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Connecting your hard drive to your smart TV

Written by Christo van Gemert

OK, so you’ve got yourself one of them newfangled smart TVs. It’s got a remote and HD and lots of inches and even a USB port. The latter is important, y’see, because it lets you connect your external hard drive.

Aah, those external drives that the IT guy at work took away for two days and then returned to you, chock full of…uhm…err…multimedia content! How else is a girl meant to watch the latest episodes of Khaleesi and Tyrion Being The Best? 

Except, things can get a little complicated. It gets even more complicated if you use an Apple laptop. Sometimes you plug the drive into your computer and it works fine, but the TV won’t read it. Or you’ll plug it into the TV and it works but your Mac won’t read it. Or you try copy files to the drive and it give you an error.

Why? Firstly, hard drives use something called file systems. These are, essentially, just different ways of storing the bits and bytes. Secondly, not all devices understand all file systems.

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This table shows support for the different kinds of file systems across the various devices that hard drives can be plugged into. HFS is Apple’s file system, and by default it is only supported on Apple computers running Mac OS X. You can get third-party software to let a Windows computer read an HFS hard drive, but that doesn’t help the TV.

NTFS is great if you have a Windows computer and a smart TV. Copy files using your computer and play them on your TV – no problem. But if you have a Mac you can only read files from an NTFS hard drive. You cannot copy files to this file system. It’s a problem because many modern external hard drives will be formatted using NTFS, and you’ll need to use another file system that will let you copy files to the hard drive while still retaining support for the TV.

 So use FAT32, right? Well…yes and no.

FAT32 is quite old, and thus widely supported. But it has limitations, and in this case the most important limitation is that FAT32 has a maximum file size of 4GB. If your friendly IT guy wants to give you any file that is larger than that, FAT32 will just spit out an error when trying to copy to it.

That’s where ExFAT comes in. It has supported baked into both Windows and Mac OS, for read and write, and can take files that are very, very large. As luck would have it, though, ExFAT – being as new as it is – isn’t supported by most TVs. There are some, but not many, although support will grow in the next few years.

Where does that leave you? How does it solve your problem?

Here goes:

  • First, try find out what your TV supports. If the manufacturer site doesn’t list file systems then do it manually: format a USB stick in ExFAT, NTFS, etc, and copy a file to it. See what your TV is happy reading.
  • If your TV has ExFAT support use it. There is absolutely no reason not to.
  • If your TV only supports NTFS, use that.
  • If you have a Mac and your TV supports NTFS, use NTFS-3G to endow your Mac with write support for NTFS hard drives. It requires some technical knowledge, but it’s free. Alternatively, use a commercial solution like Paragon NTFS for Mac, which costs $20.
About the author:

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Christo has been writing about tech for 12 years, and has been helping people choose the best file system for their needs since 2007. He loves cars, road trips, staring at his phone, and photography. He’d also love you if you followed him on Twitter: @hellospaceman.

 

 

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