F.A.Q. What video file format do Smart TVs use?

By | 19th October 2015

Video tape usb dvd

Smart TVs have some great features including Internet browsing, catch-up TV and entertainment such as NetFlix and YouTube. You may not know it but Smart TVs can also play your own videos – usually from a USB stick but sometimes from an SD Card as well.

USB Memory Stick Videos

USB sticks (sometimes called thumb drives) are widely available and inexpensive. Provided you follow some simple rules you can play video and audio from a USB stick on your Smart TV. Most USB sticks come pre-formatted and ready to work in a Smart TV. If you already have one then there’s a good chance it will work fine with your television.

All Smart TVs with a USB support will be able to read FAT32 formatted USB sticks. Some more advanced sets will also work with exFAT and NTFS file systems but these are far less common. You should assume that yours will only work with FAT32 unless the manual specifically states otherwise.

Shows USB stick in a Smart TV

FAT32 is an old computer file system. It’s been around for almost twenty years – long before Smart TVs and large video files were envisaged. As a result the largest single file FAT32 can handle is 4 GigaBytes (4GB). What this means is that there is a limit to the duration of the videos you can store – however it’s only really a problem with longer HD videos. We’ll explain this in more detail later.

USB hard drives are sometimes supported on Smart TVs but not all will deliver enough current to power a portable hard drive. Check your manual to make sure.

H.264, MP4 or MPEG-4?

Some Smart TVs are smarter than others and will play almost anything you throw at them. However, the most common and reliable type of video file that works in all of them is an H.264 MPEG-4. The file extension is normally ‘.mp4’. For example MyHomeVideo.mp4 rather than the file name ending in M4v, AVI or .MOV. This is an important fact and should not be overlooked.

H.264 is a good quality compression CODEC with small file sizes – the files are roughly half the size of an equivalent duration DVD at a similar quality.

The good thing about MP4 files is that they can be also played on almost all computers and tablets including iPads, iPhones and Android devices though not necessarily via USB in the case of Apple products.

FAT32 file size limit

The biggest file size for FAT32 is 4GB. This doesn’t necessarily translate into a specific video duration. Here’s why.

Video file sizes are governed by several factors:

  • Frame Dimensions – SD (720×576), HD (1920×1080) and even Ultra HD (3840×2860)
  • Frame Rate – anything from 15 to 60 frames per second
  • Duration of Content
  • Compression Ratio

Typical file sizes for standard definition (SD) video files are around 1GB to 1.5GB per hour at comparable quality to DVD. Therefore a FAT32 formatted USB stick can hold a SD video files up to around 3 or 4 hours long each.

High Definition (HD) video files need larger file sizes. A 4GB file might only be enough for around twenty minutes of top quality HD footage. Ultra HD file sizes are much larger and in general tend not to be used on FAT32 storage devices.

Note – the file size limit does NOT affect the total number of videos a USB stick can hold. It ONLY affects the maximum size of any single video file. A large FAT32 formatted USB stick – say 128GB can hold hours and hours of footage but not more than 4GBs worth in a single file.

What videos can be played via USB on a Smart TV?

Almost any existing family video you have can be either played directly on a Smart TV or converted into the correct type of file for viewing.

We convert from all of the following video formats to Smart TV friendly files on USB:

  • VHS and Betamax full size video recorder type tapes
  • Camcorder tapes including Video8, Hi8, VHS-C, MiniDV and MicroMV
  • SD Cards from any camcorder or still camera
  • Hard Drive HDD camcorders
  • Mobile phone footage including iPhone, iPad and Android
  • Computer files including your own content from YouTube, Facebook etc.

Backing up your data

If you’re storing 40 hours family videos on a single USB stick and it fails (which can happen) then you could loose everything.┬áIt’s important to ensure that you have at least one safe back-up copy of any video files you own. USB sticks are easy to back-up by copying the files onto your computer or onto a second USB stick or hard drive. You can also store copies of the files on a DVD data disc. Cloud backup is becoming a viable option with Google offering free backup of some personal video files.

Smart TV video conversion

In summary – to play video from a USB stick on your Smart TV, games console or computer you need to:

  • Convert the original footage (from tape, disc or card) to H.264 MPEG4 with .mp4 extension
  • Put the files on a FAT32 formatted USB stick. Tip – Use folders to simplify navigation
  • Keep back-up copies of your files

We are video transfer experts and will be happy to discuss your requirements with you – just give us a call.

2 thoughts on “F.A.Q. What video file format do Smart TVs use?

  1. graham


    I can play videos on a stick formatted to fat32 but they play too big on my smart tv they used to play ok ant ideas ???

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Graham,

      Thank you for your comment. From what you say the videos played on the same TV from the same USB and used to work okay? If so then it sounds like the aspect ratio setting of the TV may be incorrect. Some TVs have an “Auto” setting but also 4:3, 16:9. They’re all a bit different & some options change depending on the input selected. Some TVs have a “Center Cut” option which may take zoom into the image. I’d start by checking the various menu settings of the TV.



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