Your Cloud Media Center: How To Stream Videos From Dropbox

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stream files from dropboxIf you’re like me, you’ve got a computer hooked up to the big screen to go along (or replace) your TV tuner. It transforms your everyday television or computer monitor to something akin to those smart TV’s popping up in stores around the world, allowing you to watch most video files and YouTube videos from the comfort of your couch.

The biggest problem remaining with this set-up is the drag of keeping your video library current. You’ll want to watch your videos on your laptop one day, and on your media center the next. Time to get your USB stick. Or is it?

A simple solution to this problem can be found with Dropbox, but not the way you’re thinking. Instead of synchronising your videos across multiple computers, you can stream video files from Dropbox on any Internet-enabled computer.

Uploading Your Videos

The first step — and incidentally the most predictable one — is to upload your videos to Dropbox. Not necessarily all of them, mind you. Your Dropbox account can only hold so much. This step will take the longest, and require some patience from you; your upload speed is usually notably slower than your download speed.

Using the default settings in the Dropbox desktop client, these videos will soon be downloaded to your other machines. Although there’s nothing against it, this is not necessary for what we’re trying to achieve — streaming video — so you can save yourself some bandwidth by ignoring your videos folder using Dropbox’ Selective Sync feature.

Stream From Your Browser

When you want to watch one of your previously uploaded videos, just grab an internet-enabled computer and head to the Dropbox website. After signing in, you’ll see a list of the files and folders stored on your Dropbox account.

stream files from dropbox

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Clicking one of the items will open Dropbox’ lightbox, which is a black overlay for viewing or previewing your files. In the case of video files, it’s actually rather impressive. This in-browser video player plays most file types you’ll throw at it. I personally tested it with H.264-encoded MP4’s and MKV’s, as well as AVI and MOV, and all worked smoothly.

The media player is very simple — as expected for streaming video — but should offer most, if not all the functionality you need. That is, you can skip ahead in the video, control the volume, and switch to a full-screen viewing mode.

Bandwidth and Copyright Limitations

You may be tempted to share your magical streaming library with friends and family, but there are two things to beware. First and foremost, you should avoid copyright infringement. Even if you own a particular movie, Dropbox doesn’t take kindly to you putting it in your public folder and passing the link around, and multiple infringements will see your account suspended.

stream files from dropbox

The second reason is a practical one. Dropbox is a synchronisation tool, rather than a file host, which is why they’ve put bandwidth restrictions on the files you put in your public folder. Luckily, these shouldn’t bother casual users. At the time of writing, the limit’s at 20 GB per day for free accounts, and 200 GB per day for paid accounts.

Have you ever streamed video from your Dropbox account to another computer? Any other Dropbox tips that you know of? Let us know in the comments below the article!

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Comments (32)
  • Marko

    Not sure why you didn’t receive my previous message, but to get the complete video you have to download it as a Favourite.

    I’ve downloaded 2 hours of video and played it back successfully.

    • Elissa

      I added it to my favorites and NOTHING. It still says only 15 minutes is available and I NEED to transcribe a 40 minute interview NOW and I have a two hour deadline and I am frustrated beyond belief.

    • Marko

      ELISSA, Its no good just adding it to your Favourites and expect to play it straight away, you have to download it first. It took me 20 min to download 1 hour of video. When you’ve saved it as a Favourite, go back to Favourites and see it being downloaded in percentages, when complete you will find it plays OK.

  • Marko

    Same problem, only 15 mins of streaming and that’s it. Great shame they don’t allow a certain amount of video (say 2hrs worth with a GB limit so you can adjust the quality) to be uploaded and streamed in full.
    I’ll check back here again for any suggestion, in the mean time I’ll carry on looking for an answer or alternative.

  • PierreM

    I’ve uploaded a 40 minute 2GB wedding video which my friends can only stream the first 12 minutes of. Is this a Dropbox limitation? The video downloads fine.

    • Sanjib

      I’ve had the same problem. Uploaded a 22 minute, 800 MB mkv file, and can only stream 16 minutes of it. Very strange

    • Simon Slangen

      Strange. Have you tried contacting Dropbox support with the problem?

    • Nick

      I’m having the same problem. How do I stream more than 15 minutes?? I get a warning when trying to stream the video, “can only stream 15 minutes of video. To watch the rest of it, please favorite the video.” So I tried adding the video to my favorites, and when I select the video from my favorites, the same exact warning comes up. Any ideas?

    • Nina

      I HAVE THE EXACT SAME PROBLEM IT’S DRIVING ME NUTS

    • Andy

      Same here – I’ve contacted Dropbox support and have been told that the 15 minutes is a limit on streaming. It totally ruins the point of having a streaming service. I’m currently trying to find an alternative, which looks like SkyDrive at the moment.

    • rob

      having the same problem and skydrive only allows up to 300mb files

    • Simon Slangen

      I’m afraid there’s no way around the 15min limit using the free version of Dropbox. Cloudee (from the makers of Boxee) might be worth looking into.

    • normangl

      From your last comment, does this mean I shouldn’t get this 15 minute streaming limit now I have purchased a professional version of DropBox instead of the free version I previously had?

  • Vampie C.

    Great tip.

    So that way I can easily share video’s of our little girl to my parents and friends, without having to mail it to them?

    That would be great. :-)

    • Simon Slangen

      That’s right! You can press the little link icon at the lower right of the player to easily share the video with friends and family.

  • venkatp16

    this is not working for me.. does it has anything to do with account settings? or browser…

    • Simon Slangen

      Can you tell me about the problems you’re having?

    • venkatp16

      it is almost like playing video youtube if i’m not wrong. when i click it keeps on loading but nothing comes up and after sometime it is going to home page…

    • Simon Slangen

      Strange indeed. The only things that come to mind are a browser/plug-in issue, or an unsupported filetype. If that doesn’t help, you could ask for assistance at DropBox, or MakeUseOf’s very own Answers.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.