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You may have heard of DLNA. We've mentioned it a few times here on our site, most notably in our explanatory pieces on media servers like Universal Media Server and Serviio, which use DLNA to connect between devices. But what exactly is DLNA?

DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance, but that doesn't explain much. Let's take a deeper dive into the subject. We'll explain what DLNA is, how it works, where it came from, and why it matters to cord cutters.

What Is DLNA, and How Does It Work?

DLNA is a certification standard. Like the Energy Star sticker on your washing machine, it means that a device meets certain standards.

In the case of DLNA, the standards in question are interoperability standards focused on digital media. Essentially, DLNA certified devices can swap media easily and safely over a local network (like your Wi-Fi network at home). One DLNA-certified device can play media from another DLNA-certified source, even if the two products are from totally different manufacturers.

DLNA devices can also do other related things, like find each other on a home network. To do this, DLNA devices use Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) – which is itself a set of networking protocols. Combined with some digital rights management (DRM) security, this forms the core of DLNA's requirements.

DLNA devices are sorted into classes like “Home Network Devices” and “Mobile Handheld Devices.” In addition to detecting other DLNA devices on the network, each DLNA-certified product can tell what type of devices its new friends are.

It's also worth noting that DLNA only makes it easy to transfer certain types of files. Common media file types (like .mp4 and .mpeg) are supported, but some other high-fidelity file types (like .flac and .mkv) get left behind.

The point of DLNA is to make interoperability a breeze. Having a unified set of standards also makes things much easier on the development side, because companies can rest assured that their products will play nice with products from other companies without having to test their creations individually with a bunch of their competitors' devices. And that brings us to the history of the standard.

Where Did DLNA Come From?

Lots of companies make lots of different entertainment and computing devices, and they need them to be able to communicate with each other. At the same time, the companies that make those devices have an interest in keeping that connection secure and piracy-free, and an interest in limiting product testing. So it's no surprise that the companies themselves took the lead in creating a secure interoperability standard.

SONY gets most of the credit for DLNA – they established the Digital Home Working Group back in 2003 and took the lead role in creating the new standard. But other companies pitched in, too, and the idea had a lot of buy-in from around the computing and entertainment industries. In 2004, the new group published its first set of standards and renamed itself the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA).

Today, DLNA's members include some of the biggest names in tech and networking. Over four billion devices have been certified.

What Does DLNA Mean for Us?

DLNA is important to cord cutters and entertainment buffs because many of the products that adhere to the standard are the same devices we use every day. The long list of DLNA member and promoter companies includes Comcast, Intel, LG, Samsung, Sony, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The types of devices covered include mobile devices, gaming systems, televisions, and PCs.

The DLNA standard has become the basis for several media server applications. Using Universal Media Server or Serviio, you can beam your content over to any DLNA-certified device. Universal Media Server is itself a forked version of PS3 Media Server, and there are still more DLNA options out there. There are other ways to set up media servers, of course, but using DLNA means that you don't have to have an application on your target device, and that advantage has led to a bunch of apps that target cord cutters and media streamers.

The Future of DLNA

It's hard to say what the future of DLNA is. It's still very valuable to fans of local media, which is why its used by many media server apps. But in an entertainment world that's increasingly focused on streaming from online sources like Netflix, some companies are using DLNA less. Even Sony didn't bother to make the PlayStation 4 DLNA certified, which is pretty remarkable.

Still, DLNA claims that four billion devices are certified, so there are plenty of products still using the standard. Fans of media server apps and local content can rest assured that the certification isn't going anywhere in the near future.

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