Is Life too Short for DLNA?

That collection of CDs you’ve built up over time is stacked or shelved where you can get at them.  How very 1990s. Geddit sorted.

What would be the point of the CD collection if it were not available to be played? But it takes up space and generally adds to your stylish-but-lived-in home, that less than welcome patina of something that was ‘acceptable in the 80s’.

What if your CDs could continue to be available as now, without your having to dust them from time to time? That’s one of the main benefits of the technologies offered by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). Created by a group of like-minded manufacturers and now managed by Spirespark International, DLNA has been around since 2003 so that these days, the capability is built into almost everything you own that has network connectivity and can be used for playing music. Your Sony telly and that cheap BluRay player you picked up at Tesco, for example. Ultimately, it’s a simple idea – you keep all your music on a computer connected to your domestic network (e.g. via Wi-fi) and then you can play that music on any or every DLNA device you have, separately or simultaneously.

Getting Ripped

To store the music, put the CD in the computer, load Windows Media Player or the Apple equivalent and set it to ‘Rip’.  Ideally rip at the highest quality level you can with the disc space you’ve got – 192kbps is nice, 320kbps is best. An album will take up around 100Mb.

When my family went DLNA, we already had a lot of CDs. I mean A Lot. Don’t underestimate this – the initial creation of your library may require considerable effort. Say you have 300 albums, each with 45 minutes playing time. Even if you rip at ten times playing speed, you’re still looking at over 22 hours of feeding discs into your computer. You may find yourself thinking life’s too short. I borrowed a couple of computers as well as the ones we already had and set them to rip to a shared location. At one point I had four machines scanning simultaneously, with me running round the room changing disks like a mad eejit, and it still took DAYS.

Don’t forget to back the library up regularly. You don’t want to have to repeat the effort of all that ripping.

Amazon customers have a way of shortening the ripping exercise. That’s because all the CDs you ever bought there have already been ripped, usually at high quality, and are just waiting for you to download them.

Management

As you rip on a computer connected to the Internet, you’ll notice that information about the CD (artist, track names etc.) is populated automatically as you go. However, it is a mistake to assume that this information is always accurate. It seems that even major labels leave writing it to people who have, shall we say, variable levels of competence. So, for example, an album featuring several performers will often attribute every track to ‘Various Artists’, instead of having that in the ‘album artist’ field and the correct information in the ‘track artist’ field, for the love of Pete. You can fix this, either in the ‘properties’ of the file itself, but for MP3s I prefer to use a free, purpose-written tool such as MP3Tag.

There is the question of where you rip the music to, of course. You want it to be in a central location the whole house can see. That could be as simple as folders on a shared drive on your network, but then you don’t get the DLNA benefits. Ideally, that shared drive should be on a computer that is running a DLNA server – then all your other devices’ built-in DLNA clients will find it on the network automatically, so giving you search features and playlists. I run Twonky Server (there are others) on an old laptop. The hardware doesn’t need much power, so I can leave it on all the time, making the library as available as any CD-rack. And the software costs less than £15.

Party Time

With the rip done, my family’s relationship with the household music collection changed markedly. The kids could now see Dad’s music (“Now play some proper tunes”) and Dad could see the kids’ (“Listen to something new, you old fart”). And then there are the playlists. Oh, the playlists. Surprise yourself. Start with a search term and watch the computer use it to build a programme absolutely suited to the mood and moment, with familiar titles mixed with those you own but may have never heard, and others last played who-knows-when. You can keep that playlist and listen to it anywhere in the house where there is DLNA.

And the parties. Invite a group of friends round and hand the remote to each of them in turn, to choose their favourites from your collection. Store the result in a playlist to keep that party’s vibe forever.

Savvy

Before you know it, you’re getting more savvy with it, looking for a DLNA app for your phone and for a way of connecting it to that old hi-fi in the spare room (which is the subject of a separate article); or adding DLNA media players to every room in the house.

Soon you’ll discover another feature of DLNA – that one compliant device can play its music on any other it finds on the network. I find this useful for squirting loud seventies’ rock and roll directly into the kids’ music players, either as education (the Stones) or punishment (the Bay City Rollers).

Now you can at last get rid of that ugly shelving in the lounge – let’s face it, the spine of a CD was never the prettiest object devised by humanity.

Personal Stream

We’re in a new era. Download music sales now reportedly exceed CD sales, and people listen increasingly via streaming services like Soundcloud, Spotify, Deezer, and even YouTube, sometimes avoiding paying for music altogether (in another article, I’ll cover why, streaming notwithstanding, we must all continue to pay for our music). The CD is on the wane, and if your music collection has been forged in the streaming era, it is already in a preparedly ripped state.

What DLNA does is revive your personal musical history, by adding it to your own private domestic streaming service. Once set up, it’s easy to maintain, and you just have a rule that any new music coming into the household Must Be Added To The Library.

Because DLNA also supports video, in theory you can similarly have one location where you can store all your DVD–based movies. That’s not so straightforward because video is often more keenly copy-protected and also can take up a lot of disc space, so I’ve not added video yet. And then there’s photos. DLNA does shared photos, too.

DLNA. It may have seemed life was too short at the time. But I’m so glad I did it.

Legal bit – be aware that the copied collection now on your computer belongs only to you and yours. You can listen to it on any device you own, anywhere, but the copyright licence does not permit you to give that copy to others.

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