Let’s say you have a huge digital media library with multiple video formats. As a cord-cutter, you figure you can go all-digital and watch movies through your library while having a Netflix subscription as your secondary entertainment option. Maybe you can save those movies on your thumb drive, flash drive, or external hard disk drive (HDD) and then play them directly on your HDTV or even your projector. No more CDs or DVDs. It’s just you enjoying the fruits of your labor and massive movie collection.
So can you connect an external hard drive to a projector? If we’re talking about modern smart projectors with Wi-Fi and whatnot, it should be possible. Usually, the best way to go about viewing such a large movie collection via a big screen is to connect your PC to a projector and mirror its screen or use the projector as a monitor.
External HDDs and How to Use Them
Most external hard disk drives connect to PCs and displays like projectors through a USB port. They can also be formatted in accordance with FAT32 (the flash drive format), exFAT (for both SD cards and flash drives), and NTFS. It’s the NTFS that has the biggest file transfer speeds and the ability to, for example, transfer files as big as 4 gigabytes or more without compressing or splitting the file into multiple ZIP files. With that in mind, is it possible to have your huge media library play on your projector through an external HDD instead of a computer?
- USB Is The Key: Connecting your external HDD to your projector to play movies is both simpler and more complicated than you think. It’s made simple because of the USB standard that many HDDs use. Released back in 1996, the Universal Serial Bus standard maintained by the USB-IF or USB Implementers Forum produced four generations of USB specifications ranging from USB 1.0 to USB 4.0. USB allows easy connection to any appliance or electronics with a USB port, particularly something like a projector that specifically capable of reading USB peripherals like flash drives, cameras, and HDDs.
- The USB Advantage: So does that mean that because of USB, you can plug & play any huge media library saved on the portable version of your PC’s internal HDD to any projector compatible enough to run it? It’s more complicated than that. Some would rather access their library with the ease of streaming through their Apple TV, but it’s not so easy with a projector and without programs like iTunes. In many ways, the USB connection allows projectors from various manufacturers to universally accept HDD movie files and whatnot without needing an HDMI connection. Just remember that there’s a limit on the types of files that a projector can read, from AVI to DAT to even FLV.
- Connecting a USB Device to The Projector: If you want to use an HDD to play movies on your projector, you need a projector that was made with USB devices in mind, from thumb drives to cameras as well as external hard drives. A hard drive typically lacks the infrastructure of a laptop or desktop that allows you to use the projector as an alternative computer monitor through an HDMI connection. However, the USB-A connection is enough for you to use the HDD like an SD card or a thumb drive. It has the files stored for reading and playing. The onus is now on your projector to be able to play those files. If you have files like OGG or MKV, chances are you can only play those files on your computer.
- USB Type-A versus Other Types: You can connect your external HDD to the projector’s USB-A or USB Type-A port. From there, you can project movies, short clips, videos, images, and so forth with the device. If your projector has its own internal speakers or can be connected to a Bluetooth speaker, you can play music and sound files like MP3 and WAV for good measure. Unlike a camera or a laptop, you don’t need to plug your HDD to an external outlet to power it on or charge it via a power adapter. There are certain projectors with double USB-A dual links to allow you to connect to the projector at faster speeds, but it comes with the caveat of needing an extra USB port. Besides which, USB 3.0 and above are superior to dual-link USB anyway.
- What About Reading Internal HDDs? If you want to be able to access files from an internal HDD you’ve extracted from an old laptop that isn’t working anymore, there are several options to be able to play those files on a projector. First off, you can mount it into what’s known as an enclosure. The enclosure connects tot he old HDD like a motherboard would and gives you the ability to use the internal HDD as an external one, complete with USB cable connections and whatnot. You can also use Roku and WDTV boxes to connect a drive via USB. Both of these have HDMI out to allow you to connect to a projector for good measure.
- Roku Running Plex or Using The PC Middleman: You don’t need to connect the hard drive you have to a computer in order to access its different files. You can instead use Roku running Plex to be able to access the HDD and run its files through your projector with ease. Just remember that when all else fails and you can’t connect an HDD to a projector directly, you have the option to use your laptop or desktop as a middleman. Connect the external HDD to your PC, then connect and mirror your display on a projector. Finally, play your HDD files on your PC normally, with the PC display showcasing the movie in HD depending on how good its graphics card is.
- Connecting an External Hard Drive to HDMI via Raspberry Pi: You shouldn’t and can’t connect an external HDD with a High Definition Media Interface (HDMI) cable. These portable storage devices don’t typically come with HDMI ports but instead USB ports. If you wish for HDMI linkages to ensure HD streaming or transfer of HD movie files, you need a device with an operating system and a processor. An integrated solution that doesn’t involve connecting your PC to your projector is Raspberry Pi. It’s a small, inexpensive single-board computer that can turn your HDD into a computer you can connect through USB ports, HDMI out, and so forth.
- Micca Speck and the Advantage of HDMI versus USB: An alternative to Raspberry Pi is the Micca Speck. This device has no general computer or wireless functions. However, it’s an incredibly good media player that sits on top of any USB storage media, from DVD-ROM to flash drives to even an external HDD. It can serve as your way to connect your HDD to your projector via HDMI instead of via USB. The main advantage of going the HDMI route versus the USB route is that HDMI is more dependable in playing your movies in HD. You can save a movie in HD then have your projector read it, but your projector might lack the processing power that a media player would have.
- Business versus Home Cinema Projectors: A digital video business projector is practically made to mirror the content of a PC when compared to a commercial home cinema digital projector that’s more geared towards connecting to cable or satellite boxes, streaming sticks, DVD or BD players, game consoles, and HDTVs. A business projector is more likely to mirror the display of a laptop or read the files from an external HDD compared to the comparatively more limited scope of a 16:9 aspect ratio, 1080p native resolution projector geared more towards playing cable TV or Blu-Ray discs. However, if you wish to only play movies off of your computer via external HDD, a home cinema projector might suffice as long as you’re picky with your media or file selection.
- External HDD Files That Are Readable for Projectors: The files that your projector can read varies from the projector to projector, but Epson projectors at the very least support MPG with MPEG2 codec, MP4 with MEPG-4 ASP or MPEG-4 AVC codec, WMV with WMV9 codec, or AVI with Motion JPEG codec. This is in addition to being able to read MP3, PDG, SIT, FSE, PNG, GIF, BMP, and JPG files. There are also projectors that can read DAT (movie disc) and FLV (streaming video) files as well as MOV and DIV. It varies from the projector to projector. Some projectors are more sensitive to file types and codecs than others, rendering certain files only playable via the assistance of your PC or laptop.
Things to Remember
The simplest solution to viewing your stored media in your external HDD via projector is to simply connect the HDD to a projector with one or several USB ports and make sure it’s the type of projector that reads the multitude of files you have downloaded, recorded, converted, upscaled, downscaled, or ripped from various media. Otherwise, any file you have that isn’t an AVI, MP4, MP3, WMV, WAV, DAT, or so forth as well as FLV (ripped directly from streaming sites like YouTube) should be converted into one of those formats to allow your projector to play them. Any 21st Century or 2010s projector that’s worth its salt should be able to play files from an external HDD storage device.
- “Hard Drive to Projector?“, Reddit.com, March 2, 2014
- “Connecting a USB Device or Camera to the Projector“, Epson.com, Retrieved May 9, 2020
- “USB“, Wikipedia, Retrieved May 9, 2020