Traditional television services are gradually disappearing from our living rooms, on a global scale. Despite offering hundreds of channels, viewers are constrained to watching them when they’re being broadcast (unless the show is pre-recorded). But with quick internet speeds taking over the world, IPTV services can now provide easy access to content when and where consumers want it. So what does IPTV stand for?
With Internet Protocol Television, which is what IPTV stands for, programs are delivered on-demand. So how does it work, and what are the benefits and challenges of this service? Let’s dive a bit deeper and explain.
What is IPTV?
In reality, the end product for the TV viewer is the same – their favorite show is displayed on their TV set. The difference lies in the means by which IPTV service is delivered: instead of receiving broadcast signals from an antenna, satellite dish or fiber-optic cable, this content is streamed (i.e. downloaded and immediately played) using an Internet connection. Despite this service being available to ADSL broadband users, the experience is much better with fiber broadband lines offering superior bandwidth. Moreover, viewers are not restricted to using their TVs with a set-top box – IPTV can be accessed on gadgets too.
For broadcasters and Internet providers, IPTV service is a whole new ball game. It necessitated a whole series of changes – the entire range of video content needed to be stored somewhere, and a web-style interface allowing viewers to select their programs had to be developed – often, per publisher. Once consumers choose what they want to watch via the interface, this video content file has to be encoded in the right format for streaming, encrypted (to filter out those who haven’t paid), and have advertising embedded. Bear in mind that this particular file can be accessed by potentially millions and they all expect to view it in HD or even 4k, especially for subscriber-paid for services.
So how does IPTV work?
To explain the difference between IPTV services and traditional television, let’s first recall how the latter has traditionally worked – broadcast instead of cable. Broadcast programs arrive into your home in the form of radio waves that are received by a rooftop antenna. This antenna then converts these waves back into electrical signals, which are in turn decoded by a TV set into picture and sound. Satellite TV service is similar, except for the signal bouncing into space and back, while cable TV service has the signal fed into a household without radio waves, via a cable. IPTV service, on the other hand, is entirely different.
Storing video content
Pre-recorded shows and movies are indeed stored and then streamed on demand on IPTV. Live TV, however, is streamed as it is produced. Typically, video-on-demand (VOD) services limit their available content – to avoid hogging more bandwidth than necessary, which would in turn affect internet speeds for everyone. Storage space is not so much an issue for broadcasters these days, but with so much content available since television was invented, offering all of it to customers would undoubtedly slow down the network for those consuming non-video content on the web.
Preparing video content
Initially, each recorded or captured TV program is converted into a digital format suitable for delivery in the form of packets via the Internet protocol. Even if the video was originally an analog TV picture, it can be processed into a digital format. Due to aforementioned bandwidth constraints, the content needs to be further compressed into lighter files to avoid buffering during streaming – these days the MPEG4 format is the preferred one for IPTV. After this, ads are inserted and these files are then encrypted.
Streaming video content
During streaming, a technology, similar to typical web-surfing, is used. When a website is accessed, a temporary link between two computers is established with further transmission of files and information from one to another. This kind of downloading between servers is called IP unicasting. In IPTV streaming, however, there is a much more substantial and simultaneous load on the server, which led to a slightly different approach known as IP multicasting, which has each packet leaving the server only once and being distributed to many different destinations, one IP multicast group, at the same time. If one device then switches IPTV channels, they simply switch over to a different group that is fed a different video stream.
Moreover, so-called content delivery networks (CDNs) that have synchronized global networks keeping “mirror” copies of the same data are used to ensure the same IPTV content can be streamed with the same quality regardless of the geographical location of the consumer.
What IPTV formats are there?
Unlike traditional television, IPTV offers extra services and video formats, and these can be divided into three different IPTV formats:
- Live television service – Live stream television broadcast can be watched in real time like regular TV. This is often used for live events such as sports, conferences, briefings, etc.
- Video on Demand (VOD) – Similarly to OTT providers, subscriptions are offered in return for access to an extensive library of video content that can be played back whenever wherever.
- Time-shifted TV service – Commonly referred to as “catch-up TV”, IPTV enables users to watch TV programs after it was broadcast live. The difference from VOD streaming lies in the fact that this old content can be rewatched only within a specific time frame, usually a few days. After this period, such shows are considered VOD.
Some pros and cons of IPTV
Aside from flexibility and a superior user experience, there’s more to IPTV services – including some drawbacks. Here are the pros and cons to consider when looking at cutting back on traditional TV or cable bills:
- User-friendly installation and use – Once you have bought a set-top box and connected it to your TV set, all you have to do is access the internet and start enjoying your IPTV service. The software required to watch content often comes pre-installed.
- 100% digital – With wide availability of digital TV options, analog TV is slowly but surely disappearing. As it becomes more widespread, more new advanced tech will appear enhancing the entire IPTV experience.
- Simultaneous streaming of different programs – Multiple programs can run on different IPTV devices, including TV. mobile, tablet and PC.
- Something for everyone – Considering the diversity of services IPTV has on offer, different consumer tastes can be met.
- Ad-free experience – There is no way of skipping commercials on traditional television, whereas on IPTV, ads can be fast-forwarded or skipped altogether.
- Time-efficient – Start watching your content when you’re ready. There’s no need to wait for a specific broadcast time – with IPTV, you have total control over when to watch and when to take a break and return.
- Potential technical issues – Although providers go the extra mile to ensure everyone enjoys a seamless IPTV watching experience, if a specific IPTV program is requested by too many users at the same time, a network overload may come about and lead to buffering or other playback issues.
- Channel-related issues – If problems arise on a channel’s end, there’s no way of fixing it other than waiting.
- Synchronization problems – Network speed and quality often fluctuates, which can cause viewers IPTV sync problems. Usually, a stable and proven internet connection helps prevent such issues.
Although minor, technical issues may arise with IPTV service. At the same time, with wider adoption, it is likely these will be addressed and minimized in the foreseeable future.
According to available data and considering current dynamics, the future looks bright for IPTV. With improved technology and increased mobility, people are less willing to spend their free time in front of TVs when the broadcaster tells them to. At the same time, tailored content and on-demand services are becoming ever more popular. Viewers are more picky and want to decide when, how and where to consume video content. Online video platforms are enjoying impressive growth, while the old-fashioned television has to adapt to survive. IPTV is the mediator that offers an ideal solution.
This is evidenced by the data: IPTV services are forecast to grow by up to 19% on a yearly basis. Coherent found the whole IPTV market to be worth $67 billion in 2019, with a potential to exceed $260 billion by 2027.
The entertainment industry is growing and willing to admit new players, including OTT platforms that have already enjoyed incredible success. And the IPTV service is no exception with its potential.