Many boxes you plug into your TV, including the Roku, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and even some smart TVs themselves 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 on the PC 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. There are also third-party DLNA servers with more features, and you can run them on any operating system. Here’s how to set up DLNA on your machine.
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” using the search box at the top right corner of the window. Click the “Media streaming options” link under Network and Sharing Center.
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. The default settings allow all devices on your local network to access the media files in your media libraries, and that’s fine if you’re on a local network with only devices you trust. You probably don’t need to adjust these.
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 or 10, you’ll need to unhide the libraries to access them.
Once you have, either copy the media files you want to stream to your libraries or add folders containing media files to your libraries.
For example, if you have a bunch of videos at D:\TV Shows\, you could right-click the Videos library, select “Properties”, click “Add”, and add the D:\TV Shows\ folder to your Videos library. The files would still be stored at D:\TV Shows\, but they’d be visible in your Videos library and available for streaming from other devices.
For example, on a Roku, you must first 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.
The Windows DLNA server is the easiest and fastest one to set up, but 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 format to your DLNA device.
Many different media servers support DLNA, including the immensely popular Plex media server—so you can set up the Plex media server on your computer and use DLNA on another device to access your media, if you want. Plex’s own media player offers more features, but your Plex library can also be accessed from any media player that supports DLNA. This allows you to access your Plex library on devices that don’t have a Plex client or web browser, but do offer DLNA support.
You might also be interested in the completely free Universal Media Server, which is based on the now-discontinued PS3 Media Server. It boasts a large number of features, and you can install and configure it on Windows as well as macOS and Linux. Macs and Linux PCs don’t have this feature built-in, so third-party media programs like these are the only option.
DLNA seems to be on its way out, which is one reason why it’s so hidden on Windows 10. 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.