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DLNA is a way for multimedia devices to communicate with each other on a local network. DLNA-compliant devices can stream local video, audio, and picture files to each other over your network. It’s a way for your TV to stream videos from your media server and your smartphone to act as a remote that can play a file from one device on another device. That’s the idea behind DLNA, anyway.

What Is DLNA?

DLNA stands for “Digital Living Network Alliance.” This trade group, created by Sony, certifies networked media devices as “DLNA compliant.” Networked media devices include game consoles, home theater systems, speakers, storage devices, and smartphones. Software can also be DLNA-certified — Windows Media Player can use DLNA to communicate with other networked media devices.

These devices use a standard protocol to talk to each other. Rather than each manufacturer creating a proprietary protocol for streaming media files on a network, DLNA-compliant devices can communicate with each other. You can buy a device from one manufacturer and use it with a device from another manufacturer, even if those two devices were never tested together.

Many devices support DLNA. The PlayStation 3 How To Stream PC Media To Your Sony Media Player How To Stream PC Media To Your Sony Media Player How many geeks does it take to stream a video from a PC to a TV over a wireless network? Read More , Xbox 360, and Xbox One all support DLNA. DLNA support is built into Windows Media Player, XBMC, Plex, and other media center software 6 UPnP/DLNA Servers for Streaming Media to Your Devices 6 UPnP/DLNA Servers for Streaming Media to Your Devices 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. Read More . DLNA software is available for a wide variety of platforms. You can buy DLNA-enabled network-attached storage (NAS) devices, televisions, speaker systems, and more.

media sharing8 How To Stream PC Media To Your Sony Media Player

How DLNA Works

DLNA-certified devices use UPnP — Universal Plug and Play — to discover each other on your network and communicate. DLNA divides devices into different classes. For example:

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  • A digital media server stores content and makes it available on a network. A digital media server might be a DLNA-enabled NAS Need Network Storage? Here’s How To Build Your Own NAS Box Need Network Storage? Here’s How To Build Your Own NAS Box NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. As Windows became easier to use with network attached devices, and hardware prices fell, this term started to be used in the consumer market. Today there’s a wide variety... Read More or a PC running DLNA-certified software like Windows Media Player
  • A digital media player can find content offered by a digital media server and play it back. For example, a game console or home theater system could browse a server’s media files and steam them.
  • A digital media controller can find content on a digital media server and instruct a digital media player to play the content. For example, you could use a smartphone to instruct a TV to play back DLNA content.
  • A digital media printer is a DLNA-enabled device that can print — for example, you could print from a Wi-Fi-enabled digital camera to a printer.

This isn’t a complete list — DLNA also defines other device classes, including different types of handheld devices.

DLNA devices should automatically locate each other on a local network, assuming their DLNA feature is enabled. For example, you could use the Play To option in Windows Media Player to a play a local video file to an Xbox or other game console. Your PC would notice the game console, display it as a possible playback destination, and then tell the game console to start streaming the video when you press play.

windows 8.1 dlna media streaming options

DLNA Was Made for 2003

DLNA is a product of its time. It was originally created in 2003 — over ten years ago. The Internet and digital media world was very different back then.

This system was made for a time when you had locally stored media, which you stored on a digital media server — your PC with a big hard drive or a NAS device. You’d then use DLNA to play that local media on other devices. DLNA only works for files you have locally. You can’t use DLNA to control playback of videos from Netflix or Hulu, or music from Spotify or Rdio. You can only use the media you have on your local storage devices.

The DLNA specification defines only a handful of audio and video formats it supports. Common formats like MP3 audio, MP4 video, Windows Media Audio, and Windows Media Video 9 are all included. However, DLNA devices don’t support Windows Media Video 10, the MKV or AVI containers, or FLAC lossless audio. DLNA also defines certain types of “profiles,” so some MP4 files might not be supported depending on their resolution, bitrate, and other details. Device creators can’t add support for these because that would violate the DLNA specification. Not all local media files will work. Some DLNA server software will transcode media on the fly from an unsupported format to a DLNA-compliant one — they have to do this because that’s the only way you could stream such files with DLNA.

DLNA also must involve files. You can’t use DLNA to stream the contents of your screen from one device to another, as you can do with Apple’s AirPlay What's AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion What's AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion Imagine you want to play your favorite album in Spotify. Naturally, you'll be hooking your computer up to a better sound station. But what if you're lying in bed, or sitting on the couch? Ideally,... Read More , Google’s Chromecast Google Chromecast Review and Giveaway Google Chromecast Review and Giveaway We're giving away a Google Chromecast, so read through our review, then join the competition to win! Read More , or the finicky Miracast wireless display standard Three Wireless Display Technologies That You Probably Own But Don’t Use Three Wireless Display Technologies That You Probably Own But Don’t Use Want to relay your smartphone's or laptop's display onto a larger screen without wires? No, it's not science fiction. You can wirelessly output video from computers and smartphones today. Wireless display technologies use WiFi to... Read More . You can’t play a game on a device and stream the output of your display to another device, give a presentation, or mirror your display for any other reason.

dlna devices for local media files

DLNA Is on Its Way Out

DLNA is still offered by a variety of common devices, being built into Windows Media Player, the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and even the Xbox One. There’s a good chance you have DLNA-enabled devices already.

However, DLNA is clearly on its way out. DLNA was founded by Sony, but Sony’s new PlayStation 4 console doesn’t support it. The Xbox One also didn’t support DLNA — until Microsoft added it in an attempt to one-up Sony and please the Xbox users they alienated with the Xbox One’s original design PS4 vs Xbox One: 5 Reasons To Buy The PS4 PS4 vs Xbox One: 5 Reasons To Buy The PS4 E3 2013 marked the moment when the next-generation truly began, with all three contenders -- the PlayStation 4 (PS4), Xbox One, and Wii U -- revealed in full. The Wii U is already on the... Read More . Apple devices have never supported DLNA without third-party software.

DLNA was built for a world where local media was king, not a world of online video services, music-streaming sites, photo-sharing sites, and a devices with their own screens you might want to share. If you use local media files at home, you can still use DLNA to play media files — at least some of them — across your devices. But DLNA hasn’t evolved to support modern types of media consumption and streaming, and it’s being left behind.

Image Credit: LG on Flickr, Docklandsboy on Flickr

  1. Martin Sall
    July 9, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    "Device creators can’t add support for these because that would violate the DLNA specification." - not true. DLNA guidelines define the minimal requirements to pass their tests and get that nice "DLNA certified" logo, but you are allowed to add everything you want to your device. Of course, other devices will have to support the formats you use, or else it wouldn't make much sense.

    DLNA is based on UPNP which permits you including support for OGG, FLAC, Internet radio, Spotify, home automation etc. - whatever you imagine.

    DLNA is evolving and it has versions, thus there is possibility that in the future it will include more requirements for formats and media transports in their guidelines. DLNA definitely is not dead.

  2. Lina
    June 5, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Yes, it is still used. There are many apps working from DLNA. Personally I use ArkMC which uses this technology to watch the photos on my TV. The developer also says that it is applicable for PS3, PS4, Xbox360, Xbox One, HD TVs . Haven't tried yet.

  3. Downloadman187
    May 8, 2016 at 5:03 am

    This article was very entertaining. DLNA is on its way out.ROTFLMAO. Who wrote this? Are you with the RIAA or MPAA? Streaming media across a LAN will be here for years to come. I am sure that there are several secs of the entertanment industry that wish this was true. If it was gone tomorrow I would still use a raspberry pi or CPU and stream.

  4. DLNA User
    January 17, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    So, PS4 Finally Adds DLNA Support and MP3 Streaming Option
    http://thetechreader.com/tech/ps4-finally-adds-dlna-support-and-mp3-streaming-option/

    It seems that DLNA will stay for a while ;-)

  5. Wentil
    December 6, 2015 at 5:01 am

    Much of this article is outdated. Frankly, with the rise of 4K video (and soon, 8K video), most people's home bandwidth is not really sufficient for online streaming of content. Nor have the online content providers been able to offer very much 4K content -- they pay for that bandwidth at the datacenter level, and the 4x higher data rate eats considerably into their gross margin.

    Consequently, most 4K video in the home comes from local repositories and storage, and plays just fine on 4K TVs as HEVC-encoded MP4 files. Direct Streaming these via DLNA to these new TVs is the best way of having and playing back 4K video. Far from "being on its way out", DLNA is the best way to get the job done, and nothing seems to be ready to replace it yet.

    • dfffdsdfd
      March 10, 2016 at 2:24 am

      fds sdfdfdsmfmfmsddf

  6. willie_mctell
    July 9, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Simple trolling. The lever, inclined plane, and wheel were developed thousands of years ago and have all kinds of contemporary applications. DLNA works. I use it every day. I have a lot of locally stored media and play it. Sure, DLNA doesn't do much with on line streaming content although there are plugins for some servers that can do it. OTOH, the lever doesn't do much in applications like making something run on wheels, except for, maybe, motion translation. Asking DLNA to be a universal media tool is silly. Nobody expected qsort to be a web server or a food processor. I can imagine a better tool than DLNA, but my limited imagination sees it as a better way to stream local content that could be incorporated into a bigger tool that handles other media tasks. It's bad design to try to develop a universal monolithic anything.

  7. Mystgreen
    February 24, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    DLNA is still live alive and strong in 2015. We have many NEW devices running here @home all sharing media with each other from LCD Smart TVs, to video players, to Blu-Ray Players to Smart Phones of several different breeds running on-the-go, connected to computers and 3 x 6Tb media servers all utilizing DLNA tech. In fact, if a device doesn't support DLNA it's blacklisted as having little use that isn't already present in other forms. This nixed FireTV and AppleTV both from our entertainment environment. Oh ye of such little faith.

  8. Arcadian
    January 8, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    DLNA is a good idea that still resonates today. Some people do work/share/archive locally and that ain't gonna change anytime soon. The reason the author states that it is on its way out is because makers of devices and software are battling for control of content and distribution dollars. You'll need an apps and payment profiles... etc etc. I say to hell with that. There is always a desire (and market) to do things yourself. Locally. DLNA lives on.

  9. Ahmed K
    July 21, 2014 at 9:30 am

    TYPO: Apple’s AirPlay, Google’s Chromecast, or the finicky Miracast wireless display standard. You '"'''"can’t""" play a game on a device and st

  10. Nicolas L
    July 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Without DLNA, I wouldn't be able to stream stuff from my server to my Playstation 3. Sony also said that they didn't implement DLNA in the PS4 because they simply didn't think about that (which is kind of funny).

  11. tom
    July 15, 2014 at 3:20 am

    Reading this with a smile. I have several devices that use dlna. Never had to much of a problem with it. In fact. The only issue was a slow network. But that went away when upped everything to 5ghz. It just works now. Wish I could say the same for some other stuff.

  12. Charles S
    July 15, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Use it all the time. It certainly does play MKV's when using the Dish Hopper and Serviio.

  13. Digby Fletcher
    July 14, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    DLNA is not safe, it's encryption has been broken for some years. Use at your own risk!

  14. Oscar
    July 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Jeff Schallenberg is right on the money. Right now for DLNA TINA.

    Besides, many of Chris's complaints about DLNA are easily overcome. Want to stream Netflix, just use the channel on Plex. (Translation: FOSS Plex transcodes the Netflix stream to DLNA. But it's more flexible than that. In theory the transcoder (Plex) can take any format and transcode it to any other format, not only to DLNA. All its programmers need to know is the specs for the standard to implement the transcoding. It's hard to imagine the need for such things won't be the case for the foreseeable future.)

    To take another example, thanks to the DLNA compatible Plex, I was able to leave my music collection at home on my NAS drive and listen to any and all my music during a vacation in Italy.

  15. puupee
    July 13, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Hahaha.

    I only discovered DLNA this year.
    Sony poor marketing?

    And now its on its way out...

    Its ok. As much as I think its useful, and I use it daily, there are so many devices and codecs it doesn't support in this decade, that its worthless unless it gets updated for MKV, AVI, Pioneer SMA3, etc.

    Unlikely as Sony is hurting bad (consecutive red ink) the past 10 years in consumer electronics, so their focus is probably anything but...

  16. Jeff Schallenberg
    July 12, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    OK, so DLNA is on its way out, and needs to be replaced.

    But by what? What newer protocol has emerged to improve upon DLNA?

    Is Miracast the way forward?

  17. lakshay Kaushik
    July 12, 2014 at 6:10 am

    i am a regular user of DLNA, I use it almost everyday .
    i hope sony keeps making DLNA compliant devics

  18. Howard B
    July 11, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    "What Is DLNA, And Is It Still Used?"
    Yes, it is still used...I bought an Asus RT-N65U router to stream video from an attached USB3 external drive to my TV, and when that stopped working, I installed Plex on my HTPC (a repurposed eMachine that I upgraded). It's quite useful.

  19. Sam
    July 11, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Wow, I was completely oblivious that DLNA was so old and that it's on its way out. I use Plex on a daily basis to stream videos from my desktop to my TV.

    • Michael
      July 11, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      I DO NOT agree that DLNA is on its way out, well at least not the concept of sharing local media throughout your home network is on its way out. Sure DLNA is old, but it still works fine, perhaps it could use some updating to support certain things, or handle situations better, but it is certainly not on its way out just yet.

      Until storing massive amounts of media in the cloud becomes a reality, DLNA / the concept of sharing local media across house hold devices has to stay. While the popularity of sharing local media across your house hold devices might be dying (Very very slowly) there will always be people who need or want to do it.

      Media files just take up way to much space at this point to have them stored in the cloud. Not to mention the US internet infrastructure / internet speeds are not even remotely close to being able to allow us to upload, download, and stream this type of media quickly and easily.

      You mentioned DLNA is not supported by Sony's PS4. That is true, but it will be implemented in some shape or form via and upcoming firmware update. Sony didn't necessarily not support DLNA from the beginning on purpose. On the PS4 there is absolutely NO way to view local media. You cant view pictures, watch videos, or listen to music from a USB port. The PS4 was/is missing local media functionality in general, let alone DLNA media sharing.

    • Ted Timmis
      February 5, 2015 at 4:42 am

      Sorry Chris Hoffman, You are very ill-informed and probably should have done some fact checking before publishing this article. DLNA allows devices to communicate with each other. Sorry, but that's not going away and yet you write so smugly that this is so 2003. You also state that DLNA does not allow streaming from one device to another... are you kidding?? Buddy, get your facts straight!

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