Want to play a movie from a USB key? Here’s how to play large video files on a projector without a computer.

vhs video tapes 80s xxl

I was recently asked to DJ at a private 80s Disco Night and I decided to create a long background movie consisting of video clips and special FX from the 80s, incl. the iconic VHS logo.

I downloaded movie trailers, music videos and other visual FX and produced a 3h45′ long video, a 24Go file. 

iconic vhs logo gif

I copied the file on a SD Card plugged in my iMac (it took a while to transfer…) and then inserted the SD Card into my ViewSonic LED Projector (which I highly recommend if you’re looking for the perfect compact projector for movies or business presentations). Viewsonic recently released the latest version of the M1 projector.

See how much it has evolved since I bought mine 3 years ago. 👇

Three years ago

viewsonic m1 2019 xxl

2022 Viewsonic model

new viewsonic m1 projector xxl

Using a SD Card with the projector? 

I selected “SD Card” in the ViewSonic menu and then… nothing.

The card wasn’t recognized. Why?

After a quick Google Search, I found out that the card wasn’t detected because it was formatted in exFAT via my iMac and the projector was only accepting media storage (SD Card, USB stick,…) formatted in FAT or FAT32. 🤔

So, quite logically, I re-formatted my SD card in FAT32 and tried to drag & drop my 24Go video file to the card… which didn’t work. A pop up warning said: “the item can’t be copied because it is too large for the volume’s format”. Which sounded weird to me since the SD card was empty, with a capacity of 64GB, well enough for a 24Go file… 

The problem was that there’s a file size limit for media storage formatted in FAT/FAT32: 4GB per file. Bummer! 

How can you play a large MP4 file on a projector?

So I started researching alternatives to play my 80s video file. I considered buying a cheap media player box on Amazon but, aware of the issue caused by FAT/FAT 32 formatting, I paid attention to the small print warnings in the products descriptions. All of them clearly stated that they would only play from SD cards or USB sticks formatted in FAT/FAT32… 

After a while, I was about to give up and decide to just plug my Macbook to the projector to play this video file at the party. But then I remembered having read a piece about using a Raspberry Pi as a standalone media player (for in-store signage). 

The solution: connect a cheap Raspberry Pi to your projector! 

Going back to Google, I discovered that you could flash an open source media player (OSMC) on the SD card provided with a Raspberry Pi, which would play all sorts of files including, hopefully, my huge 80s compilation. 

So I bought a brand new Raspberry Pi 3 starter kit on Amazon and a 128GB Sandisk USB stick (on which I would copy my MP4 file). 

raspberry pi to play a large movie file on a projector

After quickly assembling my Raspberry Pi, I copied the OSMC media player on the SD card, connected the Raspberry Pi to the video projector via HDMI (tip: switch on the projector first, then boot the Raspberry Pi, otherwise it might not be detected by the projector) and followed the instructions to set up the media player. 

There was one last important step to complete before being able to play my large video file on the projector via the Raspberry Pi.

How to add exFAT compatibility to a Raspberry Pi?

By default, the Pi would play media from storage devices formatted in FAT/FAT32. But you can easily add exFAT compatibility by installing a driver via the command line. Here are the instructions: first exit the media player via the POWER option in the menu. When you see the OSMC logo, press EXIT to open the terminal. Then enter the following commands (you will obviously need a keyboard). 

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install exfat-fuse

Your Raspberry Pi will then be ready to accept exFAT-formatted media storage! 

By default my Sandisk USB stick was formatted in FAT32 (so it did not accept my 24Go file). I had to reformat it in exFAT via DISK UTILITY (on Mac). When the  file transfer was completed, I inserted the USB stick into my Raspberry Pi, chose VIDEOS then FILES in the OSMC menu, found the stick and the file. And it started playing! 

I’m now ready for the party! 

80s party gif

What are the best USB projectors? 

If you’re looking for a great video projector with the possibility to play files directly from a USB stick (with enough capacity), here are some suggestions I’ve found online, all rated 4 Stars and more.

Click on the links below for the latest prices of a range of projectors with USB inputs.

Let’s start with a super cute product, the A1121 1080p projector by ETOE.

I love the form factor of this yellow mini projector, featuring both USB and HDMI inputs.

It retails for less than £175.

1080HD Mini Projector xxl

Goodee Mini Portable projector offers 1080p Full HD for less than $100 at time of writing.

The PVO Mini Projector also offers USB and HDMI interfaces, for $69.99. It’s a perfect video projector gift for children. It will enable them to organize movie screenings in the backyard. 

mini USB projector PVO 2 xxl

Kodak offers an ultra slim portable projector also compatible with HDMI, USB and Micro SD.

Kodak USB Projector xxl

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