What is DLNA? Why does it need to be certified?

-March 09, 2012

Brad Upson is the Digital Home Networking (DHN) Consortium Manager at the UNH-IOL. In this role, he is primarily responsible for managing the DLNA and RVU certification of customer devices. This is the first of many posts Brad will share that center around the topic of consumer electronics and certification.

One of the first things people ask when they first hear of DLNA Certified Products is…

    “What is DLNA?” followed by “Why does it need to be certified?”

The first answer is simple: DLNA certified products are designed to provide interoperable multimedia solutions to consumers.  They can be appliances (Blu-ray players, printers, refrigerators), computers (windows media center, game consoles), network devices (NAS drives, Routers/AccessPoints), even televisions, smartphones and tablets.  These multimedia networked devices allow you to stream audio, video and images to and from each other.

At this point, some of you may be lost, but that’s okay; this topic is not for everyone.  Most people are just happy knowing that groups of technical people stay up late stressing over ways to ensure that these electronics all interoperate nicely.  We stress so that they do not have to.  For those of you who want to know, lets continue to the second question and the main focus of this post:

Why, of all the things that have and do not have certification programs, do the members of the DLNA forum see a need for a certification?  In essence…

                       “Why does it need to be certified?”

When network engineers think about “certification” most think Cisco CCNA.  When assembly workers think about certification, most think about OSHA and ISO.  When consumers think about certification most think about ‘UL’ for safety or Organic for food.

Who thinks about Consumer Electronic technologies enough to wonder if they have stood up to the rigors of a certification program?

The DLNA forum and its member companies are betting that you should and WILL think about a DLNA certification when purchasing your next electronic device.  The need for a certification program became evident early on, well before the first DLNA device was created.

Consumer electronics have been an international business for a long time.  Chances are the device you are sitting in front of right now to read this article was not assembled in your country.  The components inside of these devices were probably made in several other different countries.

Chances are that your TV is not the same brand as your Blu-ray player, which is not the same brand as your receiver, which is also not the same brand as your satellite or cable Set Top Box.   These devices interoperate because if they didn’t, you would have immediately brought them back to the store.  (That is not to say they weren’t “certified”.  HDMI, Energy star, WIFI, and USB are all examples of components in today’s consumer electronics that are certifiable). These devices are performing their intended primary function and the market itself weeds out the products that do not function as desired.  If a certain brand Blu-ray player did not work with a certain line of televisions, then retailers may stop carrying that product.  Negative reviews would come out, critics would make comments and the product would either immediately get fixed or disappear from the market.

The problem is that DLNA is rarely the intended primary function of an electronic device.  A television is designed to display media, primarily from inputs like HDMI, DVI, S-Video and Coax.  A Blu-ray player is designed to provide media, primarily from Blu-ray discs and DVDs.  A Cable/Satellite STB is designed to provide media, primarily from the service provider. These devices perform their primary function, and do it well, regardless of the state of their DLNA implementation.

DLNA is often a secondary function that is not used by every purchaser of the device, and therefore not as “market regulated.”  This type of situation occurs with almost any new technology that is a secondary function.  One of two things usually happens in these situations: people either look to a certification/regulation body to inform them, or with lack of information, they tend to stick to a single brand (buy all the same brand Blu-ray player, TV, receiver, router, computer, etc.) to ensure interoperability.

In my opinion, this is the reason DLNA needed to implement a certification program.  A consumer purchases a DLNA TV and attempts to watch a movie from their DLNA server; if it works they might embrace the technology and start looking for other DLNA devices to purchase.  If it does not work they will shrug it off and probably not try DLNA on that device again, and might not even consider it next time they are making a consumer electronic purchase. DLNA was not the primary reason for purchasing the TV, so the impact is minimal to the consumer, but bad for the vendor.

Since consumers today do not seem to be brand loyal across all electronic purchases (TV to laptop to printer to camera), the only way DLNA would survive is through a rigorous interoperability and conformance certification program.  Only after fully passing all requirements can a device call itself DLNA certified and promote itself as interoperable with other DLNA devices.  As DLNA continues to grow in popularity more consumers should choose one model over another purely because it is “DLNA CERTIFIED.”

Over the next few months Brad will discuss DLNA related topics such as the different types of DLNA devices, different types of DLNA certifications, new initiatives to “raise the bar” even higher, and how to read a DLNA certificate.  Look for Brad’s next blog post “DLNA 1.5 device classes – why so many?!?”

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Brad Upson,  Digital Home Networking Consortium Manager

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