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YouTube and Netflix take on AirPlay, DIAL up the big-screen goodness

The great thing about standards...

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Netflix and YouTube have launched a new standard for getting content onto the living-room TV, taking on AirPlay, DLNA, Miracast and WHDi to name just a few.

DIAL is slightly different from DLNA and pals, in that it discovers and launches an equivalent application with a wired connection rather than trying to wirelessly stream content to a TV. But it continues the epic quest to find a decent way of connecting out living-room televisions to the profusion of content available on the interwebs.

The new DIscovery And Launch (DIAL) standard builds on Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) but rather than trying to stream content from a device to the TV it asks the TV or set-top box to launch a suitable client to play back the content direct from source. That way, the digitasl rights management (DRM) issues are addressed while minimising the reliance in wireless bandwidth and removing the battery issue, but at the cost of creating a new standard.

The simplest way to throw content onto a big screen is just to echo the small one, a wireless version of the HDMI cable, which is what Samsung's AllShare Cast already does and what Miracast promises to do. In that model, the decoding and the rights-management are handled by the phone/tablet, which then echoes the display as though it were plugged in.

That's fine, as long as one wants the same thing on both screens. Control is limited to the normal on-screen buttons, and one is often required to have a glowing second screen in the room - which isn't ideal.

Which is why we have the Digital Living Network Alliance, whose DLNA standard allows a device to stream video to a big screen while showing controls on its own display. When it works, DLNA is proper science-fiction stuff... With a single tap one can throw up a YouTube clip or music video for all to share, just as long as the battery lasts and (critically) the content isn't copy-protected.

In YouTube that means, for example, one can't share Drop The Dead Donkey over DLNA, as Channel 4 uses Adobe's Digital Rights Management to protect its content. In fact, one can't watch 4OD (Channel 4 On Demand) at all on an Android device these days, since Adobe give up mobility. But Netflix is an equally good example: it will work on an Android device and is happily shared over Miracast but nevertheless is unavailable to DLNA.

But my Wii has a Netflix client, so all I have to do is boot up the Wii, find a controller, brace myself for directional navigation and find the same video I wanted to watch on my tablet - but in that case Wii controls would be used for pause and play. Of course that is assuming my sofa isn't too far from the TV screen (which it is), and that's the scenario that DIAL is supposed to solve.

With DIAL supported by Netflix clients across devices, my tablet can just nudge the Wii to wake up and play some video, with the tablet just sending play/pause commands and the Wii coping with the DRM and user credentials. That's a very elegant solution if it gets widespread support, but could end up helping big brands get even bigger, as Jerome Rota of DLNA-benchmark app Twonky puts it:

"[DIAL] gives tremendous leverage to the few big names that can put their apps inside the TVs or boxes ... It just makes it easy for the Netflix or YouTube app on your phone to locate the TVs in your home."

It does seem insane to have the same content available through so many different clients, and linking them together makes sense if it can be done without cutting out the smaller players - which can't afford to engage directly with every TV manufacturer. Of course DIAL is heavily backed by Netflix, which has no particular interest in getting everyone signed on. ®

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