What Is DLNA And Why Would I Care?

If you're at all interested in home entertainment, then DLNA could be your best friend. Here's what you need to know.

DLNA — the Digital Living Network Alliance, to give it its full title — is technically the name of the organisation that controls the DLNA certification standard, but unless you're planning on launching a new and exciting networked media player, it's not the organisation but the standard that you should be interested in.

At its most basic, DLNA is the specification that allows multiple network-aware media devices to "talk" to each other over a network without requiring user intervention. The focus for DLNA to date has been in entertainment media, making it a more specialised certification than the broader UPnP (Universal Plug & Play) protocols that it uses.

Why would I care about DLNA?

The core aim of DLNA is to simplify networking across device types and manufacturers. When it's working properly, DLNA devices should see each other across a network seamlessly without requiring any kind of user intervention at all; you just plug and, fingers crossed, play.

So what kind of DLNA devices are there?

The DLNA standard breaks down devices according to type.

  • Digital Media Server: Think hard drives, network attached storage, that kind of thing. Where your media lives, but not necessarily where you play it back. It's feasible for a Digital Media Server to also act as a player as well.
  • Digital Media Player: The other part of the equation; where you play back your media files, whether they're music, photos or video. A digital media player can be a tablet, smartphone, set top box or television set itself. The player typically grabs content directly from a digital media server.
  • Digital Media Controller: The middle man of the DLNA world, a Digital Media Controller talks to a Digital Media Server in order to push content out to other devices.
  • Digital Media Renderer: The passive part of the DLNA standard. A media renderer technically does the same ultimate task as the player, displaying your media in some way, but the difference here is that a renderer doesn't do any of the seeking; you've got to push media to a renderer from a server via a Digital Media Controller rather than seeking it.

So what can go wrong?

Technically, all sorts of things, but there's a few common bugbears. File formats are important; not every DLNA product will handle transcoding if you've got a file in a format that your player or renderer won't understand, which can be frustrating. You may also stumble against a DRM block; if you're trying to play back a digital copy sourced from a Blu-Ray/DVD multi-pack, it'll have to pass whatever DRM's been embedded along the way through to your DLNA player.

Network speed also plays a big issue, especially when you're talking about high definition video. If your network is also being used for low ping gaming and file downloading while you're trying to watch HD video, you may find things a little on the stuttery side.

Is DLNA the same as Apple's AirPlay?

Almost — but not quite. The end aim is the same, namely seamless media playback, but Apple uses its own proprietary protocols for AirPlay delivery, and not surprisingly focuses on working within Apple's tightly controlled ecosystem. Apple has licensed the AirPlay protocols to a number of external manufacturers, most notably for speakers, but it's not the same thing.

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    *raises hand* So uh, I have some additional questions.

    Which devices are DLNA certified? If that's too broad, what are some devices which meet the standard? Is it usually written on the box? Are there retailers who only stock or who do not at all stock DLNA-certified equipment? Is this a software standard or a hardware standard, or both? Is it OS dependent? I've never noticed any devices I have bearing this logo on their packaging, but I've not bought any devices too recently, so is this a new standard?

    That should get me started ^^;

      My basic recommendation: look for the logo in the top image on the box. If it has it, then the device will have at least one of the DLNA device functions (i.e. Server, Renderer etc). Which one or combination will be fairly self-explanatory: a TV with the logo will be a player, renderer and/or perhaps a controller; a NAS with the logo will probably be a server.

      If you have a Windows 7 PC and a PS3 or Xbox360, with a little bit of setup you'll be all good to stream from your PC to your TV. I've found the free "PS3 Media Server" software is a hassle-free alternative to Windows' built-in server too.

      AFAIK it's a functionality standard, which will involve hardware and software.

        Which devices are DLNA certified?
        A broad definition - for a device to be DLNA certified, it has to be network enabled with software/firmware support for DLNA

        If that’s too broad, what are some devices which meet the standard?
        Various PCs (Windows 7/Windows Media Player 12 support DLNA out of the box), internet/network enabled TVs/BluRay players, smart phones ... You get the drift.

        Is it usually written on the box?
        Often yes - though not always. However DLNA support can be added on some devices by installing DLNA supported software.

        Are there retailers who only stock or who do not at all stock DLNA-certified equipment?
        Not really no. If you're looking for a DLNA compliant device, ask the sales person.

        Is this a software standard or a hardware standard, or both?
        Software standard - however in devices that are not software upgradable, DLNA support needs to be baked in (i.e. Smart TVs)

        Is it OS dependent?
        No. For example I could stream media from my Windows 7 based media server, to my Unbuntu/Linux based XBMC box.

        I’ve never noticed any devices I have bearing this logo on their packaging, but I’ve not bought any devices too recently, so is this a new standard?
        Not as such, but I don't believe there's a requirement to carry DLNA's logo if a product is compliant - so it tends to go under the radar in marketing.

    <3 DLNA, use it all the time.

    The DLNA group maintain a product list: http://www.dlna.org/consumer-home/look-for-dlna/product-search -- but typically because it involves certification, you should find the logo on the box of the product when you're buying them. Largely OS agnostic (save for the above mentioned Apple quirkiness and some potential for transcoding issues). The standard dates from 2003, so it's not that new, but it's only in recent years that it's really become quite widespread.

    I use this to stream content form my PC to my PS3 (I think!).

    What I've not been able to find though is an Android app that'll do the same thing. I've found plenty of DLNA "servers", allowing me to share content on my phone with my PS3, but nothing to playback content on my PC (with any degree of success). Most of the apps I've tried just complain about not having codecs or unsupported file types. Not to mention the hideous interfaces these apps want to spew at you.

      So use Bluetooth instead. Bluetooth streaming is vastly improved and works really well.

        Plex is a good option for Android. Also if your phone is Samsung, despite the PC interface being horrendous, Samsung AllShare is reasonable at sharing between enabled devices.

        What? WTF has Bluetooth got to do with anything?

      So, you want to play media on your phone that is served by DLNA on your PC? I've had success with the combination of Skifta (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.skifta.android.app&feature=nav_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwyLDNd) and MoboPlayer (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.clov4r.android.nil&feature=nav_result). MoboPlayer supports software decoding of most files if the hardware decoder in your phone does not.
      The only quirkiness that I've found is that video playback turns into a slideshow on my Galaxy Nexus if you are listening with a bluetooth audio device.

      I use Plex media server on my Pc, and use BubbleUPnP (in combination with MoboPlayer) on my Android devices. BubbpleUPnP is $5 on Google play, but has never let me down.

      For a free solution, try Twonky.

      @Cameron - Skifta does a reasonably good job on Android at all things DLNA. It's not perfect, but it's the best I've found so far.

    As a linux alternative, I've had success with Ushare http://ushare.geexbox.org/ streaming from linux server to an xbox360.

    I'm not sure if android has it but stream to me works great in my iPhone and on iPads.

    I have it installed on my PC, and the app on my phone. From the app on my phone I can access all of me media on my PC anywhere in the house. I also have my home network setup with WDTV's and a PS3 in the lounge room. So from all TV's and from all Laptops, iDevices I can access my media collection.

    But I am looking at moving to XBMC on either a Rasberry Pi or some other setup as I like the user interface of XBMC allot more

      Dont get a raspberry pi for xbmc use. Its more a proof of concept as it cant hardware decode alot of popular formats. Look at something from ZBOX or the new android devices

      I went from a Win 7 dedicated media center to a raspberry pi and couldnt be happier. I don't rip DVDs etc, I just need something that would access my Drobo FS and play everything I threw at it. I was waiting for the Apple TV 3 to get jailbroken but since that still hasn't happened I went for the Pi. Lucky XBMC supports Airplay as well now.
      Happy as Pi

    I have a oldish SONY TV that’s DLNA enable and run ps3 media server and found that it works really well, I love being able to control everything from my phones. Also have a PS3 on a different TV, and there are iPhones/ iPads in the house too.

    I first discovered DLNA by accident when I found I could send photos from my android phone to the TV without doing anything on the TV, same with videos and music.

    I had a few issues with PS3 media server getting it to spit out the correct aspect ration and resolution for the TV, but its been working brilliantly for the last year and a half.

    Could I use a player that has DLNA to stream blu rays to my macbook?

    Thanks a bunch guys!

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