The digital video projector nowadays is significantly different from the overhead and slide projectors of yesteryear. They’ve even replaced commercial film projectors because of their technological advantages to those old film reels. The 21st Century projector is all digital and has connections ranging from composite A/V and VGA for the 1990s and HDMI in the 2000s. You can even connect your laptop or desktop PC to your projector, especially if it’s a business projector made for projecting presentations. USB got OEM support from OSR 2.1 and Microsoft Windows 95 for devices made with the standard included in August 1997.
So can you plug a flash drive into a projector? Long story short, yes. Or at least most modern projectors should have a USB port available that can read the contents of a USB flash drive or thumb drive. Some projectors use the USB port to charge or power on a device though. Check if your projector of choice can read flash drive media or not before purchasing.
What Is USB and Its History?
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. It’s the current industry standard connection for hardware you’re supposed to connect to your PC. It eventually ended up being connectors to other appliances such as HDTVs, cameras, printers, scanners, tablets, smartphones, and the like. It establishes specifications for connectors and cables as well as connection protocols for power supply interfaces and communication between computers, peripherals, and handheld devices.
- Date of Release: The USB standard was originally released in 1996. The USB-IF or the USB Implementers Forum is the governing body maintaining the standard across the board for PC and other appliances. USB has become ubiquitous enough to allow connections between consumer electronics that aren’t PCs, such as a flash drive, a camera, or an external hard disk drive (HDD). There have been 4 generations of USB specs over the years, starting with USB 1.x and going all the way to USB 4, with USB 3.x currently serving as the most common standard and USB 2.0 being the standard of the 2000s.
- The Origins of USB: Seven companies formed a group to develop the Universal Serial Bus standard in 1994 in light of all the different connection standards at the time that made compatibility difficult and plug & play nearly impossible. Before, you have to find a computer with the right ports then install drivers to allow the operating system to recognize the hardware you’re trying to run. USB as envisioned by the companies of Nortel, Compaq, NEC, DEC, Intel, IBM< and Microsoft. They intended to make a universal standard for connections to allow almost all external devices to connect to PCs in a plug & play manner without requiring a disk with drivers to recognize the device in the first place.
- The Inventors and Developers of USB: Intel’s very own Ajay Bhatt and his team of experts served as developers for the USB standard. It was during 1995 that Intel produced the first integrated circuits that supported USB. Meanwhile, the original USB 1.0 specification came about in January 1996, which defined data transfer rates at a blistering 1.5 Mbit/s at low speed and a whopping 12 Mbit/s at full speed. This eventually became even faster in later USB specifications. Draft designs called for a 5 Mbit/s single-speed bus, but the low-speed rate was added for low-cost peripheral devices with unshielded cables. This resulted in 12 Mbit/s full-speed devices such as floppy disk drives and printers as well as 1.5 Mbit/s devices such as joysticks, mice, and keyboards.
Connecting a USB Device to The Projector
Certain projectors were made with USB devices in mind, not just flash or thumb drives. This naturally includes hardware that works with USB such as external hard drives and digital cameras. You can connect your flash drive in particular to the projector’s USB Type-A port. This will give the display device access to the files in the drive and play or project it. Usually, this includes certain movie files but it can also include pictures and sound files.
- A USB Stick Doesn’t Need an Adapter: The beauty of a USB stick or flash drive is that it doesn’t need a power adapter in order to work. Like a storage media device like the floppy disk or an external hard disk drive, it works as soon as you plug it into your projector as long as the projector in question has a USB port. The same port could be used by HDMI-type streaming sticks to power themselves up since it can also have a secondary function of “siphoning” the power from the projector to turn themselves on, but as far as flash drives are concerned they work more like media storage devices than actually complicated appliances.
- Storage and Backward Compatibility: Your flash drive doesn’t require an extra cable to work since the end of the stick is a connector for a USB-A port. This is unlike a USB memory card reader, camera, or external HDD. With that said, USB flash drives have become advanced enough to house up to 2 terabytes of data, which is bigger than the internal HDD of computers from just 2-3 years ago, amazingly enough. The caveat of course is that the really big flash drives should only work with the USB 4.0 specification. Lower storage space flash drives will typically work with even the most advanced of USB standards because they’re all backward compatible.
- The Advantages of Using a Flash Drive: A flash drive doesn’t have problems that an external HDD and a memory card reader has in terms of cables. To be more specific, you shouldn’t connect a USB cable or hub longer than 10 feet or 3 meters. Even at USB 4.0, the device might not work properly if the USB connection cable is too long or too far away. Don’t attempt to connect your USB stick to another cable and daisy-chain it to your projector. This defeats the purpose of having a stick in the first place. A USB can make it easier for you to watch a specific movie or a specific business presentation.
- Can You Download a Video to View on Your Projector? For the most part, you can download practically any movie and then show it through your projector as long as it’s in a file format that it can read. Many modern-day smart projectors with Wi-Fi connections and whatnot can even read and display pictures and play music on top of playing video files on the big screen. Just remember that some files might be unreadable to the projector the same way when you try to play files on your HDTV, only a certain group of files can even be recognized by the device. Don’t save any files that aren’t in AVI or MP4 or are encoded in such a way that it can only be played on your laptop.
- Movie Files That Your Projector Can Read: Make sure the movie files you’ve downloaded from the Internet or ripped from a BD is readable by your projector. Unlike a PC wherein you can download apps or plug-ins that allow it to read whatever file you feed unto it (which has been somewhat throttled by Windows 10 to safeguard users from downloading viruses and the like), most projectors are limited to AVI, MP3, MP4, WAV, MOV, and DIV or more when it comes to playing media from your flash drive.
- Business versus Home Cinema Projectors: A business projector probably has more leeway in playing video files from a flash drive compared to the more limited home cinema projector. This is because they were made to work with notebook and desktop PCs in mind. They can even mirror laptop screens and display slide presentations on top of playing video files. They might be able to play FLV or the raw streaming files you can get from YouTube, but even those projectors aren’t the norm. Stick to readable and common video files to save unto your flash drive if you wish to watch movies through that medium.
- Taking Care of Your USB Stick: Don’t damage your flash drive disk because it will result in corrupted data or the stick ceasing operation altogether. Don’t store it anywhere that’s too hot or too cold. Don’t accidentally drop or submerge it in water either. When formatting your stick, you usually have to do so at FAT32 while most external HDDs use NTFS or exFAT instead because of their larger storage capacity, transfer rates, and so forth. Flash drives also have a limited amount of cycles, which explains why they’re treated the same way as the obsolete magnetic tape 3.5-inch floppy disk. The average flash drive has in between 10,000 to 100,000 write/read cycles, so it roughly means you can only use them at that amount of times before they fail altogether.
The Goals and Benefits of USB
Before USB, PC users had to deal with a multitude of connectors and forced to cater to certain first-party hardware producers because getting cheaper but incompatible hardware from other companies is a waste of money if they don’t have the ports or cards for them. The dawn of USB addressed the usability issues of interfaces that existed at the time. This furthermore simplified the software configuration of all the devices when connected to the USB standard ports and cables. This also permits external devices to have greater data rates when compared to older propriety connection standards.
- “Can You Put a Movie on a USB Stick and Watch on a Projector?“, Tom’s Guide Forums, June 27, 2014
- “Connecting a USB Device or Camera to the Projector“, Epson.com, Retrieved May 9, 2020
- “USB“, Wikipedia, Retrieved May 9, 2020