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What is IPTV?

IPTV is defined as the secure and reliable delivery to subscribers of entertainment video and related services. These services may include, for example, Live TV, Video On Demand (VOD) and Interactive TV (iTV). These services are delivered across an access agnostic, packet switched network that employs the IP protocol to transport the audio, video and control signals. In contrast to video over the public Internet, with IPTV deployments, network security and performance are tightly managed to ensure a superior entertainment experience, resulting in a compelling business environment for content providers, advertisers and customers alike.

From a TV watcher’s point of view, IPTV is very simple: instead of receiving TV programs as broadcast signals that enter your home from a rooftop antenna, satellite dish, or fiber-optic cable, you get them streamed (downloaded and played almost simultaneously) through your Internet connection. Not the kind of connection you have today, which can probably handle only 1–10 Mbps (million bits per second—roughly the amount of information in an average novel entering your computer every second!), but a broadband line with about 10 times higher bandwidth (information carrying capacity) of maybe 10–100Mbps. You watch the program either on your computer or with a set-top box (a kind of adapter that fits between your Internet connection and your existing television receiver, decoding incoming signals so your TV can display Internet programs).

From the viewpoint of a broadcaster or telephone company, IPTV is somewhat more complex. You need a sophisticated storage system for all the videos you want to make available and a web-style interface that allows people to select the programs they want. Once a viewer has selected a program, you need to be able to encode the video file in a suitable format for streaming, encrypt it (encoding it so only people who’ve paid can decode and receive it), embed advertisements (especially if the program is free), and stream it across the Internet to anything from one person to (potentially) thousands or millions of people at a time. Furthermore, you have to figure out how to do this to provide a consistently high-quality picture (especially if you’re delivering advertising with your programming—because that’s what your paying advertisers will certainly expect).

photo by JESHOOTS pexels

photo by JESHOOTS pexels

channels in the last seven days (and occasionally for longer). It doesn’t currently provide live broadcasts.

From the viewpoint of a broadcaster or telephone company, IPTV is somewhat more complex. You need a sophisticated storage system for all the videos you want to make available and a web-style interface that allows people to select the programs they want. Once a viewer has selected a program, you need to be able to encode the video file in a suitable format for streaming, encrypt it (encoding it so only people who’ve paid can decode and receive it), embed advertisements (especially if the program is free), and stream it across the Internet to anything from one person to (potentially) thousands or millions of people at a time. Furthermore, you have to figure out how to do this to provide a consistently high-quality picture (especially if you’re delivering advertising with your programming—because that’s what your paying advertisers will certainly expect).

Three types of IPTV

IPTV comes in three different flavors. The first kind—and the one you’re probably using already—is called video on demand (VOD). With a service such as Netflix (an online movie website), you select a TV program or movie you want to watch from a wide range, pay your money, and watch it there and then. A different kind of IPTV is being offered by some of the world’s more enterprising TV broadcasters. In the UK, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) makes its last week’s programs available online using a web-based streaming video player called the BBC iPlayer. This kind of service is sometimes called time-shifted IPTV, because you’re watching ordinary, scheduled broadcasts at a time that’s convenient for you. The third kind of IPTV involves broadcasting live TV programs across the Internet as they’re being watched—so it’s live IPTV or IP simulcasting. All three forms of IPTV can work either using your computer and an ordinary web browser or (for much better quality) a set-top box and an ordinary digital TV. All three can be delivered either over the public Internet or through a managed, private network that works in essentially the same way (for example, from your telephone and Internet service provider to your home entirely through the provider’s network).

How does IPTV work?

With traditional TV, programs are broadcast by being turned into radio waves and beamed through the air to a rooftop antenna on your home. The antenna converts the waves back into electrical signals and your TV set decodes them to make its sound and picture (satellite TV works the same way, except the signal bounces into space and back, while cable TV sends the signal directly into your home without radio waves). How is IPTV different?