Help me play videos on my TV
August 17, 2010 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Downloaded TV shows on my TV, so what's the best device to do this?

I used to have a Samsung LN52B750 LCD TV that had the ability to play (almost) any popular video format (mkv, avi, mpeg, wmv) back from a USB stick.

I download a decent amount of TV shows and my new TV doesn't support this functionality. What's the best device to do this?

It doesn't have to have the streaming capability. I'm more concerned with playback quality and ability to be to controlled by my remote.

-New Tivo
-Some other piece of hardware?

Finally, I would like a device that can fast forward more than 2x (limitation on old Samsung).
posted by jdlugo to Technology (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The PS3 paired with nullriver will allow you to stream avi and wmv files from your computer to your tv.
posted by TheBones at 10:13 AM on August 17, 2010

Like TheBones, I recommend the PS3, pair it with TVVersity and you can stream pretty much anything from your computer (and if you use a usb-stick, it can play many formats just natively).
posted by gkhan at 10:20 AM on August 17, 2010

popcorn hour will stream and play from usb or an internal hard drive.

PS3 will stream, play from burned dvd, or play from FAT32-formatted USB (file size limit: 4GB). It won't play mkvs but virtually all mkvs convert seamlessly to x264 avis in just a few minutes. Its remote is bluetooth so other remotes have difficulty controlling it.

WD has a line of streamer/players.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:20 AM on August 17, 2010

This Phillips DVD player is what I have -- it plays off a USB stick (or any USB device, like an external hard drive), and also plays files off burned DVDs and CD-Rs, and also plays regular DVDs, etc. etc. It's also all-region, capable of playing both PAL and NTSC. I am a huge fan.

(I can't speak to which file formats it supports, though, as I only play DIVX and AVI.)
posted by shamash at 10:21 AM on August 17, 2010

The application Vuze will actually work with PS3 or Xbox 360 for streaming from any Mac, PC, or Linux machine, and both gaming consoles support multiple levels of fast forward/ rewind.

(full disclosure, I've only used Vuze with the PS3, but it works perfectly on that platform, so I would assume that the Xbox support is equally good.)
posted by quin at 10:21 AM on August 17, 2010

Do you have a laptop, and does your TV have inputs that match the laptop outputs? Newer laptops and TVs play together quite nicely, allowing you to play anything on your TV that you see on your computer.

If you lack a laptop or computer you can move, or if your inputs don't match outputs with ease (sometimes the adapters can be pretty costly), a stand-alone media player box like Popcorn Hour could be what you want. (Though it seems that Popcorn Hour changed some things and became Popbox to compete with Roku and the forthcoming BoxeeBox.)

It looks like some models of Popcorn Hour support quite a few things (including Blu-Ray discs), but no Netflix. Roku supports Netflix, but no discs and the USB port seems non-functional (though there are hints at firmware adding support for this port).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2010

I sometimes use TiVo (TiVo HD, not the newest one but not old either) for this; pyTiVo (for Mac, not sure if it's available for PC) will stream almost any kind of file to the TiVo with no extra steps. Mostly, though, I just plug the TV into my laptop as an external display.

Drawbacks to external display plan: hard-to-impossible to use the computer while watching shows (depending on what program you're using to play them); would be a pain in the ass with a desktop unless the TV and computer are very close together.

Drawbacks to TiVo plan: I think you have to have current TiVo service for it to work. Might be more difficult with a PC.
posted by mskyle at 10:41 AM on August 17, 2010

As mentioned briefly above, this guy from WD is your answer. Cheap, works brilliantly, and the Plus line supports Netflix streaming too. Local drives work, networked drives work, and wifi-capable, but you need a separate USB adapter for that.

Really thrilled that it can crank out 1080p, too. Use it to support my tvtorrents habit.
posted by disillusioned at 11:07 AM on August 17, 2010

I have an old Mac Mini under the TV for downloading & playing which I access via Mac Screen Sharing or iTeleport on my iPhone. It's a G4 so I don't have the easier use of the late Intel versions having Front Row & a remote, HDMI out &c.
posted by i_cola at 11:09 AM on August 17, 2010

I have the an older model Western Digital WDTV mentioned above and it works great. It has two usb ports. I have a 1TB drive that is connected to it that I update once a week or so with new stuff I download. I also have a couple of 4gb usb thumbdrives for when I want to watch something right away. It plays everything I throw at it. The newer version can be connected to a network so no transfers needed. The firmware is open so people have done lots of neat things with it. I love my WDTV.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:38 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I roll with a TiVo HD XL (You can use a Premiere, too), and pyTivo. Another option for TiVo is streambaby.

pyTivo will transcode and upload your videos to the TiVo hard drive. Streambaby will play them streamed directly from your computer.
posted by Citrus at 1:58 PM on August 17, 2010

Go with a gaming console if you have one; if you don't already, the XBOX 360 is the most well-rounded (IMO). Repeating others above:

Most .avi and .DIVX files (like, say, bittorrented episodes of Doctor Who) will play straight through most gaming consoles, so if you've got an Xbox 360 or a PS3, just plug 'em in via a USB stick.

Then there are 3rd party Windows apps that will take files from your computer and convert/stream them to a gaming console; PlayOn, TVersity, Vuze, others.

Or you could just hook your computer up to the TV. Used Mac Minis are popular.
posted by bartleby at 2:03 PM on August 17, 2010

We have an extremely cheap CONIA brand DVD player which does AVI and MP4 files very reliably and has a USB port. It cost about $60 (Australian) in Chinatown. It's lasted for years.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:22 PM on August 17, 2010

PS3 Media Server is free and will stream just about anything to your PS3 or Xbox 360 (despite the name of the software it works with both). It does on-the-fly transcoding, so it will handle formats that the consoles normally can't such as .mkv or VIDEO_TS dvd rips. Quality is great and it saves you the hassle of having to copy to external media.

Go with the Xbox 360 if you want to use a universal remote, PS3 doesn't support IR without an adapter.
posted by crosbyh at 4:06 PM on August 19, 2010

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