DLNA – Coming Soon To A TV Near You

If you have been following the emergence of DLNA certified or compatible equipment, there is a bit of excitement brewing. The DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard really seems to be getting close to delivering a new world of media integration and control. Suddenly, so many devices – specifically TVs – are supporting DLNA playback.

I’ve had my old Popcorn Hour (NMT A110) for years and I’ve been enjoying media streaming capability since before there were DLNA solutions. In the old days, we just used SMB or CIFS file shares, but with the evolution of PC & Mac software for streaming, now even my PS3 can play such media. We also had UPnP for streaming audio, which is what the Sonos uses. Now DLNA for multimedia has the potential for creating real interoperability, but will it happen? When and how?

One important piece missing in DLNA is the integration of other media sources besides a classic “media player” definition. The conceptual model for DLNA video is a server with a library of videos that you can watch on a media player. That’s great, but what if I want to watch a channel-based service like cable or satellite TV? You have to switch back to the old paradigm – abandon the cool DLNA integration and go back to hard-wired cable box connected by HDMI to your TV. And the new DLNA controller concept – where you use a third device like an iPad to select and play your movie – well that doesn’t work with the cable TV either. You have to switch back to the old remote, even if it’s a cool Harmony remote.

What’s missing is a service-based DLNA server. Imagine surfing the channels on your iPad or Android tablet while your TV is still playing the current channel – you find what you want and then select it for display on the TV. You could even do the same with a DVD or Blu-ray player – or even a disc changer! Although I don’t know how you would preview the discs – maybe it could play a trailer from the internet, like IMDB.

The first sign I saw of this deviation from current DLNA actually being implemented was in the Twonky DLNA software for PC, Mac, and Linux. I bought this for my Ubuntu server, and it works quite well, but it has an option to serve up DVD media when a disc is inserted. I have yet to experiment with this feature, but it’s only a baby step in the right direction.

So what’s the hold-up, DLNA.org – why are we not seeing services served up via DLNA? The answer is digital rights protection, security, and prevention of media piracy. When you connect your TV to the cable box by HDMI cable, that digital signal is protected by HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) – HDCP compliant devices honor the copy control of the digital signal to prevent unauthorized copies from being made. Most of the DLNA devices we have today don’t offer protection for premium commercial services like cable channels. Only a few vendors have started incorporating the latest DLNA expansion (version 1.5) which includes DTCP-IP Link Protection to meets the needs of premium content owners. DTCP-IP (Digital Transmission Content Protection over Internet Protocol) is not new, but it’s inclusion in the expanded DLNA Protected Streaming Guidelines just may be the ticket. It could allow DLNA adoption to expand to cover all of the consumer’s multimedia interests and needs.

So the future for DLNA is promising, but people trying to put together DLNA solutions today may find that it comes up short of their expectations. You can’t put a DLNA TV in the bedroom and have it play DVDs and Cable from the living room – at least not yet. I find it novel that I can pick out videos to play on the Popcorn Hour or PS3 using my iPad, but it’s pure geek – nobody else at home knows out how to do that. So bottom line is keep the Harmony remote for now, but the day is coming when…

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