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What is DLNA?

By Andrew Laughlin

Easily share data over a home network, such as videos and photos, using DLNA-compatible devices.

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Fancy sharing data over a home network, such as videos, photos or music? DLNA allows you to do just that on compatible devices, such as TVs, laptops, smartphones and printers. Read on to find out all you need to know about DLNA.

What is DLNA?

DLNA is an industry-wide standard for sharing data over a home network. Depending on the DLNA-compatible devices you own, you might be able to stream films from your laptop to your TV, play an MP3 stored on your phone over your hi-fi system, or print a photo from your tablet on your home printer.

DLNA stands for 'Digital Living Network Alliance'. It's a group of organisations, including many consumer electronics manufacturers, that has created a standard enabling all DLNA devices to share media over a home network.

If you have a router in your home, you'll most likely be able to link DLNA-compliant products across your home network. If your router is wireless (which most are these days), then you can do it all over wi-fi too.

However, it’s important to note that you won’t be able to add DLNA support to your existing devices. Tech products either have the feature built-in, or don’t support it at all.

"If you have a router in your home, you'll most likely be able to link DLNA-compliant products across your home network."

DLNA: how does it work?

There are two main types of DLNA products: DLNA servers, such as PCs or a networked storage device, and DLNA clients. You need one of each to stream content using DLNA.

The DLNA server is the device that stores and sends your movies, music and pictures. PCs running Windows have DLNA built into their operating system, and Windows Media Player can act as a media server that manages where the content is delivered and what content is accessible.

Other home media servers can be downloaded, such as Serviio, TwonkyMedia, Orb and TVersity. 

A DLNA client is the device on which the content is viewed or played, and such products include most smart TVs, soundbars and digital radios. Some products, like DLNA-enabled TVs, might even come with bespoke PC software that, once installed, lets your PC talk directly to your television.

DLNA: common problems

The DLNA philosophy is admirable. And, if all devices communicated wirelessly and shared content seamlessly, it would be wonderful, but there are some limitations.

First of all, file formats can be a bit of an issue. Some DLNA devices might play MP4 video files, but the device the MP4 is being sent to may be unable to recognise this particular file type. The same goes for the popular DivX video file type that many LG TVs support.

There’s usually a workaround that involves using media servers (such as TVersity) to encode content on the fly. But this can be problematic to set up for those unused to playing with such advanced settings.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is another stumbling block. DRM controls the way that people can share digital media in order to protect copyright. Some devices, despite being DLNA-certified, won't share certain music or video files with other devices due to DRM restrictions in place.

Even though around 250 manufacturers are part of the DLNA Alliance, some major brands offer their own take on home networking, while others don't support DLNA at all, such as Apple.

"Some brands offer their own take on home networking, while others don't support DLNA at all, such as Apple."

Apple AirPlay and Samsung Link

Apple and Samsung both provide their own takes on DLNA - Apple AirPlay and Samsung Link respectively.

These systems are a guarantee, of sorts, that devices offered by Apple and Samsung connected to a home network are compatible. For example, a Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet can be wirelessly connected to a Samsung TV, if they're on the same network. Likewise, it doesn't require much effort to play content from an iPad to another up-to-date Apple product.

So, if you're a big user of Apple or Samsung products, you may be better served with their proprietary systems rather than DLNA if you want to share media files.

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