What DLNA Is and How to Use It

Simplifying media file access within a home network

The DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a trade organization that sets standards and guidelines for home networking devices, including PCs, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc Players, home theater receivers, and media streamers, among others.

What Is DLNA?

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

DLNA certified devices can:

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

Examples of DLNA in action include:

  • Send audio and video from a mobile device to a DLNA-certified TV.
  • Access audio, video, or photos on a DLNA-certified PC and play them on a certified TV or Blu-ray player.
  • Send photos from a certified digital camera to a DLNA-certified TV, PC or other compatible devices.
Official DLNA Logo
Digital Living Network Alliance via Wikimedia Commons

The Need for DLNA

When networked home entertainment was introduced, it was difficult for devices on the same network to communicate with each other. DLNA changed that.

In 2003 the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) was created to implement certification requirements. This ensured that select products made by participating manufacturers were compatible with a home network. It also meant 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 and make it accessible to media players, and others control and direct media from its source to a particular player in the network. There is a certification for each of these roles.

Within each certification, there are DLNA guidelines for:

  • Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Hardware.
  • Software or firmware.
  • User interface design.
  • Instructions for connecting the device to a network.
  • Displaying different media formats.

DLNA-certified devices can be used to save, share, stream, or show digital media. Certification can be built into the hardware or be part of a software application running on the device. This relates to network-attached storage (NAS) drives and computers. Twonky, TVersity, PlayOn, and Plex are popular software products that can act as digital media servers.

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

PlayOn Desktop App — Compatible Devices

DLNA Device Certification Categories

Some certification categories for DLNA products and devices include:

Digital Media Player (DMP)

This 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 you want to play from a list on the player's menu. The media stream the selection to the player. A media player may be connected to or built into a TV, Blu-ray Disc player, or home theater AV receiver.

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, network-attached storage (NAS) drive, smartphone, DLNA-certified networkable digital camera, or a network media server device. A media server must have a hard drive or memory card where 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.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS

Digital Media Renderer (DMR)

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

While a certified Digital Media Player can only play what it sees on its menu, a Digital Media Renderer can be controlled externally. Some certified Digital Media Players are also certified as Digital Media Renderers. Many standalone media streamers, smart TVs, and home theater 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. Some cameras and camcorders may be certified as Digital Media Controllers.

HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition – DLNA

Digging Deeper Into DLNA Certification

You may 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 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 apply to digital media printers and specific mobile devices. 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 a media server and save the file to itself. For example, you can find music in a PC music library and load it to your phone via the home network.

Here are a few more points about DLNA-certified devices to consider:

  • Once you use a Digital Media Controller to start playback from the Digital Media Server to the Digital Media Renderer, you no longer need the controller. This means if you used a smartphone to start playback, you can leave with the phone and playback would continue.
  • If you are looking at the list of Digital Media Renderers on your media controller, and you don't see a media player connected to your home network, then it's not a Digital Media Renderer. You won't be able to send media to that device.
  • Windows 7, 8, and 10 are compatible with DLNA as a Digital Media Server, Digital Media Renderer and Digital Media Controller. However, you need to set up media sharing and network homegroup. More Digital Media Players are also Digital Media Renderers. This means you can send files to play on it, or you can choose files from sources directly from the player's menu.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the DLNA certifications helps to understand what's 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 playing it on your TV without the need for any connections.

A great example of DLNA in action is Samsung's AllShare family. Sharing via DLNA is built into Samsung's networked entertainment products, including cameras, laptops, TVs, home theater systems, and Blu-ray Disc players.

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

In 2017, the DLNA disbanded as a non-profit trade organization and relinquished all certification and other related support services to Spirespark. For more details, refer to the Official ​Announcement and FAQs posted by the Digital Living Network Alliance.​