about 300 gig capacity), and unplug the thing, walk it over to the TV and connect it. Not very elegant, but I wouldn't be doing this much. Also, memory is getting cheaper and cheaper, so I'm fine with buying another separate hard drive for this; in fact, that's probably the best idea.

Past that, I don't know...anything. Are there multiple kinds of cables I could connect the hard drive to the TV? Is just a USB port an option? What kind of connection is necessary there? Is this what HDMI is for? Firewire?

And if/when I get the hard drive connected, what kind of interface would be available to "talk" to the TV? I'm guessing this depends on model and brand. It seems that lots of people use XBox 360s for this, or maybe Apple TV or an Apple Mini....would these be good purchases for this plan?

So what are the key things I need to know to get this to work?
posted by zardoz to Technology (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There may be TVs that do this, but more likely you need a box like a WDTV, WDTV Live, ASUS OPlay, Popcorn Hour, or any of a number of competitors' boxes. The generic term seems to be "HD media player"
posted by fings at 7:19 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Western Digital has a line of media players which would seem to be right up your alley. WD TV Live is $120 on Amazon and offers 1080p output and supports just about every format you'll encounter.

In my living room, I have a first-gen PlayStation 3 with approx. 2 terabytes of external USB storage which is all kinds of greatness, but that comes with a steeper price tag and it doesn't support Matroska (.mkv) files, the "scene" standard for HD content. However, transcoding to h.264 is a breeze.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:21 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: odinsdream--preferably, any and all kinds of files. And I want to use a remote if possible, but like I said, my computer will be in another room.
posted by zardoz at 8:00 PM on November 28, 2009

I got one of the ASUS O!Play boxes for my kitchen. Browses the local network fine, ethernet and power in, HMDI Out. Couldn't be simpler. Cost about 100USD.
posted by mikelieman at 9:17 PM on November 28, 2009

Some TVs do natively understand audio and video codecs and will play them sans external players. I just returned from my parents house and their new Samsung TV happily excepted a flash drive that I plugged in. It was able to do photo slideshows, play music and show videos and it was all controlled via the remote that came with the television. Granted it didn't understand every video file I had on the flash drive but I was impressed nonetheless.
posted by mmascolino at 9:20 PM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: If you would utilize any of the additional functionality it would provide, I would suggest an Xbox 360 for this. It's painless to play media from a connected hard drive or thumbdrive, and with the right software, you could stream your videos, music and photos right from your iMac. In addition to this, you can view Netflix streaming (if you don't mind paying extra for an Xbox Live Gold account), plus games. It's also pretty easy to train a universal remote (Logitech Harmony, etc.) to work with it if you feel so inclined.

I use this setup with my HDTV and I'm very happy with it.
posted by crosbyh at 10:02 PM on November 28, 2009

The Samsung I just bought not only will play video off a USB drive, but also has the ability to be put on the network as a renderer (or maybe player can't remember) for DLNA. You can even buy a USB wireless adapter like you can with the Xbox360.

it supports WMV, DivX, Xvid, H.264, MPEG 1,2, and 4 in a variety of containers. Unlike crosbyh, I have had lots of issues using my Xbox360 for this kind of thing; being Microsoft they make it a point to only support their own formats. If you have stuff in other formats you have to transcode or repackag, even if you have Windows Media Center.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:09 PM on November 28, 2009

my idea is to either use the external hard drive I have now (about 300 gig capacity), and unplug the thing, walk it over to the TV and connect it.

The WDTV linked above is great for this, and works exactly that way.

I bought one for a family member in the same situation, downloading things on the PC and occasionally wanting to watch them on the TV, and it worked perfectly. Having the "playing" solution decoupled from the "storage" part is also nice because if you run out of room, just add more. In addition to accepting USB hard disks, a USB thumb drive also works a quick solution for just watching a couple of movies at a time. Copy, watch, delete.
posted by rokusan at 11:59 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The best match for you, if you don't mind spending the cash, is a mac mini. It will read all the files your imac can, and you can use Plex (based on xmbc) as a frontend, and an apple remote for a seamless experience. Add in the fact that you have a machine that can be used fulltime for torernting / newzgroups, and you can have a hefty media setup if your conscience allows.
posted by CharlesV42 at 10:45 AM on November 29, 2009

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