APP OF THE DAY: BubbleUPnP review (Android)

DLNA is something of a mixed bag, built from a great idea it was the implementation of it in the early days that put many off. It was designed as a standardised way of moving media around your home, from Blu-ray player to phone, or PVR to TV. In practice, configuring it was often harder than buying a bespoke streaming solution.

But time has passed, and DLNA has become better and better. And now we're at the point where it has genuine value, especially to phone and tablet users who have limited storage on their device and want to watch video around the home. So for those users, BubbleUPnP offers a great solution - to use your phone to either direct content to other players, or to watch or listen to things on your handset.

BubbleUPnP

Format
Android
Price
free or £3.04 to unlock
Where
Google Play

There are several parts to BubbleUPnP - like most DLNA apps - that make it useful. First of all, it will find media from any DLNA-certified device on your network, and allow you to play it on your phone. So in our house, there are NAS drives with DLNA servers, we run Plex, which keeps all our media organised and also serves content via DLNA and of course there are other bits of hardware, such as some PVRs that are also capable of the same.

So, with those machines running, all that's needed to watch video, or listen to music, on your phone is to open BubbleUPnP and point it to the source. It's then possible to play those bits of video or music locally. Now, we should point out that this is not an app that can transcode. So, to put that simply, your phone must have a media player installed that can handle the file you're streaming. This can be a problem for files with DTS sound, or those encoded in MKV containers.

We're testing on a Samsung Galaxy Note II, and a Sony Xperia Tablet S. These have different levels of support - the Samsung plays anything, the Sony less so - for various codecs. So do bear this in mind before you get frustrated. You'll also note from our screenshots that the Note video player is being used in pop-up mode, something not supported on other devices. 

A potentially more useful option though, is to use the phone as a way of managing what's going where. While you are most likely to want to watch video on your phone, you might want to send music to players on your network. So if you have DLNA-compliant music devices, you simply select the library you want to stream from - be it music stored on your phone, or on another device - and then select where you want it to go.

With this system, it's actually remarkable how flexible your home network can become. Of course, you'll need DLNA players knocking around, but you might be surprised how many things you already own that are capable of sending or receiving DLNA streams. TVs, for example, often allow this and there are increasing numbers of hi-fi and stereo components that can take a DLNA stream and throw it from their speakers.

You could even connect an old phone to a set of portable speakers and use your day-to-day phone to control what it plays. DLNA, it seems, has snuck into our homes and is waiting patiently to make things better for us all.

Considering BubbleUPnP is free, it's worth having a look to see what you can do with it, you might find you've already got a decent wireless music system in your house without even realising it.