UPnP stands for “universal plug and play” and provides a set of standards for the hassle-free sharing of media without the need for manual setup. In essence, UPnP devices are able to see and communicate with one another, and one of the best uses for this technology to stream media around the house.
DLNA is an acronym for “Digital Network Living Alliance” and was established by Sony in 2003 to further define (some might say restrict) the sharing of such media. In order to make use of UPnP and DLNA-compliant devices you will need a client (known as a renderer) such as a PlayStation 3 or Smart TV and a server which can be hardware-based like a NAS drive or software-based as a service that runs on a PC.
In order to stream to your console or other UPnP renderer you will want a free DLNA server which controls playback. Here is the MakeUseOf list of free UPnP servers for this purpose.
A Quick Note
Not all DLNA/UPnP devices work with all servers, and this is often down to the client (i.e. Smart TV, games console) than it is the server. Some servers include workarounds to extend support for devices such as this. The rule of thumb is to test servers with your devices – if you find one that fulfills the needs of your household then you should probably stick with it.
If a particular DLNA server doesn’t seem to like one of your devices then you should probably try another until you find one that does. You might also want to look into a server that transcodes media for compatibility, but ensure your hardware can handle the task.
Serviio (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Serviio is a premium UPnP DNLA-compliant media server with a generous free option. The pro version of the DLNA server requires a one-off fee of $25 for access to the MediaBrowser web-based player, API for online access to your media and the ability to control access to shared content. For home users looking to stream their personal connections over a local network, Serviio is a great choice.
Android users can download ServiiDroid, which provides access to the Serviio console on Android devices (and more importantly does not require Pro). Users who do decide to drop $25 can access their media from anywhere via the ServiiGo Android application for the viewing of media away from your local network.
TVMOBiLi (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
TVMOBiLi is another premium streamer with decent free option, though it takes a different approach to Serviio. For TVMOBiLi, there are no restrictions over the use of features, and the whole media server is open for use until a user streams over 10GB of data. At this point you must purchase (either at $1.50 monthly fee or a one-off payment of $30) in order to continue use.
Users automatically get a free trial of the premium “unlimited” mode upon installing TVMOBiLi, which gives you a month to decide whether it fits the bill and works with your clients or not. The service claims to support a vast array of media clients and has decent support documentation for a server up and running and resolving any issues.
XBMC (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux + More)
One of the most powerful media centres out there with a huge range of add-ons and open source grunt behind it, XBMC can function both as a DLNA-compliant UPnP server and a client for receiving streams. If you’re a regular reader then you’ll surely know that we’re rather fond of XBMC at MakeUseOf, with the latest release being faster and prettier than ever.
Setup of this DLNA server is as easy as enabling “Share video and music libraries via UPnP” in Network under System in XBMC’s main menu. From then on, your libraries will be easily discoverable on the local network. It’s really that easy!
PS3MediaServer (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
Designed to make the most of the PS3’s abilities as a media streamer, PS3MediaServer isn’t strictly limited to Sony’s console in terms of compatibility and has some compatibility with other clients. This is a mature project, with a number of plugins available for streaming from sources such as Grooveshark and SoundCloud as well as some on-demand TV providers.
The blog side of things hasn’t been updated for a few years but the forum community is still very much alive, offering help and tips on getting the server up and running with your devices. There’s a little more tinkering involved here, but if you’ve got a PS3 and would like to use the same streamer for multiple clients then it’s a good option.
MediaTomb (Mac OS X, Linux, FreeBSD)
Another completely free DLNA server with transcoding ability, MediaTomb is a highly extensible UPnP solution with binaries for OS X, FreeBSD and a large range of Linux distributions. One of the best things about MediaTomb is the documentation, with detailed instructions about getting devices such as the PS3 and DLNA-enabled TVs working.
The server is configured via a web interface, which provides a straightforward way to manage your media. If you run into problems that the Wiki or FAQ can’t solve then there’s an active forum on which to ask for help.
LXiMediaCenter (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
LXiMediaCenter is a UPnP server that always transcodes video, regardless of whether it is in a compatible format or not. This means the requirements for running it are relatively high compared to some of the other servers on this list – so it’s not ideal for older machines. It also uses high quality encoding, so a wired Ethernet or 802.11n connection comes highly recommended.
There are binaries available for Windows, OS X and a number of Linux distributions, making setup easy when coupled with the quick setup guide. The project is still in beta, and thus has not been tested as extensively as some others but it might suit those of you who value high quality streaming with the hardware to support it.
There are more UPnP compliant DLNA servers for the job, but these are some of the easiest to setup and most effective servers available. Don’t forget that much of the troubles encountered by DLNA clients is down to the clients themselves – much of the time due to not supporting the filetype attempting to be streamed (in which case transcoding is required). Let us know what you use, which you’ve found works best and whether premium options like TVersity are really worth it in the comments, below.