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Do you want to play movies from your external hard drive on your Apple TV? It used to be that there were few easy ways to do this, though now you have a few options.

In this article, we’ll show you a few different ways to use your Apple TV to watch movies on an external hard drive.

AdobeStock_175816851 closed silver laptop with external hard drive on dark black background

Use Home Sharing to Stream Content from a Computer with External Drive.

You can stream your movies from your external hard drive if you set up home sharing and connect your computer and Apple TV to the same Wifi network.

Most external drives are compatible with Macs and PCs, but make sure you double check before purchasing an external drive, as some old computers may not be compatible with new drives. (Likewise, an old drive might not work on a new computer.)

Here’s how to get started:

Connect all your devices to the Apple TV app.

  1. First, make sure to install Apple TV as an app on your computer (it’s in the app store).
  2. Make sure your external drive is plugged into your computer and compatible with your computer.
  3. Make sure your Apple TV and computer are on the same wifi network and you are logged into the same Apple ID on all devices.

Enable media sharing on the Apple TV app on your computer.

  1. Choose “Apple Menu”
  2. Then click “System Preferences” > “Media Sharing” > “Home Sharing.”
  3. Sign into your Apple ID.
  4. Click “Turn On Home Sharing”

If you do not want to copy the files from your external drive to your computer, you will need to uncheck “Copy files to Media folder when adding to Library.” This will enable you to stream content without taking up space on your computer’s drive.

If you are having difficulty figuring out how to set media sharing up on your computer, or how to configure this based on your operating system, you can see more resources on Apple’s website.

Turn on home sharing on your Apple TV.

  1. You can find this at “Settings” > “Users and Accounts” > “Home Sharing.”
  2. Then log into your Apple ID.

Make sure Apple TV recognizes your external drive. 

The app will need to be able to recognize any external drive or computer you are using.

  1. Make sure any external hard drive is plugged into your computer.
  2. Make sure you add your external hard drive to the Apple TV app.
  3. Make sure your computer is not set to go to sleep while you are streaming content, as this will interrupt the streaming of your movies.

Your Apple TV will also need to recognize the formats of your files/movies/vidoes.

Check to see if the files are one of the following formats. Apple TV can only play movies in formats it can recognize. Apple TV can recognize most common file formats, so you probably won’t have any problem.

If you have trouble and think maybe the file format is the problem, you can search acceptable file formats on Apple’s website. Scroll down to “Video formats.”

You can find the type of file by going into the Finder on your computer and right-clicking on the file of any video/movie file. Click “get info” to see what type of file you are working with.

If your movies are not in one of the file formats listed above, you will need to convert the file before you can watch it. You can find a variety of websites that provide this service should you need to do so.

Set your computer up as the input source. This will allow Apple TV to recognize your computer.

  1. When you open the Apple TV, you should see a list of “computers.”
  2. Choose the computer you want to stream from.

Now you can stream movies from your hard drive onto any Apple device logged into the same wifi and Apple account. 

If you want to stream movies from a computer other than a Mac, you can do the same thing, but using iTunes instead of Apple TV. All devices will need to be signed into the same Apple account, though you will click “File” > “Home Sharing” > “Turn on Home Sharing.”

Import your Movies to your Apple TV.

If you are working on a Mac, you can import video files from your external hard drive or computer into your Apple TV library. In this case, all imported files will then appear in your Apple Media Library.

To import files from your hard drive:

  1. Locate the Apple TV app on your computer.
  2. Choose “File” > “Import.”
  3. Locate the file you want to import and open it.
  4. Alternatively, you can open the finder and drag a file from the finder window into the library window.

A copy of your movies will still remain on your hard drive even if you import your movies into your Apple TV.

Airplay from Another Apple Device.

You can also play movies from your external drive by using Airplay. Airplay will allow you to play the videos directly to your TV from your computer and external drive.

You will need to start by using the Apple TV app Library to access any files on the drive.

You can open files from your external drive in the Apple TV app, or you can open files from your Finder in the Apple TV app.

You will need to play the file on your computer in order to use Airplay. Here’s how to get started:

  1. All devices need to be on the same wifi network.
  2. Locate the video file you want to watch from your external drive or Finder.
  3. Tap the airplay button (this looks like a TV with an arrow underneath).
  4. You can airplay directly to your Apple TV, TV, or mac.

Screen Mirror from Another Apple Device.

You can also use screen mirroring, which is similar to Airplay but displays the screen of your computer to your TV via your Apple TV, rather than just the video you are playing.

This is a good option if you can play your movie in full screen mode on your computer (you will be watching on your TV exactly what is on the screen of your computer).

The process for Screen Mirroring is similar to Airplay. One advantage of using this option is you can easily choose any Apple TV to connect to, provided it is on the same network and signed into the same Apple ID.

Use a Media Player Like Plex or Infuse.

Some users prefer to use eservices such as Plex or Infuse, which basically turn your computer or network attached storage (NAS) device into a local server.

These services will allow you to view your media files and basically create your own streaming media player.

You can find free limited versions of Plex online (though there are also paid services with additional features). Infuse offers a free trial period.

Keep in mind that since these are streaming services, you will need to keep your computer or NAS running while you stream files.

Use Your External Drive as a Secondary Storage Unit for Apple TV.

If your Apple TV has a USB port that is adequate to play video files, you can plug your external drive into your Apple TV (this will not work for all Apple TV devices).

You will need to make sure your USB is compatible with Apple devices and that you are able to run nitoTV.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Connect your USB to your Apple TV.
  2. Go to Files and access your content using nitoTV (not iTunes).
  3. Make sure you disconnect from nitoTV when you are finished.

Final Thoughts

Watching the movies on your external drive isn’t too difficult, though Apple doesn’t make it especially easy.

Unfortunately, many new Apple TV devices do not have USB ports and cannot be connected directly to an external hard drive, so you need to jump through some hoops to watch movies from your external drive.

No matter your method, you will only be able to use files compatible with Apple TV.

In most cases, you will also need to ensure all devices are connected to the same network to play from an external drive.

Remember that any iTunes file cannot be played in other apps unless you use an app for media sharing.