Sometimes referred to as "Smart TV," IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) is a transmission protocol that delivers television programming over a managed network by sending packet data via a high-speed Internet connection instead of an antenna, satellite, or cable.

What Is IPTV?

IPTV is a delivery method for IPTV service providers that uses Internet protocol over a closed, managed network. IPTV offers reliable delivery; can be transmitted over various network types (LAN, WiMAX, even cellular), and relies on packet-switching. IPTV is media-, network-, device-, and platform--independent: IPTV transmits images, video, audio and more over different networks to cell phones, TVs, and computers, all using different operating systems/software.

  • Sends video and other content (games, music, data, etc.) over a closed network with controlled distribution
  • Involves a carrier and delivery infrastructure
  • Mimics or complements the programming of digital cable and satellite providers, often with additional subscription fees
  • Involves rights management

IPTV usually requires four major components:

  • IPTV service provider
  • Access network ("last mile" technology, from the edge of the service provider's network to the consumer's home)
  • Home network (high-bandwidth network distributing IPTV in the home)
  • IPTV middleware (the software that transforms the distributed IPTV content into the user experience, usually a set-top box or STB)

There are four primary delivery methods of IPTV:

  • Internet IPTV (otherwise known as Internet TV, not considered 'true' IPTV)
  • Telco IPTV
  • Broadcast IPTV
  • Local (or Building) IPTV (for businesses and organizations)

Many Telco IPTV providers offer IPTV as part of a triple-play bundling of services: high-speed Internet, TV, and telephone over one broadband connection.

How IPTV Works

IPTV uses high-speed Internet connections to transmit only the content that is being watched or recorded. To convey the select data packets to the home or business customer, IPTV uses one of these:

  • Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
  • Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL)
  • ADSL2+
  • Fiber to the Home (FTTH or FTTx, x being the point at which the fiber optic cable stops and switches to the metal local loop. Typically the x is replaced by N for node, B for building, C for curb, and so on.)

When IPTV first began, many IPTV providers set aside a separate, managed section of bandwidth for this service. However, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing disrupted that plan by consuming a large portion of the available bandwidth. Today, telco and broadband IPTV providers use Over-the-Top (OTT) technology that includes IPTV as normal Internet traffic, by layering IPTV over the traditional traffic using DSL, ADSL, and FTTH technologies.

IPTV vs. Internet TV

An important distinction between "true" IPTV and Internet IPTV (Internet TV) is that the IPTV service is distributed by a network provider over a closed network that involves the 'final mile' or 'last mile.' During this last segment (which may be more than a mile), the IPTV service provider's primary connectivity conduit will often change from fiber optic or similar to traditional metallic (copper) cabling to complete the transmission loop to the customer.

As a platform, IPTV also requires IPTV providers to reach a minimum QoS (Quality of Service). The most critical difference between IPTV and Internet TV is the development and adoption of standards. Internet TV uses the public Internet, and does not make any attempt — or any standardized attempt — to optimize bandwidth or delivery.

IPTV is also often considered the Internet extension of traditional, proprietary media providers (entertainment and news conglomerates). IPTV providers feature greater security for those more concerned with piracy or theft. Hulu, with its Hulu Plus subscription service and controlled distribution of TV network content, is considered IPTV. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are also considered IPTV.

Internet TV is a more flexible, open network for independent and often specialized content producers without a secure, dedicated delivery network. With its mix of institutional and individual user-submitted content and unrestricted access, YouTube is Internet TV.

Benefits of IPTV

Since IPTV sends only what is requested, the demands and stress on the broadband delivery system are considerably decreased. This results in:

  • Less bandwidth consumption per user
  • Lower bandwidth costs overall
  • Cheaper infrastructure
  • Decreased maintenance
  • Lower equipment costs

Additionally, IPTV's packet-based technology supports advanced, consumer-friendly conveniences and features. These include:

  • Watching and recording simultaneously
  • Pausing and rewinding (time-shifted TV)
  • Video on Demand (VoD)
  • Previewing one show while watching another
  • near Video on Demand (nVoD)
  • TV on Demand (TVOD)
  • Digital music libraries
  • FM/Streamed Internet radio broadcasts

IPTV Companies

Some IPTV service providers are:

  • ATT&T's U-verse
  • Verizon FiOS
  • Falcon
  • Avail Media
  • SureWest
  • Damaka
  • Joost
  • JumpTV
  • Viaccess
  • Sky Angel TV

IPTV for Businesses

Many industries are turning to IPTV to deliver content within buildings or across their campuses. IPTV for business use, known as Local IPTV or Building IPTV, is distributed via LAN instead of through the firewall.

Companies are turning to LAN-delivered IPTV because:

  • Bandwidth is virtually unlimited
  • It offers differentiated access control (by user, department, building, etc.)
  • There's no Internet bandwidth involved, so it's cheaper
  • They can offer unique, customized content
  • Higher quality
  • No buffering issues

SnapTV, for instance, has focused on the hotel, maritime, and petrochemical industries.

Local IPTV specialists include:

  • SnapTV
  • Exterity
  • Optibase
  • PipTV
  • VDA

IPTV Middleware, IPTV STBs, and the Challenges of IPTV

By far, the biggest challenges to IPTV today are the set-top box (STB) and the IPTV middleware needed to operate the IPTB STB, and the standardization required for minimum QoS.

IPTV middleware is the software installed on the set-top box (STB) that communicates with the headend and delivery network. IPTV middleware functions as an intermediary between the consumer and the headend, or IPTV service provider.

Having the right middleware is key to defining the user experience with the IPTV system. In early versions of IPTV systems for the home, the IPTV STB often proved difficult for the consumer to manage.

IPTV middleware and IPTV STBs remain one of the biggest obstacles to consumer adoption of IPTV. IPTV STBs are different from IPTV provider to IPTV provider. Additionally, non-standardized content requiring different players for different types of compressed video (WMV, QuickTime, Flash, Real) make consistency in production, management, and delivery of IPTV difficult. With the delivery destination also changing (phones as well as TVs), IPTV STBs are even more of a challenge to the IPTV industry.

HTML5 offers some hope for the future, especially for IPTV STBs. Since OTT IPTV delivery means IPTV is delivered to the consumer as part of regular Internet traffic, it requires a browser. A standards-compliant, HTML5 browser resolves many of the difficulties faced by the IPTV industry today.

HTML5 responds to compression and player problems in the browser itself. The player code is in the header of the document accessed. Additionally, if there are upgrades required, the player is updated by the video provider rather than at the consumer endpoint. This is one of the benefits of standardization involved with IPTV.

IPTV Middleware Companies

Companies specializing in IPTB STB solutions include:

  • Espial
  • Azuki
  • Minerva
  • Anevia
Created by: jarnold, Last modification: Tue 07 of Feb, 2012 (23:38 UTC) by admin
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