What DLNA Is and How to Use It

Simplifying media file access within a home network

Official DLNA Logo

Digital Living Network Alliance/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

The DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a trade organization that set standards and guidelines via a certification program for home networking media devices, including many PCs, smartphones/tablets, smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc Players, home theater receivers, media streamers/network media players, and more...

What DLNA Provides

When a DLNA certified device is added in a home network, it can automatically communicate and share media files with other connected DLNA certified products in the same network.

DLNA certified devices can:

  • Find and play movies.
  • Send, display and/or upload photos.
  • Find, send, play and/or download music.
  • Send and print photos between compatible network-connected devices.

Examples of DLNA in action include:

  • A certified smartphone can send audio and video a DLNA certified TV via your home network.
  • A certified TV or Blu-ray Disc player can access and play audio, video, and still-image files stored on your network connected DLNA-certified PC.
  • A certified digital camera can send images, using your home network, to your TV, DLNA certified PC or another compatible device.

The Need for DLNA

When networked home entertainment was introduced, it was difficult to add a new device and get it to communicate with your computer(s) and other network devices. You might have had to know IP addresses and add each device separately and cross your fingers for good luck. DLNA changed that.

In 2003 the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) was established to create a standard, and implement certification requirements so select products made by participating manufacturers were compatible in a home network. This meant that certified products from different brands could communicate with each other with little or no additional setup.

DLNA Certification Guidelines

Each type of DLNA certified device serves a specific role in a home network. Some products store media, some control media, and some play media. There is a certification for each of these roles.

Within each certification, there are DLNA guidelines for:

  • Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Hardware requirements
  • Software or firmware requirements
  • The user interface
  • Instructions to make the device networkable,
  • Displaying different formats of media files.

Consumers can connect DLNA certified products and save, share, stream and show digital media. Images, music, and video stored on one DLNA certified device — a computer, network attached storage (NAS) drive or media server — and play it on other DLNA certified devices — TVs, AV receivers, and other computers on the network.

Certification can be built into the hardware or be part of a software application/program that is running on the device. This particularly relates to network attached storage (NAS) drives and computers. Twonky, TVersity, PlayOn, and Plex are popular software products that act as digital media servers and can be found by other DLNA devices.

PlayOn Desktop App — Compatible Devices

When you connect a DLNA certified media component to your home network, it appears in other networked components' menus. Your computer(s) and other media devices discover and recognize the device without any setup.

DLNA certifies home network products by the role they play in your home network. Some products play media. Some products store media and make it accessible to media players, and others control and direct media from its source to a particular player in the network.

By understanding the different certifications, you can see how the home network puzzle fits together. When using media sharing software and devices, you see a list of these categories of devices. Knowing what they are and what they do will help to make sense of your home network.

DLNA Device Certification Categories

Digital Media Player (DMP)

The certification category applies to devices that can find and play media from other devices and computers. A certified media player lists the components (sources) where your media is saved.

Roku Media Player App — Select Media Server Source
Roku

You choose the photos, music or videos that you want to play from a list of media on the player's menu. The media then streams to the player. A media player may be connected to or built into a TV, Blu-ray Disc player and/or home theater AV receiver, so you can watch or listen to the media it is playing.

Media Server Folders as Displayed on Roku Media Player App
Roku 

Digital Media Server (DMS)

This certification category applies to devices that store a media library. It may be a computer, a network attached storage (NAS) drive, a smartphone, a DLNA certified networkable digital camera or camcorder, or a network media server device. A media server must have a hard drive or a memory card on which the media is saved. The saved media can be called up by a digital media player. The media server makes the files available to stream media to the player so you can watch or listen to it.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS

Digital Media Renderer (DMR)

This certification category is similar to the digital media player category as these devices can also play media. However, the difference is that DMR-certified devices can be seen by a Digital Media Controller (further explanation below), and media can be streamed to it from a digital media server.

While a certified Digital Media Player can only play what it can see on its menu, a Digital Media Renderer can be controlled externally. Some certified Digital Media Players are also certified as Digital Media Renderers. Many stand-alone media streamers/network media players, smart TVs, and home theater AV receivers can be certified as Digital Media Renderers.

Roku Streaming Stick (TL), Ultra (TR), Roku TV (BL), Express (BR)
Roku Streaming Stick (TL), Ultra (TR), Roku TV (BL), Express (BR). Images via Roku 

Digital Media Controller (DMC)

This certification category applies to go-between devices that can find media on a Digital Media Server and send it to the Digital Media Renderer. Smartphones, tablets, computer software like Twonky Beam, or even cameras or camcorders may be certified as Digital Media Controllers.

HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition – DLNA

Digging Deeper Into DLNA Certification

  • Often you will see the DLNA logo on a product or product description. But rarely will you see what certification it has been given. The DLNA website lists many products under each certification. This can help you to find what you need whether it be a Digital Media Server, a Digital Media Player, a Digital Media Controller, or a Digital Media Renderer.
  • Other DLNA certification categories include those for digital media printers and specific certifications for mobile devices. The mobile certifications include Mobile Digital Media Server, Mobile Digital Media Player, and Mobile Digital Media Controller.
  • There are also DLNA certifications for Mobile Digital Media Uploader and Mobile Digital Media Downloader. These certifications allow mobile devices to upload media through the network to a computer or media server. A computer or media server can save these files eliminating the need to connect the camera directly for future file playback. Similarly, a Mobile Digital Media downloader can find media on your computers or media servers and save the file to itself. For example, you can find music in your PC music library and load it to your phone via the home network.
  • Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10 are compatible with DLNA as a Digital Media Server, Digital Media Renderer and Digital Media Controller. However, you will need to set up the media sharing and network home group. More Digital Media Players are also Digital Media Renderers. This means that you can send files to play on it or you can choose files from sources directly from the player's menu.
  • If you are looking at the list of Digital Media Renderers on your controller — smartphone or computer app, or camera — and you don't see a media player that is connected to your home network, then it is not a Digital Media Renderer. You can't send media to that device.
  • Once you use a Digital Media Controller to start playback from the Digital Media Server (the media library's source) to the Digital Media Renderer (that's playing the streamed media), you no longer need the controller. This means if you used a smartphone to start playback, you could leave with the phone and the playback would continue.

    The Bottom Line

    Understanding the DLNA certifications helps you to understand what is possible in home networking. DLNA makes it possible to walk in with your smartphone loaded with photos and videos from your day at the beach, press a button and start it playing on your TV without making any connections.

    A great example of DLNA in action is Samsung's "AllShare family". Sharing capability via DLNA is built into Samsung's networked entertainment products — from cameras to laptops, to TVs, home theaters, and Blu-ray Disc players — creating a more connected home entertainment experience.

    Samsung SmartView Media Sharing Examples
    Samsung SmartView Media Sharing Examples. Samsung US

    As of January 5, 2017, the DLNA has disbanded as a non-profit trade organization and has relinquished all certification and other related support services to Spirespark, going forward from February 1, 2017. For more details, refer to the Official ​Announcement and FAQs posted by the Digital Living Network Alliance.​

    Disclaimer: The core content contained in the above article was originally written by Barb Gonzalez and has been updated by Robert Silva and Lifewire Staff.