DLNA and UPnP: A Multimedia Mess

For the last couple of weeks I have been trialling a variety of devices that utilise the UPnP and DLNA ‘standards’. As you can probably guess from the punctuation, I’m not very impressed with the uniformity of these standards. Universal Plug and Play is anything but universal; the Digital Living Network Alliance is more of a ragtag assortment of manufacturers.

These standards are designed to enable the sharing and control of media — videos, photos, music — around the home (amongst other things — UPnP is somewhat broader). In theory this should mean that a UPnP server should be able to serve content to any UPnP enabled media player, and that any DLNA controller should be able to send content to an equivalently enabled device. Yet in few of the cases I have tested this has this worked first time.

This is an issue because these are standards for consumer equipment. If they were aimed at geeks like then it wouldn’t be such an issue: we secretly enjoy the diagnosis and fettling required to get everything working. But most consumers want things to be genuinely plug and play: if it says it should work, it should, and straight out of the box.

The fact that it doesn’t causes two distinct problems:

  • It slows adoption of technologies that could be attractive to consumers and profitable for manufacturers
  • It plays into the hands of vendors like Apple who control the whole technology stack to ensure functionality

I have no problem with Apple’s success: I’m writing this on one Apple product with others on each side of me. But I would like to see more competition. Because not all companies can be Apple, for competition to exist there needs to be standards where they can co-operate.

The standards as they are today are barely worthy of the term — certainly based on my experience of the last couple of weeks.

This post forms part of my Future of Technology series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Technology page.

Tom Cheesewright


Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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Tom Cheesewright