Streaming Media Files on a TV: What you need to know

USB, Cloud, DLNA, Miracast, WiFi Direct, Casting. The list goes on...

by hodg100 Oct 3, 2014 at 6:31 AM

  • We imagine most people will, by now, have at least some media files that are stored electronically. Whether that be digital photos, movies or music stored on a smartphone, PC, hard drive or even in the cloud.
    It’s all very well having all your media safely stored but what’s the use if you never look at, or listen to, it? And we think the Smart TV, with its centre of the living room status, is the ideal conduit for doing exactly that. Fortunately, all the TV manufacturers do as well!

    What started out with basic support for MP3 music, jpeg pictures and MP4 movies has now evolved in to something far more comprehensive, with many recent TVs boasting media players with support for virtually all common media file extensions.

    What Media files will my TV play?

    Unfortunately, it’s not possible to list every single permutation for every manufacturer out there but, as a guide, most recent TV media players will support the likes of ts, vob, mp4, mkv, divx, avi, Xvid, wmv and m4v video files; jpeg, bmp and mpo (3D) files for your photographs; whilst music support is, at a minimum, provided for MP3 files but many now support FLAC, AAC, M4A, WMA and WAV too.
    File support in most new Smart TVs is very broad
    You might ask the question, “why would I want to play music through my TV?” when the speakers in most are puny but since you can hook them up to a decent sound system, it’s actually very convenient.

    You will, of course, need to check the individual specifications of your particular TV and sometimes file type support differs between USB and network media players but those instances are fairly rare.

    How do I play a movie on my TV?

    There has never been so much choice as to how you get your media playing through a Smart TV. As a rule of thumb, every Smart TV in existence will allow you to hook up a USB drive and most will be DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compliant, meaning you can stream content over your home network from your PC. Some Smart TVs come with media server software, on a CD, that you can install on to your PC but you're not obliged to use what the manufacturer recommends.

    A recent trend for Smart TVs is to include an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) compatible HDMI port. This is a fairly new feature but with support from the likes of Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, it’s one that’s growing. It works with some of the latest smartphones on the market, allowing them to send video or photos from their mini USB port direct to the TV. Most televisions supporting this feature are MHL version 2.0, which allows for up to 1080p of video streaming but the latest, 4K Ultra HD TVs have MHL 3.0 which can carry resolutions up to 3840 × 2160 and 8 channels of audio.

    WiFi Direct, Mircast and Screen Mirroring on a Smart TV

    Mobile devices are rapidly taking over from ye olde ‘computer’ so we now have options such as WiFi Direct, Miracast and Screen Mirroring. There is some added complexity here in having to ensure that any of those options are supported by both your TV and phone or tablet.

    Please note: none of those options will be available on your Apple product. Apple has its own Airplay technology to achieve pretty much the same thing but the easiest way of using it with your Smart TV is by hooking it up to an Apple TV box.

    Miracast and Screen Mirroring amount to the same thing, in practice, but the TV manufacturers use the terms in their own ways. It’s a feature of Android phones and tablets and, as the name would suggest, it enables the screen of your device to be displayed on the TV - which means it’s great for looking at any photos and videos you have stored on your mobile.

    The first step is to find the function within your Smart TV. It’s usually the case that it will be clearly accessible from the home page of the particular Smart TV platform but with some, notably pre 2014 Samsung TVs, the feature is accessed as you would any input, i.e. through the Source button.

    Once you have done that, the connection can be manually established through your phone or tablet menus. Again, the process will vary slightly – device to device – but by going in to your Settings Menu and then locating Wireless and Networks (or similar), you should find it in there, sometimes under ‘Other Settings’

    As we can see in the video above produced by Sony, in some instances, it can be done even more easily with devices and TVs that support NFC (Near Field Communication). In this example, Sony’s ‘One Flick Remote’ is used to establish an instant connection but you will find that some Smart TVs have a NFC tag on the back – at the moment, the leading manufacturer to provide this is LG.

    WiFi Direct is similar, in essence, to screen mirroring and allows for easier sharing of files but it also works from Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs, as well as your mobile device. The beauty of it is, that it establishes a direct connection between the two devices, without the need for potentially complicated network setup.

    The setup process is also very similar to screen mirroring in that you first enable it from your TV – either from the menu or Smart TV portal. You then need to go into your mobile device’s settings and, again, find the Wireless and Network submenu and then scan for the TVs WiFi direct connection from there.

    It's never been easier to share content from the little screen to the big

    Mobile Apps

    We appreciate that, to some readers, with this kind of technology we could just as well be speaking in Double Dutch and there are manufacturers who recognise that fact. Some, such as Panasonic’s VIERA Remote App and Samsung’s AllShare let you push media files straight to your TV very simply, provided both the tablet/phone and TV are already on the same home network. These are good news for iPad and iPhone users as both apps have iOS versions, although the guarded nature of Apple’s ecosystem means you can’t play your iTunes collection through them.

    Smart TVs and the Cloud

    Virtually all of the latest Smart TVs feature some form of ‘Cloud’ support. This means you can access your internet stored media files direct from the comfort of your armchair. Some, such as Philips and Samsung have direct support for the popular service, Dropbox, whilst others will have their own cloud storage services you can use. LG offers quite a generous amount of free online storage, for one, and others such as Toshiba and Panasonic provide similar services.

    Hopefully we have all your bases covered here, for now, but one thing is for sure, the world of Smart TVs doesn’t stand still for very long. So, as with all our informative articles we’ll be keeping this one updated, as and when the technology progresses.

    In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, please use the section below.

    To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

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