What is IPTV and how does it work [2020]?

With Netflix and the Internet, TV has become old-fashioned. Why should you watch TV programs only when they are transmitted?

Wouldn’t be a far better and comfort-like if there is a way that enables you claim more control over what you watch and when to?

Wouldn’t it be more convenient for you find a way in which you can watch TV the same as you browse the web, so you can choose the show you want to watch whenever and wherever you would like to?

This is one of the promises of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), which uses Internet technology to broadcast TV programs “on demand”.

Let’s take a look at the promising prospects of IPTV technology and how it radically changes the TV broadcasting experience!

1. What is IPTV?

IPTV is growing rapidly, with the emergence of new providers and new services alongside traditional TV providers, the act which is doomed to enrich IPTV offers.

IPTV stands for Internet protocol television. The IP in IPTV is the same as that of your IP address or VoIP (voice over IP). This means that television programming is transmitted using the Internet protocol.

With cable or satellite television, broadcasters send signals and viewers receive them. You can only watch what is broadcast. Unless you have a recording device, you can only choose among programs broadcast by different channels and watch what is available.

IPTV operates quite differently. IPTV sends broadcasts and movies over Internet connection bandwidth, instead of transmitting broadcast content over a fiber optic cable or radio waves from a satellite which characterize traditional TV technology (either satellite or cable) of broadcasting.

Instead of broadcasting a series of programs on a specific schedule, most IPTV channels use time-delayed media or Video on Demand (V0D). We’ll get into details on this later on.

2. Architecture required by IPTV to operate

There is a complicated network architecture behind it, which makes it functional, including a lot of transcoding from traditional signals to IP signals.

Though this architecture may slightly differ from a service network operator to another, the nature and requirements of IPTV deployment are generally the same. Basically, for an IPTV service to operate, there are two architecture models: centralized and distributed.


2.1 Centralized architecture model

The centralized model is the simple one. It uses centralized servers where content to be delivered to the end user’s device is already stored. We can describe a service that uses this centralized model as a simple VoD service.

And indeed, this deployment is simple compared to the other, since, for it to operate, all it needs is a good central and peripheral bandwidth along with suitable content delivery network.

2.2 Distributed architecture model

The distributed architecture has advantages in bandwidth use as well as its great options of system management that a large server network requires. Operators planning to deploy a relatively large system must, upstream and from the start, think about implementing a distributed architecture model.

This type of architecture requires sophisticated distribution technologies to enable efficient delivery of multimedia content over the service provider’s network.

This may sound more technically to dwell into, but all boil down to one very simple fact: you don’t have to watch what’s on the air. You can tell your provider what you want to watch and they will send it to you immediately.

If you have ever tried a streaming service like Netflix, it is pretty much the same idea, except that this time with TV instead of movies or series.

3. IPTV content receiving

All three types of IPTV can work either using your computer and an ordinary web browser, or (for much better quality) a decoder and ordinary digital TV. These three services can be delivered either over the public Internet or through a managed private network that works essentially the same (for example, from your telephone and Internet service provider to your home, entirely through the provider’s network) .

4. Do you need a decoder for IPTV?

Your computer, on the other hand, needs nothing to watch TV over IP. Once signed up for a service, you can use it to watch what you want in any of the IPTV formats. So, if you can mirror your screen on your TV, you can watch IPTV without a set-top box.

Since most TVs are not equipped for IPTV, you may need a set-top box that “translates” what you receive on your Internet connection into a format your TV can play.

The future of IPTV is likely to be through the purchase of set-top boxes that receive input from your Internet connection (via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi cable), decode the signal, and display an image on your widescreen HD TV.

The decoders are in fact autonomous computers programmed to do only one thing: to receive packets of video streaming, to decrypt them, to convert them into video files (MPEG2, MPEG4, or any format), then display them as high quality TV pictures.

Apple TV works largely this way, using a set-top box to run simple applications on a lean operating system (tvOS), which handles the process of streaming video over the Internet.

As a simple, more compact and much more discreet alternative to a set-top box, you can use a so-called dongle, which looks a bit like a USB flash drive, but allows secure access to TV programs on the Internet. The dongle plugs into an HDMI socket on your TV and connects via Wi-Fi to the Internet to broadcast TV programs, movies and music directly.

Google’s Chromecast is a little different: usually you launch it with your computer, tablet or smartphone (which effectively becomes a remote control), after that you can stream your movie or TV program directly from the Internet.

5. IPTV Types

5.1 What is Video on demand (VOD)

VOD streaming is exactly what it looks like; you get video every time you request it. Movie streaming sites are VOD providers. There is no time limit for what you can watch other than the limits of the service itself.

You tell the service provider what you want to watch, they send it to you over the Internet and you watch it. That simple.

With a service like Netflix or Amazon Prime video, you select a TV show or movie you want to watch from a wide range. They work as a subscription, there are also services where you pay per content consumed

5.2 What is Shifted media

If you have watched “catch-up TV”, you are familiar with this type of IPTV. Many broadcast networks now allow users to watch shows they missed while on the air.

The important difference between shifted media and video on demand is that shared content has a limited shelf life. You can’t go back and watch an episode of a show that you missed several years ago.

You watch regular and scheduled shows at a time convenient to you.
Video on demand and Shifted media are very similar. The difference lies especially in the length of time you can watch a program after it being streamed.

5.3 What is Live IPTV

The third type of IPTV is to broadcast live television programming over the Internet while it is being watched, that is, live over IPTV or simulcast over IP. So, as with television broadcasting, you can also watch live broadcasts on IPTV. Many people view sporting events this way; it’s easy to watch a game streaming on your phone while you’re on the go.

Sport seems to be the field of television that has been the fastest adopted by IPTV. There are many sports subscription plans that you can watch from your computer or streamed on your TV whenever you want.
Live IP TV looks like ordinary TV to the consumer.

6. TV becomes multidirectional media

Traditional television broadcasting means the dissemination of information in one direction only. Now, the combination of television and video with the Internet opens up the possibility of a much more interactive experience where information flows back and forth.

We can expect much more participation in the shows we watch.

Instead of speaking directly to an audience of a few hundred people in a studio, TV stations will reach an audience of millions of viewers who can send comments instantly. We can ask questions and ask the witness to answer them a few minutes later, we will vote on the way we want the TV series to run, with multiple endings filmed in advance and different endings screened for viewers different !

7. Targeted advertising on your TV

If you’ve used video on demand services, you may have noticed that some of them already serve interactive advertising: since you’re just watching a video on a regular web page, you can click on a advert to go to a website and find out more.

Given the trend towards highly targeted online behavioral advertising, advertisers will use IPTV to deliver ads that are much more relevant to the people who watch them. This will be more effective and more attractive to them than the catch-all advertisements they broadcast today on current television channels. It is very likely that you can even choose the ads you want to watch by setting your parameters like on Facebook.

8. How does IPTV work?

With traditional television, the programs are broadcast by being transformed into radio waves and broadcast in the air to an antenna on the roof of your house. The antenna converts the waves into electrical signals and your television decodes them to produce sound and image (satellite television works in the same way, except that the signal bounces in space and returns, while television by cable sends the signal directly into your home without radio waves). How is IPTV different?

9. IPTV is technically more challenging

From the perspective of a broadcaster or telephone company, IPTV is a little more complex. You need a sophisticated storage system for all the videos you want to make available and a web interface that lets people select the programs they want. Once a viewer has selected a program, you should be able to:

  • encode the video file in a format suitable for streaming,
  • encrypt it (by encoding it so that only the people who paid can decode it and receive it), integrate advertisements (especially if the program is free),
  • broadcast it on the Internet at any time, from one person to (potentially) thousands or millions of people at a time,
  • find a way to deliver a consistent, high-quality image (especially if you are advertising with your programming – because that’s what your paying advertisers certainly expect).

9.1 Program storage

Live broadcasts are streamed as they are produced, but pre-recorded shows and movies must be stored so that they can be selected and broadcast on demand. Some V0D services limit the number of programs they offer not because they lack storage space, but because it is a way of limiting the overall bandwidth of their service and its impact on the Internet.

9.2 Preparing content for delivery

First, the TV program must be converted to a digital format that can be delivered in packets using the Internet protocol. Sometimes the original program will already be in digital format; sometimes it will come in the form of a standard analog TV picture that requires a little more processing to turn it into digital format.

With the current limitations of bandwidth, videos also need to be compressed so that they can be streamed without being buffered (periodic delays caused by the receiver’s accumulating incoming packets). In practice, this means that the programs are encoded in MPEG2 or MPEG4 format. Once done, the ads must be inserted and the information must be encrypted.

9.3 Streaming

When you browse a website, you are actually creating a temporary link between two computers so that one can “suck” information from the other. Your computer, the client, extracts information from the other computer, usually a much more powerful one, the server, by connecting directly to an IP address that corresponds to the website you want to visit.

The client and the server have a brief intermittent conversation in which the client asks the server for all the files it needs to build the page you are viewing.

Servers are usually so fast and powerful that many clients can download in this way simultaneously, with little delay. This type of ordinary download between a client server and a server is known as unicasting IP.

However, when it comes to streaming, clients put a much higher (and simultaneous) load on the server, which can cause unacceptable delays and buffers.

Thus, with streaming, another type of download is used, known as IP multicast, in which each packet leaves the server only once but is sent simultaneously to many different destinations; in theory, this means that a server can send information to multiple clients as easily as to a single client.

10. What is Hybrid IPTV and how it saves bandwidth?

Many TV providers are now taking a hybrid approach to IPTV to address some of the problems associated with full IP broadcasts. IPTV requires a lot of bandwidth to transmit so much data at high speed.

Hybrid IPTV combines traditional television services with those based on IP. The biggest selling point is that everything comes in one box. This allows TV providers to expand their offering to their subscribers. It also facilitates the deployment of new products and services without a complete overhaul of the decoder. It’s a good way to go from a traditional model to a more modern one.

11. The big challenge to IPTV

Broadcasting IPTV seems easier to implement than it can be in practice. The biggest obstacle right now is that too few homes have broadband connections with enough capacity to handle a single high-quality TV stream, let alone multiple streams simultaneously.

Upgrading regular broadband connections to broadband optical fiber, so that they regularly provide households with speeds of 10 to 100 Mbps, will take time and require significant investment. Until then, IPTV providers will not be able to guarantee “quality of service” as good as cable, satellite or over-the-air television.

Latency and packet loss are already problems for VoIP phones and they become much more problematic when broadcast quality video is added to the stream. Since IPTV uses compressed video formats such as MPEG2 and MPEG4, packet loss has a much more serious effect than on uncompressed video or audio streams: the higher the compression rate, the more effect that each packet lost has on the image you see is important.

12. The future of IPTV

There is no doubt that IPTV will gain popularity. Increasing user demand and improved networks will support this growth. Television will increasingly move away from broadly defined channels and rigid schedules to move towards more targeted, à la carte, à la carte programming.

IPTV could take off in exactly the same way as broadband Internet in the early 2000s: back then, as people used the Internet, they felt embarrassed by the limits of dial-up connectivity, demanding a high better quality flow.

Major media providers plan to offer new streaming services to compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming heavyweights. And more traditional TV providers allow time-delayed media through their apps. Even cable companies allow their subscribers to watch from their phones.

And now that people can create their own channels to easily distribute their content, the number and variety of IPTV options will increase rapidly. Viewers will no longer be limited to what broadcasters share; they can go to each other to see everything, from fitness videos to films for a specific audience.

Another aspect of things: many services appear which allow users to create their own video on demand and live broadcast services. In this way, people can share their skills, advice and passions with anyone else in the world.

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