How to share media around your home and beyond

Posted in M@H by Ruslan Ulanov on the July 28th, 2009

For a while now it’s been possible to share your music, pictures, video and even live TV between different types of consumer devices. For example, you could stream MP3 files from your computer to your cell phone using a software package called Orb. Or you could watch your TV from the other side of the world using a slick little device called the SlingBox. The problem is that many of those devices were using proprietary technologies and required user to be a bit of a nerd to understand how to set-up and configure the system to work properly. You had to set-up codecs, firewalls and other things that most ‘normal’ people have no idea of.

dlna logo But soon-to-be-released Windows 7 and a variety of new-generation devices are going to change all that and take it to a whole new level in regards to inter-connectivity and cross compatibility.

For example, let’s have a look at a new Windows 7 feature called “Play To“.

 

What is Play To?

Play To is a feature found in Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center on Microsoft Windows 7 operating system. It will allow you to play media content from one device to another. For example, you can play music stored on your Windows 7 PC’s hard disk drive to a radio set in the kitchen while you cook. Or you can show digital photos from your computer on a digital picture frame or a TV hanging in your living room.

 

How does it work?

The Play To feature is based on DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) / UPnP AV (Universal Plug and Play) technologies. DLNA as well as UPnP, were established by well known brands of consumer electronics like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Microsoft, Sharp and many, many others, when they finally realized that people want their electronics to “just work”, without knowing how and without having to buy all electronics from the same manufacturer to make it work.

Both organizations were based on the same basic principles: Zero Configuration and Automatic Discovery of devices on a home network, Standardized Device Control Protocols, etc. It’s hard to understand the difference between DLNA and UPnP AV, but as far as I see it, DLNA is more of a vision, where’s UPnP being a technology that drives that vision forward.

 

What will I need?

When it comes to nomenclature there’s a lot of acronyms floating in DLNA specifications, such as…

  • DMS (Digital Media Server)
  • DMP (Digital Media Player)
  • DMR (Digital Media Renderer)
  • DMC (Digital Media Controller)
  • DMPr (Digital Media Printer)
  • M-DMS (Mobile Digital Media Server)
  • M-DMP (Mobile Digital Media Player)
  • M-DMU (Mobile Digital Media Uploader)
  • M-DMD (Mobile Digital Media Downloader)
  • M-DMC (Mobile Digital Media Controller)

Confused yet? Yes, I thought so.

To put it into perspective, let’s look at a simple scenario. You want to play your music from PC to the speakers in another room.

First of all you will need a source of media, a.k.a. Server. This could be either a dedicated server device (NAS) or any personal computer running server software such as TwonkyMedia or MediaTomb or just Windows 7 that has server software already built-in.

Second, you will need a Player with (or connected to) speakers to play to. The players are what makes it all work, and for now there are not that many available. But every other week we hear news that more and more manufacturers are shipping their DLNA-compliant products. So, I hope, pretty soon we should have a decent selection out there. If you are planning to purchase your next big screen TV or another major electronic appliance, make sure it is DLNA-certified. The most popular choice for a music player these days could be one of the Logitech Squeezebox models or the Sonos multi-room system.

And of course you will need a network (either wired or wireless) to connect the server and the player.

 

Is it expensive?

Devices that support DLNA/UPnP AV standards range widely in features and price. One of the least expensive, though feature-rich, options available today is Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console that sells for as little as $200. Custom solutions that require professional installation may go well into tens of thousands of dollars.

Here are a few links to periodically updated lists of DLNA/UPnP-compliant devices:

 

P.S.

If you are interested in learning more about Play To feature and DLNA media sharing please check the following fine articles:

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