Editor’s note: it seems a lot of you want to know one simple thing – can I put all my iTunes movies and TV onto an external hard drive, so I can free up the storage on my iPad and watch my content from an external hard drive for iPad? You CAN put your content on an external hard drive for iPad and stream or copy it over to watch it – but NOT DRM protected content from iTunes (such as movies and television shows sold/rented from Apple). In the past, you could. Apple used to allow you to authenticate DRM content from an external hard drive for iPad by opening up the content (through the hard drive’s native iOS App) and authenticating it in the Safari browser for iOS. However, they REMOVED this feature with their iOS update. Now, you must copy your DRM content from your external hard drive for iPad onto your device and then play it from there as per normal. This is a pain, yes. The whole point of a portable external hard drive for iPad is to free up space so that you don’t have to store things on your iPad!
Apple is unapologetic about this, so we have no idea why they’ve made this incredibly stupid decision. Sadly, Apple is becoming more incredibly stupid as time goes on when it comes to consumer convenience. So, to move on, you can store all your video files onto an external hard drive for iPad and stream them to your device, so long as they are in a format that the App which came with your device supports. Commonly, people rip their DVDs (which is illegal, thanks to the MPA), so that they can store them on their external hard drive for iPad and stream them. However, more and more purchases and rentals of content are digital and if that content comes with DRM, you’re probably out of luck. If you are using a previous version of the iOS, you might still be able to stream DRM content but you’ll need to experiment. Now, we begin our article. Thank you.
If your iPad has already hit the storage ceiling, then it’s worth considering external storage options. Wouldn’t it be nice to offload all of your home videos, films, tv episodes, photos, magazines, etc to a small portable external hard drive and then connect your iPad to it whenever you wanted?
Unfortunately, things aren’t as straightforward as they should be.
Here is our guide to iPad external hard drives… fashioned as a Q&A.
Can I use an external hard drive with my iPad?
– Yes. But you won’t be able to plug it into the iPad directly. You can plug it into a portable wireless router that is designed to support and share external hard drives over wifi. You then connect your iPad to the same wireless network as the router and use a special App (sold by the router manufacturer) to read the content of the external hard drive from your iPad. You can stream some content (depending upon what format it’s in), or copy it over to the iPad and play it from there. Below, we give you some good options of what kit to buy.
…Even with the Apple Camera Connection Kit (Lightning SD Card Reader)?
– No. Firstly, the iPad does not offer the power over USB required by an external hard drive. Secondly, the iPad drivers don’t support external hard drives.
There are, of course, hacks that get around this problem. For instance, check out the Hyperdrive for iPad. However, your mileage may very. We had one of their early production models and it was buggy – but that was several years ago, so read the reviews and decide for yourself.
The Apple Camera Connection Kit (or, Lightning SD Card Reader for newer, thunderbolt devices) is designed to allow you to connect either your camera flash memory directly to the iPad (with the Apple SD Card adapter), or to connect your camera via USB (with the Apple USB adapter).
Can I store videos/photos/etc on an SD Card using the Apple Camera Connection Kit?
– Yes and No. First, the SD Card must be 16GB or less. Secondly, it must be formatted in a very specific way which is not only irritating but not very user-friendly. Finally, the iPad cannot play files directly from the SD Card but must import them from the card to the iPad first – into the Camera Roll – and then play them from there. This is time-consuming and annoying.
Here is what you must do to make the SD Card work with an iPad:
1 – format the SD card as FAT32 (nothing else will work!)
2 – Create a root directory called, DCIM, then a subdirectory 100SANYO
3 – put your photo/video files into the 100SANYO directory
4 – format your videos using Handbrake (Handbrake has predefined settings for iPad) – they must conform exactly to the H.264-compliant settings that the iPad expects, or it will reject them!
5 – rename your files using the following pattern: videos as “MVI_0001″ and for photos “DSC_0001″… and so on
6 – save a file in the root folder that provides a key to map the stupid MVI/DSC file names to what’s in them, so you don’t get confused when you want to watch something
Now, when you wish to watch a new video on the iPad, plug your SD card into the iPad Apple Camera Connection Kit. You will then be able to go into your ‘Photos’ App and see the videos on the SD card. You need to import the ones you want to the iPad before they will play.
What about Special iPad External Hard Drives?
iOS 9 NOTE: you cannot play DRM files anymore from an external device streaming to an iOS device since the iOS 9 update. Prior to the update, the App that would allow you to browse and stream files from the device would open up DRM files (e.g. iTunes movies) in a Safari browser on the phone/tablet which would authenticate the stream and you were able to play it. Apple broke this with the update, presumably on purpose, because they are ignoring customer complaints about it.
There are three types of external storage for iOS devices out there: (1) WiFi hard drives, (2) Flash storage devices, and (3) Wifi Routers with USB/SD card connectivity.
Wifi hard drives are battery powered and connect to your iPhone / iPad over WiFi as if they were a network-connected storage device. A better name for them would be wireless portable hard drives. They then use a special App to allow you to stream content to your iOS device, or upload content to your iOS device. They are useful when several people at once need to access the device and stream content (e.g. kids on travel). Each device has its own restrictions of: battery life, how many people can connect at once, and storage capacity. You cannot upgrade them either when you bump up against these limitations, however, which makes the Wifi Router category more practical for people that like to upgrade their components often. However, the portable wireless hard drive is indeed a simple, one-stop solution for connecting an external hard drive to your iPad or iPhone.
Flash storage devices connect directly to your iPhone / iPad. They, too, require a special App to view and stream content. However, at the present time, none of those on the market can stream and play DRM protected content. Presumably, this has to do with Apple’s restriction that limits them to connecting to the iOS Camera Roll. You could transfer DRM content to your Camera Roll and play it from there, but this eats up storage on your device and is a hassle. These are for single users and cannot be shared amongst a group (with some exceptions, see below). These are less fiddly to connect to your iPad than the portable wireless hard drives, because you don’t need to muck about with your wifi settings – you simply plug them into your device, open the app and play the content. However, they will use the battery life of your device to operate. Sometimes, this isn’t a big deal but the early iXpand gear from SanDisk had high power requirements to support fast io, so they put a battery into the flash stick, which you had to remember to charge up before use.
Wifi Routers serve a similar purpose as the Wifi Hard Drives, except that they will share any storage device that you connect to them – think of them as the Wifi + Storage as extra, whereas the Wifi Drives are all-in-one (and cannot be hot-plugged or upgraded). In addition, you get to use them as portable routers, which are handy when you go to a hotel that wants you to pay to connect each and every device and you don’t want to (you create a private network on the router behind a NAT, so all your devices appear as one, single device). Like wireless hard drives, several people can access and share content that is being hosted by the router. Some routers have the added advantage of allowing several external storage devices to be connected to them at once, making them very flexible.
We have owned and tested many device in the past that have come and gone, such as the Airstash, Hyperdrive, La Cie Fuel, etc. This has shown us what works and what doesn’t and which brands to trust. Here are some of our favourites at the moment.
WiFi hard drives
Both the Seagate Wireless Plus and the WD Wireless MyPassport offer up to 2TB of storage in a small enclosure that holds the hard drive, a rechargeable battery, and portable wireless technology.
The Seagate Wireless Plus promises a 10-hour battery life and Airplay connectivity, which is useful if you can connect a device (such as an Apple TV) to a hotel television when you’re on the road. It will also appear as a DLNA device on the network, which other streaming servers can access (including some Samsung TV’s, for example).
The WD My Passport Wireless promises 6 hours of battery life when streaming and 20 hours on standby. It does not support Airplay.
Flash Storage Devices
SanDisk appears to be making the best external flash storage devices for iPad at the moment. We’ll be looking at three of them. Although, we’d like to point out that the LEEF iBridge has great software and SanDisk copied their form-factor design when they released the newer iXpand. You may prefer to use the LEEF, if the software appeals to you. Check out the Leef how to page.
The one we like most is the newer version of the iXpand, which features a USB 3.0 pluggable at one end and a flexible Lightning connector on the other (this is the one that SanDisk copied from LEEF – although at the time of writing this, the iXpand offers greater capacity on the device than the LEEF), so that you can plug it directly into your iOS phone/tablet. The older version does the same thing but was slightly larger, because it included a rechargeable battery inside that was used to support higher file transfer speeds over lightning. I guess that customer didn’t really notice the speed bump and wanted something smaller!
The SanDisk Connect wireless stick is a very clever piece of hybrid travel technology – combining a flash drive with a wifi router. It takes a similar approach to the Wifi Hard Drives in that it is a flash drive that has a rechargeable battery bundled inside it to turn it into a wireless drive. Being flash, it doesn’t consume a lot of battery power, so you can get about 4-6 hours of streaming on a charge. It allows up to 3 people to connect to it at once and stream content. If you are using it on a long-haul flight (yes – you can use a wifi drive or stick on a long haul flight), you should bring a battery USB recharger with you and keep it juiced.
Generally speaking, though, the direct-connect flash drives are more convenient in that you don’t have to set up a wireless network and then connect to it in order to stream files, although the wireless drives will allow more than one person to stream content from the device at once.
Our two favourite Wifi Routers for attaching external storage are the iUSBport2 and the RavPower Wireless Travel Router. We have used the former for years but the latter is a newer product and is something we’d like to get our hands on.
Both products are pretty evenly matched. Both allow you to connect an external hard drive to them via USB cable. They contain a rechargeable battery inside to power the hard drive. In addition, both devices can hold a microSD card with content that can be shared.
Here’s where they differ. The iUSBport2 has two USB ports to connect to, so it can power 2x hard drives at once, plus an additional microSD card, whereas the RavPower only has one USB port. The iUSBport2 gets about 8 hours on a charge, although the Ravpower can go for slightly longer on a charge, plus the Ravpower can be used as a battery recharger when not in use (it contains a 6,000mAh battery). Both appear as DLNA devices to support streaming, although the RavPower claims that you can insert a Chromecast stick and stream remotely, which would be interesting to test. Finally, the RavPower is about a third of the price of the iUSBport2, making it more competitive.
If you are interested in products we reviewed in the past, some of which supported DRM streaming (prior to iOS 9), here they are:
Product Name / DRM Streaming?
You will notice that the majority of these iPad external hard drives are WiFi external hard drives. Persumably, this is to get around the weird restrictions that Apple has imposed with its Apple Camera Connection Kit (see above; also read about some of its shortcomings here and, also, here).
The iXpand device connects directly to your iPad / iPhone by a thunderbolt connector and is not a WiFi drive.
A couple of caveats:
– these WiFi drives are battery powered. You will need to remember to recharge them and they may only last a couple of hours on a charge.
– the functionality of these drives is limited by the Apps that you must run on the iPad in order to stream and view content from them. You may find that not all video/photo formats are supported and that you will still need to store data in iPad-friendly formats and codecs.
– some of these drives allow several people to connect to them at once. This should be considered a standard feature when purchasing. However, you will need to be mindful of security settings now that they are broadcasting their presence to other wireless networks.