Smart TVs certainly live up to their name, boasting skills and features that excite even the most tech-savvy of minds. While a smart TV’s OS generally tends to be pretty upfront about what it can do, there’s one powerful feature inadvertently hidden in amongst all of the internet-reliant fanciness and gadgetry.
This feature is the ability to pause, rewind and record live television. It tends to go unnoticed because, due to a lack of internal memory, smart TVs aren’t able to perform this function until some extra memory gets plugged in.
The extra memory is easy enough to get hold of, as a USB memory stick is more than up to the job. These sticks of extra memory capacity can be plugged right into one of a smart TV's USB ports and allocated its recording role in the TV’s settings (some models will even offer up the function once it detects the device).
If you would like to unlock this useful and cost-effective recording method on your smart TV (presuming that you’ve double-checked your model is compatible), then you need to make sure that the stick you choose is the best it can be. There are three key features to look for when looking for a USB for your smart TV.
The first is that the memory stick carries a USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 connection, a recent iteration and improvement over the older USB 2.0 connection. Though they look similar, USB 3.0/1 can be identified by its bright blue colour, whereas the older USB 2.0 is solid black.
The reason for choosing a USB 3.0/1 memory stick is that its read and write speeds are incredibly quick. For these reasons, such devices are ideal for recording video files and then playing them back quickly and smoothly.
If your television only carries a USB 2.0 connection, this will limit and bottleneck the speed of your USB 3.0/1 memory stick. Though not ideal, we still recommended opting for a USB 3.0/1 product, as they are a similar price and will serve you well into the future and during any tech upgrades you may have planned.
This leads us nicely onto the second thing to watch out for - read speed. While USB 3.0/1 is fast, not all memory sticks are created equal, with each carrying different performance speeds. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the read speed (measured in MB/s), the better. Avoid anything under 100 MB/s.
What size USB stick for TV recording?
If you're thinking about getting a USB stick for your TV, you're probably wondering which memory capacity is best. The storage capacity of a USB stick is often referred to as its "size".
For the average TV user who is recording HD films and TV shows, you'll want a size of at least 128GB. So long as you stay mindful of what has been recorded and regularly delete older content, 128GB will do you well. Sadly, we can't say exactly how many hours of TV will be stored as this all depends on the resolution chosen and how your TV stores its recorded files.
If you would like smart TV recording to become your primary source of endless on-demand and catch-up entertainment, it’s worth looking into external hard drives. Though larger than a simple stick and more expensive, they are a far more robust and efficient means of storing large quantities of data. Alternatively, dedicated Freeview recording boxes carry hard drives with capacities starting at 500GB and climbing to around 2TB.
The best USB stick for smart TV
Samsung DUO Plus, 128GB
The Samsung Fit Plus is a remarkable device boasting an impressive capacity and speed.
While the read speed can vary depending on the TV, Samsung reports that the 128GB and 256GB capacity sticks can reach read speeds of 300MB/s, which is ideal for watching back HD and 4K video files and will give your TV plenty of headroom to reach its full potential.
The type-C and type-A compatibility serves a neat purpose too; it’s much more versatile in the midst of the evolution from USB type A to USB-C without being strictly bound to either.
|• Ample memory||• Pricey compared to competition|
|• Fast read speeds|
|• Smooth performance|
|Read speed||300 MB/s (128 GB & 256 GB)|
SanDisk Extreme Pro SDCZ880, 128 GB
SanDisk’s Extreme Pro is a compelling option. The 128GB capacity is going to be enough to store a wide selection of films and TV series, while the 420 MB/s read speed is going to keep up with HD and 4K formats. The only downside with the Extreme Go is that it’s bulky.
Primarily designed for travel and keychain attachment, the USB port can retract into the protective body. While this protection has its place, used in combination with a TV this may cause issues, from the device unattractively poking out from the side of a TV, through to the USB not being able access to ports in a sunken or recessed position.
|• Affordable||• Large and indiscreet|
|• Strong read speeds|
|Read speed||420 MB/s|
SanDisk Ultra Flair, 256 GB
The Ultra Flair comes to use from memory-maestro SanDisk, carrying with it a 256GB capacity. The read speed is acceptable for general use catching up with missed shows, measuring in at a maximum of 150 MB/s. While faster read speeds are present elsewhere, the higher memory count will take precedence for some.
There is a 512GB version of this stick available, but the price bump is significant.
|• Affordable||• Better read speeds elsewhere|
|• Large capacity|
|Read speed||150 MB/s|
Kingston DataTraveler 100 G3, 128GB
Kingston’s entry in this list is kind on the budget, nabbing a USB 3.0 connection and 128GB of recording storage for comfortably under £15. While the DataTraveler G3 demonstrates how cheap storage is nowadays, it also shows how lower-cost items are limited in other ways.
Here, this limit comes as a low read speed, clocking at a maximum of 130 MB/s. This isn’t going to be a real issue for anyone intending to use the USB stick for the occasional programme or movie, but those hoping to record and watch HD programming regularly will want to look for a faster option.
|• Very affordable for USB 3.0||• Bare minimum read speed|
|Read speed||130 MB/s|