Category: Feature Article

Feature Article – DLNA Media Network Series: Getting Started with DLNA Media Sharing

UPDATED 26 January 2010

Most of us will end up with a large collection of picture, music or video files on our computers, especially if we use our computers as a large media library. It would be nice to have access to this content without having to copy it out to thumbdrives, SD cards or iPods before we can enjoy it.

Why share your music, pictures and video the DLNA way?

An increasing number of dedicated network media client devices are on the market and nearly all of these devices work according to the UPnP AV / DLNA media-client standards. The ubiquitous Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 games consoles that every teenage boy dreams of having both work according to these standards. Most manufacturers who are selling premium table radios are supplying at least one which can pick up Internet radio broadcasts through a home network and these sets are also capable of picking up media made available to them from a UPnP AV media server. I have reviewed a few of these units in this blog lately, such as the Pure Evoke Flow and the Revo iBlik RadioStation. This same function is increasing becoming a product differentiation feature for most consumer electronics equipment like home-theatre receivers and flat-screen televisions.
 

004 - Denon S-52 network audio receiver playing Pink Floyd over the network

  
Denon S-52 Wireless Network CD Music Systm (DLNA enabled)
  
005 - Tivoli Networks Radio
Tivoli NetWorks Internet Radio (DLNA enabled)
 
By using a DLNA-based setup, you don’t need to install different media-server programs for each network-media client that you happen to buy. In some situations, you may only need to run whatever is supplied with the computer’s operating system.

Setting up your network for DLNA media

Most home, small-business and some branch-office networks don’t require any revision because they typically are one logical network that spans the premises with the router that exists at the network-Internet “edge” being the device that handles basic network housekeeping. This doesn’t matter whether the network has one or more media segments like WiFi wireless, Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline cabling.
 
You will need to know the ESSID and the WEP or WPA security key for your wireless network. This may be obtained through the router’s Web administration page or through your client PC’s wireless-network-setup parameters such as in Windows Connect Now. If you are connecting your DLNA media client to the network via wireless, you will need to make sure that the wireless access point or router is broadcasting the ESSID so you can pick it from a list using the device’s user interface and be sure you are “in reach” of the network. This practice would be important when you run a multi-access-point wireless network or simply to help with making sure that neighbouring wireless networks are set up properly. As well, you will need to be ready to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase by “picking out” characters from a list using buttons on the device or its remote control.
Home Network with DLNA equipment
 

Network layout

 

Setting up your PC jukebox software for DLNA

If you are running Windows XP, Vista or 7, you can use Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Player 12 (in the case of Windows 7) as your media server. Before you start “ripping” CDs to the hard disk, make sure the program is set to rip without DRM (Copy Protect Music checkbox in the Rip Music options tab is cleared) and that it is set to rip CDs at 192kbps WMA or 320kbps MP3. The reason I would rip at these settings is to be assured of sound reproduction that is as close to the CD album as possible. You may use the MP3 codec for maximum compatibility or WMA for efficient storage if your DLNA media clients can handle WMA.
.Windows Media - CD ripping settings
 
As well, you will have to set Windows Media Player 11 to automatically permit devices to benefit from its media library. This is done by going to “Library”, then selecting “Media Sharing” and clicking on “Settings”. The “Media Sharing – Default Settings” dialog box will open whereupon you make sure that the “Allow new devices and computers automatically” checkbox is selected.
If you don’t use any sort of ratings in your media as far as sharing is concerned, you may have to select “All ratings” in both the “Star Ratings” and “Parental Ratings” options. This will make sure all media is available for all of the devices.
Windows Media - Media Sharing settings
For your pictuers, you will have to add the folder that contains your photos to Windows Media Player’s media library. Similarly, you will have to do this for your video folders.
 
 
Linux users have access to a large plethora of media-server software such as TwonkyVision and TVersity as well as a large collection of open-source media-server software. You will still have to use a CD jukebox program set up to rip CDs at 320kbps MP3.
 
Apple and Windows users who use iTunes as their CD jukebox but will need to use either TwonkyVision, Elgato EyeConnect or Allegro Media Server. They will need to make sure that the iTunes directory is the one to be provided by the media server. Again, iTunes will need to be set up to rip at 320kbps MP3 for best compatibility and quality. The program may support transcoding to lower bandwidth settings for use whenever music is being transferred out to an iPod.
 
Infact, I have written up some more detailed information about setting up an Apple Macintosh computer to work as part of a DLNA-based home media network because of the increasing popularity of these computers. The article, “UPnP AV (DLNA) for the Apple Macintosh platform”, covers other media server programs that exist for that platform.
 
 The media server would need to be set up to work with the folders that are being used as the primary folders for music, photo and video storage.  I have explained how to go about this for your music, especially if you use iTunes or Windows Media Player. For your photos and videos, you simply add the folders used by your photo management and video management software to store your images.
 
 
 The DLNA media-server programs typically index music files according to artist, album, track, genre, and some may support separate identification of composers, contributing artists (important for soundtracks and compilation albums) and other metadata for pictures and videos. Some, like TwonkyVision, allow for alphabetical clustering and other efficient sorting arrangements. This is typically because UPnP AV / DLNA allows for the server to determine how it presents the library to the client devices.
 
As far as playlists are concerned, they will typically be listed in a “Playlists” collection with each playlist being its own collection in that tree. By having a playlist as a collection of tracks rather than a reference to a playlist file, it means that the media clients don’t have to be compatible with the playlist file format that the jukebox program works with.
 
Some of the media servers like Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyVision support transcoding to common file formats for situations where a DLNA media client cannot handle a particular media type. This can come in handy for file types like WMA which aren’t handled by all UPnP AV media players.
 

Setting up the DLNA clients

Enrolling the DLNA clients in to your network

You will need to make your DLNA media client become part of the network. This can be a simple task of plugging it in to your Ethernet network segment or into your HomePlug powerline network segment using a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge.

Integrating wireless-enabled DLNA clients to the wireless network

If you are connecting your wireless-enabled DLNA media client to the WiFi network, you will need to configure it for this network. This will require you to enter the device’s setup menu and select the option pertaining to wireless network setup. Then you get the device to search for your network’s ESSID which is commonly referred to as the SSID, Network Name or something similar. Once your device has detected your wireless network, you will be prompted to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase. At this point, enter the passphrase in to the device. These procedures will have to be done as mentioned in the “Setting up your network for DLNA media” section.
 
Some DLNA network media clients may use a “quick set-up” method like Windows Connect Now or WPS. This will typically involve either transferring a USB memory key between a Windows XP or Vista wireless-equipped notebook computer and the device; or registering the device with the wireless router. This procedure may be as simple as pressing a “register” button on the router and the device or copying the device’s PIN number (which would be on the device itself or in a WPS setup option in the device’s setup menu) in to the wireless router’s setup menu.
 
If you use MAC-address filtering on your wireless router, you will need to register the DLNA media device as an “accepted” network device. This will require you to copy the device’s wireless MAC address, which will be on a sticker attached to the device itself, in to the router’s trusted MAC-address list.

Making sure the DLNA clients detect the media server

You will need to make sure that the media server program is running on the PC that has the media that you are sharing. Most such programs may run a media server component as a background task while the computer is fully on but some may require the jukebox program to be running all the time.
Another thing to check is the desktop firewall software. This should be set to allow the media server software outbound and inbound access to the network as a server. The Windows Firewall software that is part of all Microsoft desktop operating systems since Windows XP Service Pack 2 makes this easy by allowing immediate access to Windows Media Player or asking you if you want to allow the application to have network access. Other third-party firewalls may require the server application to be allowed Internet access by you adding the software to their application “white lists”.
You may have to select “Network Music”, “PC Music” or something similar on most network-enabled music devices like Internet radios in order to gain access to the music library that you have made available.  Then you select the “hostname” of the PC, which may be commensurate to its standard computer name or its primary owner’s name. The DLNA client will then show the media type that it can work with. You then select that type and use the controls to select the media you are interested in.

Summary

Once you have your network and media-server computer set up properly, you can work with providing music and other media to network media receiver devices without much hassle.
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Feature Article: Multi-Building Home Networks

What is a multi-building home network

A multi-building home network is a home or other small network where network devices are used in at least two buildings on the one property. The idea is for the whole logical network to be pervasive in all or some of the buildings that are on that same property.

The network will end up comprising of multiple segments (physical network connections) that cover each building where network presence is desired. Then there are segments that exist to create a bridge for data to move between buildings.

What properties and situations is this kind of network relevant to

The situation where this network comes in to its own is where it is desirable to have the home office in another building such as a detached garage or barn, but also the same Internet bandwidth needs to be available in the home and the detached building. This is more prevalent with farms where the “office” is the barn and none of the farm business is transacted in the homestead.

The same situation can exist with properties where there is at least one cabin, bungalow or static caravan that is used for extra guests or older children. Here, it may be desirable to provide the same Internet access as what exists in the main house to these locations. This is important with older children who use these buildings as their private space for activities including playing online games. In a similar vein, the same situation may extend to the use of a cabana that is located by the pool or in the garden as a place to benefit from Internet access through the use of a portable computer.

Now that various manufacturers are making network appliances like Internet CCTV cameras or Internet-enabled games consoles that benefit from being part of a network, this concept of multi-building home networks is becoming a lot more relevant. Imagine being able to keep an eye on the valuables in the garage or livestock in the barn from a PC in the house; or the older son playing an on-line game on the Xbox 360 using XboxLive in the bungalow.

How does this kind of network operate

This kind of network consists of many different segments that exist to cover the areas being served as well as segments that exist to transfer data out to the area-specific segments. All the segments are joined using media-specific bridge devices like wireless access points, Ethernet switches, HomePlug-Ethernet bridges or simply the local-network connections of the typical wireless router.

This means that all network devices that are part of this network setup are on the same logical network or subnet. This means that if they ask for IP addresses,  they will get their IP addresses from the same DHCP server that is in the network-Internet “edge” router. They will also benefit from that router’s Internet gateway functionality and from resources made available to them by other network devices.

Techniques And Methods

Dedicated wire run 

The buildings may be linked by a direct wire, usually Category 5 / 6 twisted-pair copper Ethernet cable or fibre-optic cable. The fibre-optic cable is more expensive than copper-wire cabling, especially for smaller runs, but would suit installations where the buildings are a very long distance (3 kilometres) apart or there could be excessive electrical noise. On the other hand, copper-cable twisted-pair Ethernet can suit inter-building runs of up to 100 metres.

Both cables will need a dedicated run, which will typically require a trench to be dug between the buildings and the cable to be run in a conduit for best results. This work can be affordably done if you are running low-voltage communications cable like a telephone line between the buildings.

Each end of the cable run would need to have an Ethernet switch in the case of a copper-cable run or media converters in the case of a fibre-optic run. The Ethernet switches are just about a “dime a dozen” for a five-port or eight-port unmanaged 10/100Mbps unit suitable for small networks and a bit extra for Gigabit units. An existing switch that is part of your home network, such as the one built in to your router or used as a “hub” in your Ethernet-based home network can do the job equally as well as a dedicated switch. 

Wireless

This method uses a radio link as the means for data-transfer between the buildings. It is based on the use of 802.11a/g/n equipment, commonly known as WiFi equipment, which works at a theoretical raw data speed of 54Mbps for 802.11a/g and 248Mbps for 802.11n. The range where the speed will be maintained will depend on the wireless equipment used and the antennas (aerials) used with the equipment. Typically the bandwidth will taper off as the distance between the equipment increases.

Inter-building applications have typically used equipment that is capable of working with higher-gain directional antennas than what is typically supplied with the equipment and such equipment is typically installed outdoors with an Ethernet cable used for bringing data in to the buildings.

It can involve the use of “shared WiFi” where remote buildings are equipped with wireless client bridges that are pointed towards the wireless access point installed in the main building. This same method permits WiFi use by portable devices used in or near the main access point, but requires different SSIDs for access points used in remote buildings.

Another method is to use a dedicated wireless link for building-building data flow. This can be achieved through the use of multi-function access points that are set up as “wireless bridges”. This wireless link wouldn’t be able to be used by portable devices for wireless network access.

Yet another method that works with some wireless access points and wireless routers is to use Wireless Distribution System. It allows the member devices to become wireless-segment repeaters, thus expanding wireless segment coverage and becoming an Ethernet bridge for the data. Portable devices can roam amongst the stations as if they are moving around an “extended service set” collection of access points with a wired backbone.  At the moment, the setup doesn’t permit true fault-tolerant signal meshing without bandwidth starvation, but can do a fair “hands-off” job of extending the “extended service set”.  

Non-dedicated wire run 

This method uses wires that are used to provide an existing service to the building rather than a dedicated wire run. It avoids the need to spend money on costs associated with running that dedicated wire, such as trenching and conduit runs, while avoiding the need to dig up established landscape.

There used to be two methods based around this concept but the most common one would be the HomePlug system which uses the infrastructure that is used to provide AC power to appliances that are used on the property. It is often marketed as a “no-new-wires” backbone for establishing new networks but can be used as a supplementary segment for existing networks. This is typically promoted through the small “infill” access points like the Netcomm NP290W which plug in to the wall and provide extra coverage for an existing wireless network.

It can work effectively in most residential, small-office and rural properties because they are often wired to the one general-purpose electricity service from the head transformer. This is typically exemplified with the property having one “common-tariff” electricity meter accounting for all the “common-tariff” electricity used on the property. It may not work if any building, like a bungalow, has been metered separately because, in most situations, the different services may have been derived from different phases.

Some sites may, because of inter-building wiring distance, require the HomePlug segment to be pushed out further. This situation is typical of buildings that are used as a “go-between” wire point for other buildings or static caravabs. This involves the creation of extra HomePlug segments for the remote buildings.

This is achieved by the use of 2 HomePlug-Ethernet bridges connected to each other by an Ethernet patch cord or Ethernet switch and installed close to the building’s AC switch board or fuse box.

One of the bridges is configured to use the Network Password (segment identification name for a HomePlug network, equivalent to an SSID for a WiFi wireless network segment) of main segment, while the other uses a new Network Password representative of the new segment. Remote HomePlug devices use new Network Password.

The appropriate method

Working From Scratch

You may be building the outbuilding from scratch or doing extensive renovations to an existing building, which involves work with the electrical circuits in the building. This includes running AC wiring to and establishing AC circuits in an existing building that has no AC power. In this case, you may want to “cover all your bases”, especially if you are dealing with a garage, barn, bungalow or cabin where the building is going to be a point of activity. This means running a dedicated wire run between the main building and the outbuilding. The materials that you use may depend on your budget that you allocate for the project.

This option can work very well in making maximum value from your tradesmen who are doing any cabling work on the project. If cost is an issue, you may have to use HomePlug as your inter-building link.

Existing Buildings

For existing buildings, especially on properties where there is established landscape, you will need to use either a wireless or HomePlug link.

If you prefer to run a wireless link, it may be preferable to use wireless infrastructure hardware which works with third-party antennas and is capable of working outdoors.

HomePlug can also and has been known to do a more reliable job as a building-building link in this context than wireless. This is more true of buildings that are made out of metal such as the “quick-assemble” garages and sheds because the metal frame and / or walls do block or limit the transmission of radio waves.

Static Caravans

Typically these vehicles are capable of being moved around the property at a moment’s notice. Most of the time, these vehicles are hooked up to the nearest power outlet on the property using a long high-current low-resistance extension cord. This is often to enable use of interior lights and appliances that are plugged into power outlets that are installed in the vehicle. Also, this practice allows one to use the gas-electric fridge that is built in to the vehicle with it running off AC power rather than gas or the vehicle’s 12 volt battery.

A highly-reliable method of bringing the home network to these vehicles would be the HomePlug power-line link. This technology would be suited to the job because of the metal-based construction of the typical post-1950s caravan or campervan which can interfere with wireless inter-building links. The HomePlug access points like the Netcomm NP290W can work effectively in this situation by providing a strong wireless signal within the metal walls of these vans while using the power link as the data run.

Conclusion

As governments and Internet service providers make an effort to provide less-dense communities like the country and outer-urban areas with broadband Internet access, the idea of extending the home network beyond the main house on a large property will be very real. This article has explained how this idea can be achieved with the existing technology.

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