How to Play Media Files on Your Smart TV


If you’ve ever watched someone walk into a gathering and start playing videos on their phone on the host’s big screen TV, you might wonder at their savvy. The point is, popping something up on the big screen needn’t be a technical challenge in 2018.

The following are a few tips for you to play your media files on a smart TV.

Important Points

  • Not all TVs are “Smart” TVs, even if they look like they should be. If your TV is post-2008, you shouldn’t encounter any issues.
  • Obscure media files (movies, for example, saved as an unusual file type) may prove difficult to play, and the older the TV the less tolerant it will be of weirder requests. As a rule of thumb, if something plays with difficulty on your PC, it’s likely to be a worse battle on a smart TV.

Connect via a USB Drive

If you already have your media files on a USB drive, you can simply plug it into a smart TV. A modern smart TV has multiple USB ports and can detect and autoplay the media files on the USB drive when plugged in.


Some smart TVs have support for SD memory cards, too. If your TV has an SD card reader, it’s usually on the front or side of the TV. If it’s not readily visible, read the owner’s manual to confirm whether your TV model has one installed.

If there is no built-in SD card reader, and your files are stored on such a card, you’ll need an external card reader that you can plug into the USB port. Selecting “Input” via the remote control should show either SD or USB as the source of input.

Connect via an HDMI cable

If all your media files are stored on your PC or laptop, the easiest way to access the content is via an HDMI cable.


1. Connect the PC and TV using an HDMI cable.

2. If your smart TV has multiple HDMI ports, note the port number when you plug the cable in.

3. Use the Input option to select HDMI input. If it offers options on multiple HDMI ports, select the one carrying and connected to the cable from your PC. Some users will find that their TV does this automatically.

4. Back on your PC, select “Display Settings.”

5. Find and click Detect. This prompts your PC to find the TV you’ve just plugged into. There should be two squares displayed onscreen, if your PC hasn’t already offered up the TV as the option you’re looking for.

6. Click Identify. This brings up a label on both screens so that you know the number assigned to your PC’s monitor and the number assigned to your TV.

7. Click the “Multiple displays” dropdown menu. You’ll encounter the following options:

  • Duplicate these displays (mirrors exactly what’s playing on your PC monitor, on the TV screen)
  • Extend these displays (makes your Smart TV an extension of your desktop)
  • Show only on 1. This turns off display No. 2
  • Show only on 2. This turns off display No. 1

8. Select the display option you desire, and then click Apply. Click on “Advanced display settings” if you want to tweak anything further.

Plex Media Server

Plex is spoken of as an app, a device and a network, so it can be a bit confusing. In a nutshell, if your PC has and is using the built-in Plex Media Server, most modern smart TVs will be able to detect the stream and play media.


If your PC seems not to have a Plex ability, install it onto your desired device. (You can find help in the setup guide for Windows, Linux and Mac.) Any smart TV can browse and install the app, too, but the majority will be able to pick up streaming without additional downloads. The app appears as an option when media is playing so that you can simply hit Play and watch it all on your smart TV in the next room.

Plex is compatible with almost all mainstream electronic entertainment brands and devices. Remember to ensure that both devices are Wi-Fi-connected and connected to the same network. Once that’s established, Plex can be employed for cableless streaming.

Wi-Fi Direct Streams to Your TV

Wi-Fi Direct is a now-common standard for multiple devices to connect to each other without a wireless access point. Wi-Fi Direct eliminates the need for a wireless router. Much like Bluetooth, this protocol allows devices to “pick up” input from one another. It is applicable to a host of pursuits and across a very diverse array of operating systems, manufacturers’ differentiation and other individual nuances. Also, only one of two paired devices needs to be Wi-Fi Direct in order for the process to work.


1. Ensure that your phone has Wi-Fi Direct functionality, and if not, install an app with such functionality. There are several free apps that constitute Wi-Fi Direct, such as Wi-Fi Shoot, Wi-FiShare and SuperBeam.

2. Make sure that both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

3. Open your app folder and select Settings.

4. Select the Wi-Fi option. The very next screen should display all available networks. Select Wi-Fi Direct.

5. The following screen will display all of the Wi-Fi options of enabled devices that are within range and compatible with your smartphone.

6. Select the TV by name, and your phone will begin to connect with the smart TV.

7. Streaming music or movies becomes simple as the Wi-Fi Direct icon appears when opening media players, enabling you to select it and stream to the smart TV as the final destination.

Wi-Fi Direct can also stream YouTube videos or pretty much anything from anywhere else that you’d like to watch on the TV. The key is the little ever-present icon. Anytime you click it, you’re enabling streaming to available, compatible devices in close proximity.

What other ways do you use to play media files on your smart TV?

Image credit: Male hand holding TV remote control by Dmitri Ma/Shutterstock

Marc van Sittert

I am a Johannesburg-based copywriter & freelance journalist, working mostly in the online arena producing copious copy & content, while specializing in sustainability/integrated report writing, financial proofreading and manuscript & website editing. An autodidact, polymath, yoga and meditation instructor, I also tutor English globally and blog prolifically on matters of social relevance & personal well being.

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