Q: I've finally decided to buy a HDTV, and I was just wondering what your input on DLNA was. Do you know of any good models out there that support this feature (that also allow access to several media servers)? Or should I wait until DLNA becomes more standard in HDTVs? -- Chris, via e-mail.
A: Hi Chris. We've covered in detail what exactly the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) is all about before, and reviewed several models (as mentioned below) that support the specification. As for access to several media servers--most DLNA-certified clients (including all the certified HDTVs we reviewed this year) support several media servers at once. You will have to switch between them of course, but it's never been a issue with performance in our experience. The short answer to your other question, however, is DLNA is still in its infancy for being adopted by TV manufacturers. 2008 has been the year where it was introduced and perhaps 2009 will be the year that its more commonplace in HDTVs. As of now, you can expect to pay a hefty premium for the technology, as much as $500 above the average price of a HDTV. Then you have to consider the television's interoperability issues.
Not all HDTVs that we've tested this year fully support the DLNA specification. For example, the Sony Bravia KDL-55XBR8, Sony Bravia KDL-52XBR6 and Sony KDL-46Z4100/B are all DLNA-certified. The problem is they're only certified to stream music and photos from your PC to the television. Video is not supported.
Then you have to consider if it will work with your DLNA software. Even if a HDTV says its DLNA-certified that doesn't mean it will work nicely with every DLNA server available (a dozen or more by our count), such as TVersity. The Samsung LN46A950 and LN46A750, which we reviewed earlier this year, are supposed to be DLNA-certified. In our testing, unfortunately, the LCDs were anything but compatible with TVersity or TwonkyMedia, and only worked with Samsung's own proprietary software. Navigating Samsung's byzantine website, downloading the software, and running it wasn't--to say the least--a smooth experience. We imagine the average buyer will find it too daunting to even consider.
On the other hand, one of the most expensive HDTVs we reviewed this year, the Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD, also happens to include the best implementation of DLNA in our testing. It accepted and played back music, photos as well as videos, even accepting DivX (an unsupported DLNA video format) with ease. The television also happens to be an excellent performer.
Lastly, we have a category of HDTVs that are not exactly DLNA-certified but offer similar media-rich capabilities. The Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ850U is not a DLNA-certified HDTV but it does offer a number of unique interactive features. For one, you can stream YouTube videos to the set and view your Picasa photo galleries. It will cost you, however, roughly $500 more for those features. As of now, we think of the TH-50PZ850U as the guinea pig for these features; it's not a perfect implementation, as we covered before, and doesn't offer everything a buyer might want.
So what's going to happen down the line with DLNA-certified HDTVs? Well, we still haven't seen anything from LG, Sharp, or Vizio yet that is certified. Perhaps these will be introduced in 2009. But, as of now, the adoption of the specification is still maturing for HDTVs. If you do want to stream content to your HDTV from your PC, it's best, both economically and for what's supported, to opt for a third-party solution right now, such as the Xbox 360 or PS3.