Not all external hard drives will work properly when connected to a TV's USB port

Be aware that some USB hard drives can't be read properly by many TVs

If you've been considering buying a brand new external hard drive to plug into your TV's USB port for media playback, you might want to reconsider.

Regardless of their size, many new external hard and SSD drives usually also rely on a partitioning format called GPT (GUID Partition Table). GPT allows the entire capacity of the drive to be usable on a computer system. However, this very same partitioning format may not be recognised by your TV. It's one of those things that's very dependent on the brand and model involved.

If you plug a GPT-based drive into a TV, it might show up as being recognised by the TV, but it will not be able to display any of the information that you may have previously put onto it. We recently found this out when we plugged in a 3TB WD Elements hard drive into a 32-inch Samsung LA32C450E1D LCD TV and found it couldn’t be read.

The solution is a harsh and time-consuming one: you'll have to re-partition the drive so that it uses an MBR (Master Boot Record) partition instead. This is far from an ideal solution because it means that only up to 2TB of space will be usable on a 3TB or 4TB hard drive.

No matter how you slice it, this space is being wasted, but at least now there is a chance that the data on your new external drive will be able to be correctly detected and read by your TV.

[Related: How to tell if you’re watching 4K video]

All data on the disk will be erased if you attempt to change the drive's partition type from GPT to MBR, so you should make sure that you have a copy of all your data on another drive prior to changing it.

To change a drive’s partition type from GPT to MBR in Windows 7, you will first need to launch the disk manager. You can go there by right-clicking Computer from the Start menu, selecting Manage and then Disk Management. Then, right-click on the drive's label and convert it to MBR.

You can then create a new partition and format it using the NTFS file format.

Changing to an MBR partition through Windows 7's Drive Manager. (We're using a 1TB drive in the screenshot as an example only.)
Changing to an MBR partition through Windows 7's Drive Manager. (We're using a 1TB drive in the screenshot as an example only.)

If your TV does not support the NTFS file format, but prefers the Fat32 format instead, then you will need to download a third party utility to convert your NTFS drive to Fat32 — since Windows 7 cannot do this natively.

One go-to application that has worked well for us in the past is Fat32format. It's a relatively straightforward utility to use:

  • Select the correct drive that you wish to format (double-check to make sure that you have the right one)

  • Leave the file allocation unit size of 32768 bytes (as you'll be storing large media files on it rather than tiny files)

  • Click the start button. It should only take a few seconds to format.

Using the Fat32format utility to convert an NTFS drive to Fat32.
Using the Fat32format utility to convert an NTFS drive to Fat32.

Again, all this isn't an ideal solution for a 3TB or 4TB drive. Unfortunately, it's a necessary one for the moment if you’ve bought a large-capacity external drives and are looking to use them as a media repository for a TV.

That being said, there is nifty way to game the system. If you are currently shopping for a hard drive that can be used to play media through your TV's USB port, try to stick to drives that are less than 2TB in size, that way no space will be wasted if you need to convert the drive's format.

This article was updated in 2019 by Fergus Halliday.

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