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Do you DLNA?

What You’ll Need

I’m back. It’s been many months since my last post, and for this I apologize. I work in the festival industry. If you know Ottawa, then you’re aware that summer festivals in this city are like champagne-room propositions from a stripper. If you have money to spend, we’ll happily slide around on your lap until your pockets are empty.

It’s a good job. I enjoy my profession in the arts. But I get busy – really busy: you have no idea – in late February and I don’t come out of it until September. Two or three weeks to recuperate, and I’m fit once again to cram this blog with my snarky bullshit.

During this year’s convalescence, I discovered an interesting feature while puttering about with my new-ish ASUS RT-AC66U. Backstory first.

As part of our transition two years ago from cable suckers to cord-cutters, Underground Woman and I setup an old Toshiba Satellite laptop with free Plex media server software to stream our personal content: travel images, mostly, and torrented files. The solution worked well enough, with caveats. My aged Toshiba broadcasts only on the 2.4 Ghz wireless band and is prone to interference whenever we nuke popcorn. Furthermore, it has to be powered up whenever we watch TV.

To make matters less convenient, Plex has a few, shall we charitably say, “peccadilloes” that frequently yield a less-than-optimal viewing experience.

When we add new content, for instance, Plex can take several hours to update its libraries; oftentimes, it doesn’t even bother. Plex buffers like a fat cigar-chomping Shriner climbing stairs. And for some reason unbeknownst to yours truly, this software has a personal hate on for Bill Maher. Throw it a Real Time torrent and see what happens. I suspect Plex is owned by the Koch brothers.

I operate under the philosophy that you should review your technology arrangements every year. Things change, and solutions that were the best you could hope for, six months back, might be downright obsolete by today’s standards.

So it was that I found myself centralizing our home media storage on the RT-AC66U. My original intent was to get the device off my ailing Toshiba and onto our wireless router, where it would be accessible to all, including securely over the cloud. That is, until the Enable DLNA Media Server toggle caught my eye.

I won’t go into detail about how to set this up. ASUS has a YouTube video on the subject:

With your storage drive attached and DLNA server activated, you can now stream directly from the router to any device in your household. You can do this with a Roku 3 and the Roku Media Player installed, or with Google Chromecast and any Android smartphone with the BubbleUPnP app installed. The revelatory experience this produces – so fast; so vivid! – is a lot like finding Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich.

The moral of my story is not that I should have paid more attention to the esoteric features of my ASUS router. It’s that I should have been aware of DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), as an option, from the beginning.

I like to think that I’m a serious streamer: technically savvier than the average bear; knowledgeable enough, certainly, to outfox the knuckle draggers at Rogers. And yet, I’ve been in possession of a DLNA-certified router and streaming devices for over a year, and only recently discovered that my five-year-old laptop and substandard media software were literally wasting my time.

If you followed my advice from previous home-networking posts and bought the ASUS RT-AC66U, then take my follow-on counsel and learn how to properly use it. Yes, the RT-AC66U is more router than most users need. But serious cord-cutters are not “most users.” Are we?

  • Peter Wright

    One of the main features of the Plex server is the on the fly transcoding. I don’t think the dlna will do this. The interface does not look nearly was rich as thee Plex server. I would be. Interested in your comparative thoughts after more time with dlna.
    Roku format support is very poor. You must need to constantly be converting your downloaded content to different formats to support your devices. An article on this process would be very helpful. Love your site and your attitude. Keep it up.

    • Patronized

      Thanks for your note. You’re correct about the Roku 3 media player channel: its format support leaves much to the imagination; its UI is spectacularly nondescript; and zero transcoding, which for many is a deal-breaker. Admittedly, I have so many other devices that do offer transcoding that the issue of file conversion never came up.

      At this stage of the cord-cutting game, there are always trade-offs. In this instance, my trade-off is the rich Plex interface for lag-free streaming and one fewer vampire appliance.

      My goal, of course, is to have it all. The ideal solution is out there, I’m certain of it. I just haven’t found it yet.