What are the best options for watching movies anywhere while on the road?
Imagine this… You’ve arrived at your new, remote, three month house sit, only to discover there is no cable TV, only limited WIFI, and the DVD collection features nothing but teen movies from the 1980s!
Of course not everyone wants to watch television while house sitting, but for some it is an ideal opportunity to catch up on missed TV series, documentaries or movies, especially if you are living away long term.
A little planning and some simple preparation will enable you to carry your own entertainment in digital format, eliminating the need to weigh down your luggage with an extensive DVD collection.
You may already have plenty of entertainment in digital format. Vanessa and I do enjoy our movies and TV shows, and we travel with a hard drive packed with items from our “to watch” list.
The issue we often face is how to be sure we will be able to watch our movies at our new house sit location. Some newer TVs have a USB input and are able to play digital files directly from the hard drive, but other TVs don’t recognize many of the file formats.
We have collected movies and TV shows in many different video file formats. These are just a few of the most common video formats you may come across: mpg, avi, mp4, flv, mkv, wmv and mov. Older TVs won’t be able to play digital files at all. There is no easy way to know – it depends on the make, model and age of the unit.
Until recently we have had to use a laptop to connect to a modern TV via an HDMI cable, or by a bulky VGA cable if it is an older model. With outdated models it hasn’t been possible to connect a computer at all, so we have resorted to watching our movies on the small screen of our laptop, which is far from ideal.
The perfect entertainment solution while house sitting
After a lot of research we have finally developed the perfect solution. We’ve put together a set of equipment that’s small, lightweight and very effective to use with most modern TVs.
Step 1: Gather your digital material
We don’t advocate that you break the law by downloading movies or TV shows illegally, but if you have DVD discs that you’ve previously bought, you are quite within your rights to make a copy on a hard drive for your own use.
TIP: Thrift and charity shops are great places to buy boxed DVD sets cheaply that you can store digitally and take with you for future viewing.
You can insert your DVD in the DVD drive of your computer and simply copy the contents over to your hard drive. However, these files are huge, and you really need to compress them down to a more manageable size.
Tool #1: Handbrake: download this FREE software at the link below the image, and follow the guidelines in the video to reduce your DVD files to a reasonable size:
Watch the video below for a quick tutorial on copying your DVDs to your computer and using Handbrake to reduce them down to much smaller files, without compromising on video quality too much:
Step 2: Storage options
There are many digital storage options, but for short to mid-term travel, by far the smallest and most convenient, are microSD cards.
We recently bought three new 128Gb microSD cards, which are smaller than a postage stamp. They weigh almost nothing, yet each one is capable of storing around 150 movies at a pretty decent quality. We slot these cards into a handy SDcardholder along with an adapter and a couple of mobile phone SIM cards.
Another favourite item of mine is the PNY-Baby. It neatly accepts the microSD card to become the tiniest 128Gb USB drive. This is much more versatile that using the SD card adapter as not all computers have an SD card slot.
Step 3: Upload compressed video files to microSD card
Simply drag-and-drop the compressed video files that you previously created with Handbrake, across to your microSD card. You now have months of media entertainment stored on something that weighs practically nothing.
But how do you play these files on almost any TV?
Step 4: How to watch movies anywhere on any TV
We did quite a bit of research before buying the Sumvision Cyclone Micro 4 Media Player.
This tiny device will accept a microSD card, a USB key, or an even larger USB hard drive, and will play any video file.
It outputs the content via either an HDMI cable or via RCA connections – the standard yellow/red/white audio and video cable connections. It can also be used to play music or browse pictures.
We have yet to find a video file it cannot play, and we haven’t been to a house sitting assignment yet where we couldn’t connect it to the TV and watch our movies or TV shows.
The Sumvision Cyclone Micro 4 has its own small remote control, or you can download an app called “AirFun”, which allows you to control your videos from your tablet or phone
By using a combination of these affordable, tiny, lightweight items you can watch your movies and TV shows wherever you are house sitting, no matter what type of TV you find at the property when you arrive.
Our complete setup for short to mid-term travel, with 256Gb of entertainment included on 2 x 128Gb microSD cards. Here we have connected it to an older TV at one of our house sits.
Checklist of items:
Useful free software:
VLC media player (for playing any video file on your computer)
Handbrake (for creating small mp4 video files from much larger files)
Must-have travel accessories:
microSD USB adapter / “PNY Baby” adapter