Have you ever played music files on your computer using your home theater system? Or maybe you have watched your photos from your digital camera on your television come alive? If you answered yes, then you have had a touch of the magic of DLNA.
This extensively integrated technology which is barely understood lets you stream media files from your memory card or hard drive to other devices that are on your home network without you having to understand all about file formats, codecs, or the operation of your network.
DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance, which is the trade group Sony founded back in 2003 to define the interoperability guidelines that allowed this type of communication to be available. Before we had DLNA, it was a difficult process to set up a home-entertainment network.
This required the gathering of IP addresses and then configuring each of your components to talk to the other components all the while with no guarantee that this would actually be the end result. The process was simplified with DLNA – it creates a single protocol that makes sure DLNA-certified multimedia devices from different manufacturers work together properly.
How DLNA works
DLNA separates multimedia devices into 10 certified classes subdivided into three broad categories: Home Network Devices (TVs, PCs, game consoles, AV receivers), Mobile Handheld Devices (digital cameras, smartphones, tablets), and Home Infrastructure Devices (hubs, routers).
The functional capabilities determine a devices class — whether it controls, plays, or stores media —rather than the product type. It is fairly common for a device to fall into more than one class. For example, some DLNA-certified TVs will be classified as a Digital Media Renderer (media can be pushed to it by an external controlling device) and a Digital Media Player (it can locate and play media from other devices).
An AV receiver supporting DLNA can stream music, digital photos, and movies from a storage device that is attached to your home network via your smart TV.
Every DLNA-certified device relies on Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) to find and talk to each other on the home network. When you connect one DLNA device to your router, it will appear automatically on any other DLNA-certified component’s menu without the need for setup of any kind.
Typically, a scenario might look like this. A PC running DLNA-certified software that transforms it into a media server might be running, and then your DLNA-certified player (i.e. a game console, TV, etc.) could browse the content on the PC and stream it. On the other hand, a controller (i.e. tablet, smartphone, etc.) would be able to find the PC and tell your TV to play the content.
How to get started
There are over 4 billion DLNA-certified products available. This includes Blu-ray players, TVs, storage devices, smartphones, media boxes, game consoles, software, and tablets —there is a good chance that you already have one or more devices that are compliant in your home. Some manufacturers’ products might use a branded version of DLNA like AllShare (Samsung), SimplyShare (Philips), or SmartShare (LG). They all use the same technology and work together.
If you have a newer model tablet, NAS, PC, or smartphone, it likely came with bundled DLNA-certified software that allows any media on the device to be recognized by all your components that are networked. If you use an older model, you will still be able to turn it into a media server by simply adding a program like TVersity, Twonky, Plex, or Windows Media Player.
In cases where a component sends you to its own branded media-server program such as Samsung’s AllShare for Windows, you can sometimes use a third-party option, but experimenting is required to find the application that will work best with the brand of your component.
Philips’ SimplyShare is basically a private-label DLNA version that allows you to stream music and other media between your media players, smartphones, media servers, etc. to the smart television that is on your network.
Codecs is another region where DLNA gets chaotic. DLNA specs allow just a few common audio/video formats like MP3, MP4, Windows Media Audio, FLAC, and AVI files. MKV along with many others have no support. To complicate things further, various implementations of DLNA support various codecs. To make it even more confusing, some formats that are supported might not work if the bitrate, container, etc. don’t meet the DLNA spec. There is DLNA server software that attempts to make up for this deficit by transcoding files from a non-compliant format to a compliant one on the fly, but the results you get will vary significantly.
Is DLNA no longer useful?
It’s been over a decade since DLNA was first developed. During this time, the only way to tap into your collection of locally stored media and stream photo slideshow or a movie or from your computer to your television was via DLNA. Today, we have an endless array of online media streaming in addition to the numerous sharing sites like Flickr, Spotify, and Netflix.
The mentioned services do not satisfy the original intent of DLNA, but solve the problem with a process that is far simpler. Sony, the founder of DLNA, does not even support DLNA on its own Sony PlayStation 4, although there is speculation that they will do so in the future.
However, if you have gigabytes of media on your hard drive, it might be worth considering DLNA. Do keep its limitations in mind, though, and be ready for a little trial and error to figure out what the best mix of components and server software on your network is.
Even if eventually DLNA is seldom used, the coalition keeps on doing good work with the newest initiative being called VidiPath, which is intended to allow consumers to stream their pay-TV content over their home networks without needing a box for every television.
And everything suggests that the area will witness even more great new solutions in the future.