Can a tv or monitor be used to watch video from a USB stick?
September 21, 2022 8:52 AM   Subscribe

My father in the Alaska bush has no internet connection, no computer, no interest in traditional TV (or cable or streaming tv), but does have USB sticks with video content he'd like to watch on a large screen.

He has no technical skills or interest in learning them. My vision is to get him some kind of TV screen or monitor (24" or so, so not a laptop or similar-sized device), into which he could insert a USB stick and a menu would pop up with the contents of the stick. He'd use arrows or a remote to select content from the stick, click OK, and watch the content. Bonus points if he could also read text files or listen to music via USB stick, but this is less critical.

Does something like this exist? What search terms should I be using?
posted by QuakerMel to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
You can do this, but different brands are persnickety to different degrees on which formats they will support. You'd have to confer with your dad on what format of movies he has then dive into each potential tv and see if they support it.

Or--and this is what I would do--you could look for a cheap multimedia player that can play a boatload of formats and has an HDMI output he could connect to just about any modern tv. Back in the day, I used WD TV Live units, but I think those are dated and expensive now, and may not support 4K. This one on Amazon looks reasonably solid. Though, if your dad is like my parents and in-laws, you'd want to ship it to your place and become very familiar with it before you sent it to the parental unit, since you're going to be a) held responsible if it doesn't work as advertised and b) drafted as tech support if he has issues.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:59 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]

Almost all TVs can do this at this point, but it will take a little navigation to get to the right menu. I would point to TCL Roku based TVs as both easy to use and good bang for the buck. Here's how to view USB content on them.

Is space a serious constraint? The biggest problem you'll find is getting something decent that's only 24". At 34" you'll have a ton of good choices.
posted by Candleman at 9:01 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]

Yes. Probably many or most smart TVs have this. Look under the specifications to see if a USB port is included. This Samsung TV for example.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:01 AM on September 21

There are smart TVs that can read certain files on USB sticks. You would search TV with DVD port.

DVD players often have USB ports too (I have one). Then you could get a cheap TV hook up the DVD player and he’d be set. Search DVD player with USB port.
posted by miles1972 at 9:01 AM on September 21

I have a tv that is only 4 years old that cannot play videos from USB (only display pictures), but all my newer ones can.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:25 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

We just bought our parents a new, small Samsung TV. That was one of the features we looked for. It does a really good job of playing all sorts of file types, but the interface menu is bad. Too many clicks that aren't intuitive. To many buttons (directional arrows) to push. It's not a well-designed process.

Their previous CRT TV was hooked into a DVD player that accepted a USB stick. It was an older model and had issues with certain file types, but the interface was easier for them to use. Not easy-easy, but better than the TV.

Maybe if he's good about following instructions, and you can print out an illustrated, step-by-step guide for the process, that would be a good approach.

Also, in case he's anything like our parents, pay attention to the audio on the TV. They don't have room for a speaker bar, so getting good clear spoken audio (like news programming) that's loud enough was the top requirement (after a sharp picture that didn't pixelate or blurringly smooth faces--seriously when you're buying TVs try to watch talking heads and you'll see what I mean). Even with the Samsung, I had to go into the settings and overcrank the audio so the volume is loud enough for spoken-word broadcasts. (Note, it sounds a bit hissy when overcranked, but that doesn't seem to bother them too much.) When USB-videos are playing, the volume has to go WAY down.
posted by sardonyx at 9:46 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I just had one more thought: what might make the interface easier is only inserting the USB stick when he's ready to watch the videos. Then the USB interface pops up and you can skip a few steps. Leaving it plugged in is easier in that you don't have to go fumbling behind the back of the TV, but it makes the menu-selection easier.
posted by sardonyx at 9:49 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Leaving it plugged in is easier in that you don't have to go fumbling behind the back of the TV

A USB extension cord could be a big help here - much less fumbly!
posted by mskyle at 10:12 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]

I have hundreds of movies across 3 external hard drives. I was actually disappointed when I moved up to a smart tv in 2018 to find it was much more picky about file formats. My old tv from 2012 (exact same Samsung model, just not 'smart') would play 90-95% of them. The smart tv is more of a 50/50 gamble.

These days I just keep an old laptop connected via HDMI. Little annoying having the extra device but at least I know VLC will play anything I throw at it.
posted by mannequito at 11:52 AM on September 21

My Sony TV from around 2018 can play movies off a USB stick. You need to be a bit careful about codecs. It also can play stuff off the local network as long as it supports the codec too. I am not sure about playing music.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:36 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

The ONN 24" Roku TV (Walmart, also saw on Amazon) has a USB port. You can set the Roku TV to auto start the Roku Media Player app when a USB stick is inserted. The Media Player is kind of clunky, interface-wise, being a folders/file browsing thing but should do what you want.
posted by TimHare at 4:32 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

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