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Is DLNA worth the 7 year struggle which has brought it to the edge of mobile

If you wanted to build a home network, you wouldn’t want to start from where we are today


Published: 21 October, 2010


If you wanted to build a home network, you wouldn’t want to start from where we are today. The average home, depending upon how rapidly it updates its devices, has a CD player, a DVD player, a TV set or two, or three, a WiFi network, some coaxial cables, a twisted pair coming into the home from the telephone network, Ethernet connections off your home gateway, at least one MP3 player, around 4 mobile phones, which in turn connect to at least two, probably three cellular network signals each (GSM, Edge, CDMA, UMTS). You have devices which talk to one another using serial ports, parallel ports, or talk across Bluetooth, through USB, using S-Video, component video, composite video, DVI, Firewire, HDMI, HomePNA, G.Hn, Wireless HD and Homeplug. And have signals modulated in DSL, QAM, VDSL, ADSL2+, and tuned services adhering to DVB-S, DOCSIS, DVB-C and DVB-T to name but a few.

Homes have devices which are powered by batteries, trying to co-exist with devices which have mains supply and some which use a ton of electricity (CRT TV set). We have devices which store on disk, on analog tape, use lasers to burn holes in substrates (DVD and CD) and multiple sizes, formats and software to drive screens. And to add to all of these, digital content is ripe for piracy, so spends most of its time encrypted, specifically so that other devices cannot play it – which is the whole point of a home network. Commercial content comes from radios, satellite dishes, hybrid fiber coax, UHF antennas and out of boxes containing DVD players, as well as over the internet.

It’s a mess. The digital home is only part digital, mostly incompatible and to many, incomprehensible.

We’re not sure why anyone wants to fix where we are today, instead of throwing it all away and starting again, but effectively a bunch of companies which control the bulk of all that technology (around 200 of them) formed the DLNA back in 2003 and set about making sense of it. In our view they haven’t got very far, and they have plenty of distance to go.

The core idea behind DLNA is to turn all of this into one big happy network. Neat eh? But it’s not that straightforward, hence the 7 year delay – so far.

For a start the DLNA needed to limit communication to the most popular formats, and then convert to and from these formats automatically in a manner that works first time, every time. So while we all think Wi-Fi is cool and easy to work with, because we’re used to it, as a distribution vehicle for in-home video, it sucks. So by settling on it, it shuts out most of the “good stuff”, the HD commercial video assets that most US and European homes pay so much for, simply because when WiFi has no MIMO or any ability to get a reply from a client device and resend packets, its loses about 10% to 15% of what it sends first time. Which is why DLNA has had to also include MoCA, designed for shifting compressed HD signals around a home on Coax, and Ethernet, which is the output from most broadband pipes, along with WiFi. MoCA might be the market leader, but this is a very fragmented market.

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