How to Prepare the Perfect External Hard Disk for Storing Movies

Backing up your movies to a hard drive so you can hook them up to a TV or games console is every movie buff’s fantasy, and it’s safe to assume that most of us know how to do it. Just burn your Blu-ray or DVDs to the hard drive, and you’re good to go, right?

Sure, but there are quite a few variables to consider, such as what the best hard drive format is for compatibility with the greatest number of devices, allocation unit sizes, and what the best video format is to strike a perfect balance between compatibility and video quality. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare the perfect external hard disk for storing movies.

If you’re preparing a dedicated movie hard drive, then you’ll probably want to hook it up to your TV, DVD/Blu-Ray player or games console. In most cases these devices are not compatible with the NTFS file format. NTFS is great when you’re using it exclusively with your PC as it has a number of handy security features, no file size limits and so on.

My recommendation is to format your external HDD into the exFAT format. This builds on the old FAT32 format, and its key advantage is that it doesn’t have the restrictive 3GB file size limits of its predecessor (which is crucial if you have a collection of HD-quality/Blu-Ray movies).

So let’s format that hard drive to something more universal. Plug your external hard drive into your PC, go to “This PC,” then right-click it under “Devices and drives” and click “Format.”

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Here you’ll be presented with a number of options, but the ones we’re focusing on are “File System,” which you want to change to exFAT, and “Allocation unit size.”

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What is allocation unit size, or AUS, I hear you asking. Allocation units are the same thing as clusters, and each file on your hard drive takes up a certain number of these clusters depending on the file size. If you’re dealing with small files, then a 2000 to 4000kb cluster size is better because if the files are smaller than those sizes, less space is wasted per cluster. (e.g. A 2MB file in a 2MB cluster is much less wasteful than a 2MB file in a 32MB cluster where you effectively waste 30MB of hard drive space.)

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On the flip side, the bigger the cluster, the less clusters your hard drive needs to search, so larger clusters technically mean faster file-reading and better performance, particularly with big Blu-Ray quality movies. Seeing as you’ll have very few small files on your movie hard drive anyway (apart from subtitle files, maybe), I recommend going with the biggest allocation unit size possible.

This can be a tricky one. The majority of media players in TVs and on games consoles these days will have no problem supporting the default DVD file format (MPEG-2), so you’re covered there without any need for video conversion.

With Blu-Ray it can get more complicated. While you won’t have a problem running Blu-Ray (M2TS) format videos on a PS4 or Xbox One, the software on built-in TV media players may not support them, and the media players on DVD players almost certainly won’t. (Oddly, not even the media players on all Blu-Ray players support M2TS.)

You’ll want to convert your M2TS video to a more universal format. MP4 is your best bet, and you’ll also want to convert the video codec to the widely-compatible and high-quality H264 codec. I recommend using the free video converter Avidemux for this.

Open your M2TS video file in Avidemux, then in the left pane change the “Video Output” to “H264” and the “Output Format” to “MP4 Muxer.” Convert the audio output to AAC (Faac) for maximum compatibility, then click Configure and change the bitrate to at least 192 for a good acoustic experience.

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Next, click the floppy disk icon at the top-left to save your converted video.

Note: you can use HandBrake to convert the video to MP4 format. too.

As you can see, there’s a little more to setting up your external hard drive for movie-viewing than you would have first thought. Bearing all these things in mind, however, you should now be well-equipped to have control over your movie collection.

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