As tablets and smartphones continue to surge in popularity, they have become yet more source components that many people would like to connect to their home theater systems. Peruse the features list for a new, smart (i.e., networkable) HDTV, Blu-ray player, HTiB, and the like, and you may encounter some unfamiliar terms. Abbreviations like DLNA, MHL, NFC, and WiDi are popping up everywhere, as manufacturers continue to explore new ways to improve connectivity between traditional AV products and mobile devices. The myriad options can be confusing even for those of us who attend every trade show and see every demo, so here's a basic primer to explain some of terms you might encounter. This piece focuses specifically on the technologies that are becoming common in HDTVs to facilitate video and audio sharing.
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DLNA is likely the term most familiar to our audience, as it's now available in a large percentage of the smart A/V products released to the market. DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance, which is actually the name of the non-profit alliance of companies that formed this standard for media transmission that is based on the broader UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) standard. DLNA allows for content streaming over a wired or wireless IP-based network. All networkable products that bear DLNA certification should be able to talk to one another, as long as they are on the same network. DLNA-certified products consist of digital media servers that contain the files you want to play and digital media players or renderers upon which you want to play the files. Sometimes a product can be both a server and player.
In your home theater ecosystem, your tablet, smartphone, computer, or network attached storage (NAS) device would be the DLNA server, and the TV (as one example) would be the playback device. You may have to install some type of DLNA application on your server device, of which there are many. I typically use AllShare on my Android tablet and PLEX on my MacBook Pro laptop. The app will assemble the media files stored on your server device and present them in a recognizable way to the playback device. You should see the DLNA app listed as a source within the TV's media-sharing function; click on it, browse and select the content you want, and hit play. Playback quality is contingent on many things: the quality of the source files, the quality of the video processing within the TV, and the speed and reliability of your network. File compatibility varies per manufacturer. Some choose to support a wide variety of file types; others only support the basics required by DLNA.
Almost every major CE player is now part of the DLNA, which is why the technology is currently the ubiquitous option on our smart AV devices. The notable exception is Apple, which prefers to use its own AirPlay technology for video and audio distribution over a network. I don't know of any HDTV that has built-in AirPlay ... at least, not yet. While Apple devices are not inherently DLNA-certified, you can add apps like the above-mentioned PLEX or XBMC to get DLNA functionality on your Mac computers and/or iOS devices.
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