What is DLNA?
- What is DLNA?
- What are the benefits of DLNA?
- Do products with DLNA really work?
- Which? Best Buy reviews of products with DLNA features
An increasing number of electronic gadgets now come with DLNA capability but what exactly is it and what products do this best?
What is DLNA?
DLNA is an industry-wide standard for sharing data over a home network. Stream films from your laptop to your TV, for example, play an MP3 track from your mobile on your hi-fi system or print a photo from your tablet on your home printer.
If you have a router in your home then you have a network and can use DLNA products on it, and if you have wi-fi then you can do it all wirelessly too.
DLNA stands for 'Digital Living Network Alliance' - a group of organisations, including many consumer electronic manufacturers, that has created the standard enabling all DLNA devices to share media over a home network. The alliance was established in 2003 and now has around 250 members all working towards the goal of seamless interoperability of products.
The home network over which the content is shared can be either a wireless (wi-fi) network or a wired, ethernet (LAN) network.
However, it’s important to note that DLNA devices have the feature built-in and that there aren’t any DLNA adaptors available. This means that if your mobile phone isn't DLNA-enabled then it simply won't work on the DLNA network. Of course you'll still be able to connect it to wi-fi, but you won’t be able to share the content on the handset using this method.
How does DLNA work?
There are two main types of DLNA products: DLNA servers, such as a PC or a networked storage device; and DLNA clients. You need one of each to stream content using DLNA.
A DLNA client is where the content is viewed or listened to, and such products include some TVs and digital radios, for example.
The DLNA server is the device that sends the content. PCs running Windows 7 have DLNA built in to the operating system and Windows Media Player 11 can act as a media server that manages where the content is delivered and what content is accessible. However, Apple does not support DLNA in any of its products.
Other home media servers can be downloaded, such as Twonkymedia, Orb and TVersity. Some products, like DLNA-enabled TVs, often come with PC software to be installed on the computer that then acts as the home media server.
Does DLNA work?
The DLNA philosophy is admirable. If all devices communicated wirelessly and shared content seamlessly it would be wonderful, but there are some limitations.
Firstly, file formats can be a bit of an issue. Some DLNA devices might play MP4 video files but the device it's 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.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is another stumbling block on many people’s way to wireless home entertainment. 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.
Furthermore, while around 250 manufacturers are part of the DLNA, many offer their own take on DLNA and some major players, don't support DLNA at all.
Apple AirPlay and Samsung All Share Play
Both Apple and Samsung provide their own takes on DLNA, branding them Apple AirPlay and Samsung All Share Play respectively.
These systems are a guarantee, of sorts, that the various devices connected to the network are compatible. For example, A Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet can easily be wirelessly connected to a Samsung TV if on the same network. Likewise, it doesn't require much effort to play content from an iPad to another up-to-date Apple product.
DLNA is a joy to use when it works. In a perfect world you simply connect all your devices to your wi-fi network and share content between them. In reality, however, there are often a number of hurdles to overcome, and while a mass of cables is usually unsightly and confusing, in some circumstances they might still the best option.
Our advice is to have a go at setting up a home network, but be prepared for some complications along the way. When it works, it's great, but when it doesn't it can be quite frustrating. The easiest uses of DLNA that we've come across are the simple sending of a photo to a printer or a TV; add music and video streaming to the mix and it soon becomes trickier.