We often use the PC to store all the multimedia files (film, video, music, etc.), aware that in order to watch them on a TV or any other device we will have to move them via a USB stick or using an external hard drive.
This method is the easiest to apply but it is definitely uncomfortable, forcing us every time to bring from one room to another the storage medium with contents inside.
What if the PC itself provides multimedia content via the LAN or WiFi?
In this case a DLNA server can help us, able to index the multimedia contents present on a PC (and not only) and make them available to all the other devices on the network compatible with the DLNA protocol.
In this guide we will see together what is a DLNA server and at the end of the article the best DLNA servers that you can install on PC (with any operating system) or on other network devices (such as NAS or router with DLNA support).
1) What is DLNA and how it works
DLNA means Digital Living Network Alliance and is an association that brings together several manufacturers of multimedia devices (TV, players, decoders, smartphones, PC etc,) providing specifications so that the devices can communicate with each other to play videos, music and images without the need for the file to be transferred (streaming playback).
The operation of DLNA is based on two different types of devices:
DLNA Server: this device has the task of indexing the contents in the multimedia folders so as to make them visible and reproducible on the entire network.
In order to take advantage of DLNA it is essential that one of the devices in our LAN act as servers for all the others.
The server can be a PC, a notebook, a NAS, a data server or the router itself (if it has DLNA functionality).
DLNA client: this device is able to “see” the DLNA server present on the network and to reproduce the contents it indexes, with a convenient interface to manage.
Obviously there may be more DLNA clients, the server will manage all together (respecting the band limits of the internal network).
The contents are not simply “copied” from one device to another (the file always remains on the server), but the audio and video stream is sent as if we were streaming.
The client can be a Smart TV, a decoder, a gaming console, a TV Box, a DVD or Blu-ray player, a PC, a smartphone or a tablet.
DLNA works with any type of audio and video file, at any resolution (even 4K), but compatibility is guaranteed only if the DLNA server provides the right specifications for the type of file played (which is not always configurable) and if the DLNA client supports that type of file (if our TV does not support H.265 even if a file in this format is present on the DLNA server it cannot be played without conversion).
Simple DLNA servers only deal with indexing content, while more advanced servers can:
Convert formats that are not compatible with some DLNA clients: through a special proprietary technology it is possible to reproduce the files in formats not supported by transcoding in real time.
Access via the Internet: using a proprietary protocol it is possible to access the indexed multimedia contents even outside the internal network, so that we can connect to our contents via the Internet even when we are away from home.
Obviously these features are not present on all DLNA servers and are often offered for a fee, so better to choose carefully the type of server we want to use.
2) Useful tips before installing a DLNA server: Before installing any DLNA server we advise you to follow the following useful tips, so as not to run into problems when playing multimedia content on various clients. – We connect the DLNA server to an Ethernet socket on the router / modem : do not rely on the WiFi network to distribute content, especially if we still use the 2.4 GHz frequency. We may have problems playing high quality files, which is not happens if we rely on the Ethernet connection (better if Gigabit). – We connect the DLNA clients via Ethernet socket: clients should also be connected via Ethernet if we want to make the most of DLNA.
If the devices are present in separate rooms, we can use Power line to always move by cable.
We use WiFi at 5 GHz : if we have to use the wireless to connect the server with DLNA clients we use the 5 GHz WiFi, much faster than WiFi networks with 2.4 GHz frequency.
If we use the network to 2.4 GHz we risk finding ourselves with problems when playing FullHD content or higher resolutions.
3) The best DLNA servers to be installed on a PC
After seeing together what DLNA means and how to make the most of it, below we will find all the DLNA servers that you can exploit on your PC but which can also be installed on other network devices (such as NAS).
Universal Media Server
The first DLNA server we recommend to test on a PC is Universal Media Server, available for download here
This program is one of the best in its category, allowing you to index any type of multimedia folder on your PC and to view all the DLNA clients visible on the network.
This DLNA server stream video and audio files at the highest quality possible, supports subtitles and DTS audio, also supports video files in 3D (SBS) and is able to convert files that may not be compatible with some client.
Besides these features it offers the possibility to install plugins and interface with iTunes to spread music and videos on Apple devices.
One of the best DLNA servers in circulation for compatibility is Twonky Server, downloadable for free trial from here -> Twonky Server .
With this program it is sufficient to indicate the folders to be indexed and their contents inside.
The server will provide via DLNA all indexed content, plus you can indicate which DLNA profiles to use based on clients visible within the network (if we have a Samsung TV just indicate the specific client with the Samsung DLNA profile for maximum compatibility ).
The program is a free trial for 30 days, then you will need to purchase a license to continue using it.
Another good DLNA server that you can try on PC is Serviio.
As already seen for Twonky it will be enough to add the PC multimedia folders and indicate the type of content to start indexing.
Excellent compatibility, especially with mobile devices, thanks to the integrated conversion system.
The program is available for free without limits, but to access some advanced features it is necessary to purchase a user license.
Serviio is a great DLNA server to preserve images, audio and video even HD, for streaming with support for playlists and subtitles.
The king of the servers is definitely Plex, which we can download for any platform
Plex also offers indexing via DLNA but this is not its strong point, because the program has a proprietary protocol with which the multimedia contents are sent via the same network or accessed from outside.
In order to view the contents, it is best to use the Plex client app, available on almost all Smart TVs or as a smartphone app.
Plex also supports transcoding in real time, so as to always offer maximum compatibility with any device.
The program is available free of charge upon registration, but in order to take full advantage of the full potential of the server, a user license is required (also available with a monthly subscription).