DLNA - What It Is and its Role In Home Entertainment

Official DLNA Logo
Official DLNA Logo. Digital Living Network Alliance

What DLNA Is

DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance.

The DLNA sets standards and guidelines for home networking media devices, including many PCs, Smartphones/Tablets, Smart TVs, Bl-ray Disc Players, and Network Media players. A device can receive a DLNA certification. This certification lets the consumer know that once connected to your home network, it will automatically communicate with other connected DLNA certified products.

DLNA certified devices can: find and play movies; send, display and/or upload photos, find, send, play and/or download music; and send and print photos between compatible network connected devices.

The History of DLNA

In the early years of networking home entertainment, it was difficult and confusing to add a new device and get it to communicate with your computers and other network devices. You might have had to know IP addresses and add each device separately along with crossing your fingers for good luck. DLNA has changed all that.

The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) was started in 2003 when several manufacturers got together to create a standard, and implement certification requirements, so that all products made by participating manufacturers were compatible in a home network. This meant that certified products were compatible even if they were made by different manufacturers.

Different Certifications for Each Device's Role in Sharing Media

Products that are DLNA certified typically are recognized, with little or no setup, as soon as you connect them to your network.

DLNA certification means that the device plays a role in your home network and that other DLNA products can communicate with it based on their own roles.

Some products store the media. Some products control the media and some products play the media. There is a certification for each of these roles.

Within each certification, there are DLNA guidelines for Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, for hardware requirements, for software or firmware requirements, for the user interface, for instructions to make the device networkable, and for displaying different formats of media files. "It's like a car's all point inspection," said Alan Messer, DLNA board member and Senior Director of Convergence Technologies and Standards for Samsung Electronics. "Each aspect must pass testing to get a DLNA certification."

Through testing and certification, consumers are assured that that they can connect DLNA certified products and be able to 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--will play on other DLNA certified devices -- TVs, AV receivers, and other computers on the network.

The DLNA certification is based on product types and categories. It makes more sense if you break it down. Your media lives (is stored) on a hard drive somewhere. The media must be accessible served up to be shown on other devices. The device where the media lives is the Digital Media Server. Another device plays the video, music and photos so you can watch them.

This is the Digital Media Player.

Certification can either 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, and TV Mobili are popular software products that act as digital media servers and can be found by other DLNA devices.

DLNA Product Categories Made Simple

When you connect a DLNA certified network media component to your home network, it simply appears in other networked components' menus. Your computers 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 the media and make it accessible to media players. And still others control and direct media from its source to a particular player in the network.

By understanding the different certifications, you can understand 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. While a digital media player obviously plays media, the names of other devices are not as evident.

Basic Media Sharing DLNA Certification Categories

Digital Media Player (DMP) - The certifcation 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. 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.

Digital Media Server (DMS) - The 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 media saved to the device 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.

Digital Media Renderer (DMR) - The certification category is similar to the digital media player category. Device is this category also play digital 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 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. Both stand-alone network media players and networked TVs and home theater AV receivers can be certified as Digital Media Renderers.

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. Often smartphones, tablets, computer software like Twonky Beam, or even cameras or camcorders are certified as Digital Media Controllers.

More On DLNA Certifications

  • Often you will see the DLNA logo on a product or product description. But rarely will you see what certification it has been given. To know a product's capabilities, you need to know its certification. The DLNA website lists many products under each certification. This can help you to find what you need -- a Digital Media Server, a Digital Media Player, a Digital Media Controller, or a Digital Media Renderer.
  • Other DLNA certification categories that 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 relate to the mobile device's ability to upload media through the network to a computer or other media server. An uploader can send files to be saved on a media server. A camera may have this ability so you don't have to connect directly to the computer or other device. 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 on your music library and load it to your phone via the home network.

  • Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10 are compatible 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 and 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 not send media to that device.
  • Once you have used 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. In other words, if you used a cell phone to start the playback, you could leave with the phone and the playback would continue.

More Info

Understanding the DLNA certifications helps you to understand what is possible in home networking. DLNA makes it possible to walk in with your cell phone 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"(TM). AllShare is built into Samsung's line of DLNA certified networked entertainment products -- from cameras, to laptops, to TVs, home theaters and Blu-ray Disc players--creating a truly connected home entertainment experience.

For a complete rundown on Samsung AllShare - refer to our supplementary reference article: Samsung AllShare Simplifies Media Streaming

Disclaimer: The core content contained in the above article was originally written as two separate articles by Barb Gonzalez, former About.com Home Theater contributor. The two articles were combined, reformatted, edited, and updated by Robert Silva.

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