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DLNA: The Secret Sauce Behind the Best of CES

dlna logoChief among the handful of dazzling revelations at this year's CES have been the scores of devices that can be interconnected seamlessly, finally delivering on the years-old promise of the fully connected home. So, now you can, say, hook your home network up to your TV, your gaming system, your home stereo, your laptop and desktop PCs, your Blu-ray players and DVR, as well as your audio receiver and remote speakers, and have them instantly communicate with each other, pumping glorious audio, video, Web content and other data back and forth to each other. And we're talking products from competing companies. This is no mean feat, and, for the vast majority of these devices, we have a single, mostly mysterious acronym to thank for all of this long-awaited funderfulness: DLNA.

The DLNA (the vastly preferable shortening of the Digital Living Network Alliance) is an industry collaboration that was founded in 2003 with the express goal of having member-companies design their tech with an eye toward interoperability. It was the DLNA's championing of another acronym, UPnP (or, Universal Plug and Play), that is basically responsible for this newfound sense of huggy feely community. UPnP is a set of networking protocols that allow devices to discover each other, and then automatically establish ways of communicating and sharing data. So, unlike the old days, when even setting up a printer on a network required the services of a certified IT guy, and having your PC communicate with your TV and a phone was the stuff of sci-fi novel dreams, you can now expect UPnP devices -- especially ones that bear the DLNA stamp -- to become instant BFFs the moment they are plugged in.

What really blows our minds is that it ever came to be at all. The DLNA is just one of many industry groups that are really marriages of convenience rather than loving matrimony. These companies typically team up to kill off tech that competes with their own interests. It's sort of like how gangs get together -- think of the HD DVD Jets facing off against the Blu-ray Sharks, or the WiMax Warriors versus the LTE Furies. In the DLNA's case, it's a who's who of highly competitive companies that somehow agreed to work together for what is really the greater good: AT&T, Broadcom, Cisco, Comcast, HP, IBM, Intel, Kenwood, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba, to name just the biggies.

As often as not, many of these industry trade groups either dissolve or splinter because they've been beaten by another alliance, or there are disagreements on how to move forward. Or, perhaps the technology has been supplanted by something else, so everyone grabs their marbles and goes their own way. (If you've ever bought a device only to have it get boxed out and banished to obsolescence within months or years, you know the pain that supporting a losing alliance can bring.)

The DLNA, though, has become the rare initiative that has lasted for nearly a decade and actually worked. Through incredible technological change, it is finally seeing a collective vision -- from some 250 companies, and growing -- come to wildly successful fruition. During that time, the guidelines for product categories have swelled from two to 12, so that, at this point, there are few consumer electronics that fall outside DLNA's purview. It's a truly awesome achievement, and one that is already amounting to a real win for consumers. Plus, from what we're seeing now at CES -- from Motorola's Atrix or Samsung's Smart TVs, to Iomega TV with Boxee -- the long-fabled dream of the connected home is quickly becoming a reality. Though most of the companies we've engaged haven't gone out of their way to emphasize the DLNA connection, the vast majority of their network-enabled products bear the logo and rely on UPnP to work.

Of course, the DLNA's apparent win inevitably spells trouble for companies that don't jump on board. Apple, always the happy loner pioneering its own path, isn't currently part of the team, and is instead championing its heralded Airplay standard. We've seen a handful of companies joining the scrappy Airplay alliance, notably iHome, but also JBL, Marantz, Bowers and Wilkins, as well as Sony. Apple has made fools of doubters in the past decade, and with billions in the bank, we won't even dare to predict Airplay's fall to the DLNA juggernaut. That doesn't mean we won't hope upon hope that Apple and any other stragglers out there will see the value in simply getting along with each other.

Tags: CES 2011, Ces2011, Digital Living Network Alliance, DigitalLivingNetworkAlliance, DLNA, iomega tv with boxee, IomegaTvWithBoxee, motorola atrix, MotorolaAtrix, samsung smart tv, SamsungSmartTv, upnp