How to Turn Your Computer Into a DLNA Media Server

By Chris Hoffman on April 29th, 2015

dlna

Many boxes you plug into your TV, including the Roku, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PlayStation 3 offer DLNA (“Digital Living Network Alliance”) streaming support. They can stream video files and music over the network from your PC — as long as you set up a DLNA server first.

This feature is also known as “Play To” or UPnP AV. Using it is easier than you might think, as the server software you’ll need is built into Windows. if you want to play media files from your computer on a DLNA-enabled set-top box, it’s useful.

Enable the DLNA Media Server Built Into Windows

There are many different pieces of software that can function as DLNA servers. But you don’t need to install anything special to get started. Windows has an integrated DLNA server you can enable. To activate it, open the Control Panel and search for “media.” Click the “Media streaming options” link.

Click the “Turn on media streaming” button to enable the media-streaming server. Although this Control Panel doesn’t mention the term “DLNA” at all, the media-streaming feature in Windows is a DLNA-compliant media server.

You can now customize the streaming settings. This window doesn’t actually tell you how to add video, music, and picture files that can be streamed over the network. However, the media-streaming feature depends on your Windows libraries.

If you want to stream video, music, or picture files, add them to the Videos, Music, or Pictures libraries. You don’t have to move the files to the current library folders — you can add new folders to the libraries. On Windows 8.1, you’ll need to unhide the libraries to access them.

You can now access the DLNA media player on your other devices. For example, if you have a Roku, you can install the Roku Media Player channel and open it. DLNA servers on your local network will appear in the list, so you can select your computer and stream media files from it.

In addition to browsing your shared media library from the device, you can use the Play To feature to find media on your computer and start playing it directly on the networked device. Or use the DLNA media-streaming features to share media between your PCs.

Plex, PS3 Media Server, and More — For Mac and Linux Too

The Windows DLNA server is the easiest and fastest one to set up — all it takes is a few clicks. However, it’s not necessarily the best option. Due to the way DLNA works, you can only stream certain types of media codecs, for example. If you have other types of media, it just won’t work.

Other DLNA servers improve this by offering real-time transcoding. If you try to play an unsupported file, they’ll transcode it on-the-fly, streaming the video in a supported form to your DLNA device.

Many different media servers support DLNA, including the immensely popular Plex software. Plex supports DLNA as well, so you can install the Plex media server on your computer and use DLNA on another device to access your media, if you want. Plex’s own interface is more featureful, but your Plex library can also be accessed via DLNA.

You might also be interested in the completely free PS3 Media Server. It began as a project designed to stream media from your computer to a PlayStation 3 via DLNA, but it’s expanded to support other devices.

The nice thing about Plex, PS3 Media Server, and other third-party DLNA-compliant servers is that they support Mac OS X and Linux as well as Windows. Macs and Linux PCs don’t have this feature built-in, so a third-party media server like these are ideal.


DLNA seems to be on its way out. Sony doesn’t support it on their own PlayStation 4, for example — even though Sony basically created DLNA more than a decade ago. DLNA is fundamentally focused on playing back media files you have downloaded on your PC (video files, music files, and image files) on other devices. Modern solutions are usually focused on streaming media from the cloud. And, even if you want to manage your own local media library, a solution like Plex is more full-featured and better.

This standard’s strength is still its wide ecosystem of supported devices. Even though it’s not an ideal solution, it provides the glue to link a wide variety of devices together without any third-party apps. Devices that don’t have web browsers or apps you can use to access Plex may support DLNA.

Image Credit: LG on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/29/15
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