The most convenient way to play ripped or downloaded video on my TV?
January 8, 2016 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Simple question, right? But wait, there's more... In terms of convenience and family life, this is what's worked best for me in the past. Get a device (Samsung Blu-Ray player, e.g.) that plays all formats. Plug a hard drive or flash drive into device's USB port. HDMI cable to TV. Watch videos! The devil is always in the details.

Macrovision - As I understand it, all DVD / Blu-Ray players in the US are now unable to play Macrovision protected movies from a copy. My understanding is also that this only applies to DVD / Blu-Ray players, not to other devices. I really, really want to rip movies, place them on a hard drive and browse them from the comfort of my bed. Because at 10pm, I am very lazy. I don't want to get up because I am an Ugly American. Formats - I want something that plays virtually every format I throw at it. Because, I am an Ugly American. Power - I want something that has enough USB power to run an external hard drive. Why? Because I already own one with a ton of video. because I am an ugly american Server - I don't, don't, don't want to run a media server. I've done this in the past, and between the software updates and running Windows 24-7, I just don't to deal with it. yep, ugly american. So, what is the best, simple gadget with a USB port that I can plug into my TV that will play anything I throw at it?
posted by nedpwolf to Technology (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you could find somewhere a prebuilt Raspberry Pi with RASBMC, that would probably work. Building one yourself would probably violate your "simple" requirement.
posted by czytm at 11:13 AM on January 8, 2016

The Wirecutter recommends the NVIDIA Shield for what you're hoping to do.
posted by General Malaise at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2016

I mean, you don't want to run a media server and all, but Plex Media Server plus a Chromecast will do this for you, dead simple (and free, minus $35 for the Chromecast).

Chromecast can receive feeds cast from any Windows / Mac / iOS / Android apps that support it.

The Plex client app (Android / iOS) (along with many other streaming apps) supports it.

And Plex Media Server can run on Windows / Mac / Linux. So, no 24/7 Windows. And, it'll transcode practically anything to anything else on the fly, if necessary (though this can require some CPU power; lower CPU requirements if your media starts in a format the receiving device supports natively).
posted by tocts at 11:19 AM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure what your issue with Macrovision is; if you rip the DVD (that you own) with something like Handbrake or something along those lines, shouldn't have any of the Macrovision whatnot that might be on there. You just need to make sure it's in a video format (H.264, etc.) that the actual player itself can deal with. What happened the last time you tried it?

One thing you might want to consider is something like this QNap 4-bay NAS (also available in 2-bay). It's essentially an external drive with intelligence. You can hook it up via USB, but the idea is you hook it into your network, and then you can get at it from anywhere (so you don't have to move the drive around to your PC to add more media to it - it'll show up on your computer via the network). You can plug your existing HDD into it and have it pull your existing stuff off of it. It'll do whatever transcoding is necessary, and it supports AirPlay, Plex and DLNA so pretty much whatever actual device (Apple TV, Chromecast, smart TV what supports DLNA) will be able to see it and access the video content you have on it. The thing's even got a straight up HDMI port on it - you can just hook it into the TV permanently. The main drawback is that it's kinda expensive as you have to buy the unit itself and then hard drives to go in it. More setup initially, then you don't really have to monkey with it other than adding new content. (I linked to the QNap one as that was the last one I saw with those capabilities that seemed pretty decent; there may be something else along those lines that's maybe somewhat cheaper.)

Additionally, Roku boxes starting at the Roku 2 on up all have USB ports and will play video in H.264 format. The drawback there is that's the only format they support (well, it and a couple variations on such) so if you have media in other formats it'll need to be transcoded.
posted by mrg at 12:07 PM on January 8, 2016

Just build/buy a small computer with a Blu-Ray drive and plug it into the tv. You're never going to find a device that's as good as VLC at playing every file format.
posted by gregr at 12:31 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

3rding Plex plus Roku. It "just worked" for music, video, everything I threw t it.
posted by COD at 12:46 PM on January 8, 2016

I have to admit, like everyone else I now have a Plex media server + Roku.

But I used to have a WD TV media player, and I think that that's exactly what you're looking for. $60 refurbished on Amazon, and it can play almost everything off a USB hard drive right to your TV over HDMI. "Like VLC for your TV."

And it's dead simple -- one of this 'setting up a raspberry pi' or 'setting up a 4 bay nas' nonsense. You just plug in the USB hard drive, plug in the HDMI cable, and turn it on. Done.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:00 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use Chromecast with the free chrome plugin Videostream.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:16 PM on January 8, 2016

I use Chromecast and the ES File Explorer / video player; although I find that if I'm downloading videos off the internet, I have to recompress some in order to get them to play smoothly. But, once you get the Chromecast, and you have an android-based machine, there's a bunch of different ways to play video on the Chromecast to your TV.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:35 PM on January 8, 2016

Nthing Plex. I'm running a super cheap Ubuntu system with a couple terabytes of storage and a Roku, and it Just Works. Use Samba to map windows drive shares onto the box, and you can drag media from anywhere onto the server, and plex will index it and put a shiny frontend on it for you in minutes.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:48 PM on January 8, 2016

As I understand it, all DVD / Blu-Ray players in the US are now unable to play Macrovision protected movies from a copy. My understanding is also that this only applies to DVD / Blu-Ray players, not to other devices.

On DVDs, at least, Macrovision is just a setting on the video stream that can be turned off. Any decent DVD copying software should be disabling it as a matter of course. I'm pretty sure this also the case with Blu-Ray.

(I use Plex too, and I'm pretty happy with it.)
posted by neckro23 at 2:02 PM on January 8, 2016

We keep the media on a NAS (cheap synology 2-bay) and watch them through Kodi on a lightweight (i3/750ti) gaming box hooked to the tv. The NAS doesn't run a media server or anything like that; it's just where the files sit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:49 PM on January 8, 2016

Chromecast + Plex. Streams from a PC media server (with the files on a NAS becasue I can just keep throwing more drives at it). Rock solid.

Plex, in particular, just keeps getting better. It can handle anything. No worries about formats, resolutions or encodings. It silently and painlessly handles everything.
posted by bonehead at 3:06 PM on January 8, 2016

Try this Micca gadget?
posted by mhh5 at 4:28 PM on January 8, 2016

I also have a WDTV and agree that they do exactly what you describe as your requirements, ie plug in a USB drive & play most formats which is also what I use it for. I have a lot of video files from diffferent sources and it plays them all. Ripped dvds, downloads from youtube etc
It also works well as a networked drive.
The internet streaming features don't work well so don't work well so don't plan on using it for that.
I also don't use the media library feature, just use the drive folder organization.
posted by canoehead at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2016

Nthing WDTV. I tried Plex when my WDTV started locking up and really - I work in software, but found it way complicated for what I needed it to do.

The WDTV I have has a freezing problem on the latest firmware, so I downgraded, good as new. We have 3 WDTVs in our house and 3 Chromecasts (for Netflix/Youtube/etc).
posted by getawaysticks at 12:06 PM on January 10, 2016

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