How to play video from USB source on TV
May 21, 2018 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Looking for high-tech solutions in a low-tech, small space, remote environment. Details inside.

Similar question to this but 8 years later and with a few snowflakes.

The goal is to have movie etc-watching capability with as few devices and remotes as possible. The environment is a "lake house" cabin, cottage or whatever your local terminology is (Muskoka, Canada here if that matters). No satellite or cable, no wifi.

Historically I have played video via DVD player or laptop through HDMI. However space is limited and would prefer a standalone solution and not have DVD or laptop taking up space and have to control through that -- hoping there is a "one device" solution.

I got a new TV (Sharp LC-32LB480U if it matters)with USB input with the idea being I would load a drive at home and bring it to cottage. However it seems at least the vast majority of TVs support .jpg only and NOT .mp4, AVI etc.

So, specific questions:

1. Do TVs exist with the software to play video file formats straight from USB? If not out of the box is it possible a firmware update/lifehack exists to correct?

2. It seems there are "media players" for around $50 with USB input and HDMI output. Is this my best solution? Not sure if TV would recognise it and if it did, could I navigate menu using TV remote?

3. I'm a rookie when it comes to Android or Fire TV etc. Given my location what are the odds I would get a signal for anything for live TV?
posted by raider to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A Raspberry Pi might be a solution. Some hardware/software assembly is required, but it certainly is inexpensive.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2018

Our bog-standard 2016 Samsung dumb TV plays H.264 off USB pretty well, unless there's errors with the datastream. I'm used to VLC rolling with them for the past 15 years or so, so it was a bit of a bother to skip to a point it doesn't, but that happened maybe a handful of times over dozens of files.

If space is a problem, you can use a VESA mount to hide a small media player to the back of the TV. If the TV allows, some can draw power from the USB port and connect to HDMI, making it almost seamless. I don't think you can use the TV remote, but I saw some TVs that also had a secondary function like a universal remote to operate secondary equipment, like audio units.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:31 PM on May 21, 2018

Best answer: TV software is notoriously awful. Your TV may or may not be able to recognize any particular media format, but assuming that it is a "smart" TV (is it?) your best bet is to experiment on the specific model you will be using, after applying any available software updates. I've had TVs work fine with USB folders containing m4v files but fail on some mp4 files. If your TV has a USB input, I bet this would work.

However, in general, I find TV software aggravating. My strong recommendation is to treat the TV as just a screen that is used to view a single HDMI input. Set the TV on that input, take out the TV remote batteries, and put it away.

For the HDMI input, I prefer an Apple TV but your best bet is probably a Roku device with an USB input, even if you don't have any network connectivity. For example, the Roku Ultra is currently about $90, or less refurb - and it has a built in Media Player app that does fine with playing files off of attached USB sticks. (Or you can attach larger portable drives via USB too.) And as long as your TV supports the basic HDMI control standard (HDMI CEC, some other equivalent name for Samsung), the Roku remote will work to turn on/off both the TV and device, as well as controlling volume.

After that, if you do add WiFi or other network connectivity, the Roku allows all sorts of streaming services etc. I was quite happy with our Roku device. (Switched to Apple TV because of other reasons - the software has more polish, among other things - but that doesn't matter for the most basic stuff.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've had trouble playing MKV files with my Roku 3. It recognizes the video codec just fine, but chokes on a lot of audio codecs and just doesn't play audio. Here is there list of supported formats. Otherwise, I've been really happy with my Roku, especially being able to plug headphones into the remote!
posted by sacrifix at 3:13 PM on May 21, 2018

Best answer: To answer your questions:

1. Yes, there are TVs that will play USB video out of the box. I have an 8 year old Samsung TV that can handle this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s a way to hack your specific television to play video directly. My guess is they left out some hardware/software combo to save money on manufacture. If replacing your TV is an option, VIZIO has a reputation as a cheap brand with good reviews. Just make sure you research capabilities fully before buying.

2. The media players you speak of will work are usually Android-based and your TV should recognize them, though they can be a bit fiddly to set up and odds are your TV remote won’t control them. As for the inverse, you might be able to control the power and volume from the media box remote. You just have to pore through the documentation to see if this works. A Roku player with USB input is available for about $90 online, and would be easier to set up, though I don’t think you can do the unified remote thing.

3. Regular TV reception is possible. Here's a site that has maps showing where you can get antenna reception based on location, and here’s an article in the Muskoka Region newspaper from a few years back on the subject. Looking at a map, Muskoka is south of Parry Sound, so you might be in luck. Your best bet would be to talk to your neighbors there to see if they get over the air reception, or if you have an antenna with a coax connection take it with you to try it out for yourself.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:35 PM on May 21, 2018

Where are you getting the videos from? I got the cheapest Roku, connected it with my Netflix account, and watch that. It also has built in Amazon, Hulu and Sling capability. If you don't want to take your laptop with you and using Roku doesn't appeal to you, you could use a Chromecast and stream to it from your phone - maybe you can just load the videos onto your phone instead of a USB stick.

I think you have a lot of options and it will come down to determining the one that's best/easiest/cheapest for you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:18 PM on May 21, 2018

Maybe OSMC, recommended in this thread.

Disclaimer: I don't use it but if it's anything like Rockbox (a free software firmware replacement for a large number of digital audio players that is ridiculously better than those devices' native firmware in functionality and ease of use) then it's the perfect solution.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:28 PM on May 21, 2018

I would by something like a Micca speck for $40 if you dont need streaming. Those media players play anything without hassle.
posted by andrewzipp at 6:16 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Samsung Blu-Ray players with a USB connection have played most .mkv's on a flash drive I've thrown at them.
posted by kuanes at 5:13 AM on May 22, 2018

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