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What is IPTV and How Does it Work?

a wall of multiple television screens

Right now we are in the second or third Golden Age of television, depending on how you define the era. The first Golden Age was the 1950s, where this relatively new medium called television came onto the scene. Television's technological progress was fostered by companies like RCA (technology), as well as Hollywood's content production studios such as Universal and Columbia, which drove this new medium to massive popularity.

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Television went through some major changes over the years, with many production and broadcast TV companies saturating the market. Many TV shows eventually became very formulaic,  and only a handful of programs each year would truly capture the attention of the nation. The 1980s brought with it a new era of executives who had a bit of a different way of thinking, carrying with them fresh new ideas and resulting in a new era of television programming.

Then in the 2000s, something dramatic happened. Advances in media distribution technology and broadband internet saw the birth of 'digital TV' technology. With nearly everyone suddenly having access to high-speed internet, this led the way for HDTV, online video platforms, video-on-demand, Web TV and TV streaming.  Around the same time, Wi Fi technology improved and before we knew it, there was a hotspot on every corner.

This new shift in digital online video brought about a sizable increase in the number of hours of television available to the public. This prompted an unprecedented increase in content production, as well as an unprecedented increase in required server capacity (to host all of the TV shows). As a result, today, you have many non-traditional TV services like Apple, Amazon, and YouTube having planted a firm flag in the digital TV space. If you are a lover of all things television and you have yet to cut out your cable or satellite service provider, you can't begin to imagine the sheer volume of TV channels available that will expand what you watch on TV beyond your wildest dreams. Any TV show you want to watch is now available.

OTT vs IPTV

Over the Top Streaming

You cannot understand IPTV without knowing what an IP is. IP stands for internet protocol and everyone who has an internet connection is assigned an "IP Address". This is a unique address that identifies a device on the internet or on a local network.  It allows for information and data to be transferred between devices on a network.

Today, most video content either comes in the form of IPTV  or OTT. IPTV stands for "internet protocol television" and OTT stands for "Over the Top". While both bear many similarities, OTT provides content delivery over the same open, unmanaged network that you stream your music from, receive emails, and surf the web. The network creates a direct connection with your device via the internet. OTT  providers deliver media content usually in the form of live broadcasts and/or video-on-demand, over the internet instead of traditional cable TV.

When you watch media content on OTT, your device will have to establish a unique connection with the server that is providing the content, however, because this is OTT, users may experience fluctuating levels of network bandwidth, leading to packet loss and a lower quality viewing experience.

Video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube are examples of OTT services and generally require a subscription.

Internet Protocol Television

IPTV  is the delivery service for streamed content over a managed network such as a wide area network (WAN), a private local area network (LAN), or a privately managed service provider network. These are all based on IP networks (internet protocol) and offer a higher quality of service.  Unlike cable or satellite services that broadcast content in real-time, IPTV  streaming services have much of their content stored on servers in data centers.

As an IPTV streaming provider, it is imperative that you choose the right server and hosting solutions provider to ensure all of your present and future needs are met. By choosing an incorrect hosting package, your users may experience a variety of issues from packet loss, to latency and a poorer viewing experience. This is why your provider should offer the best customer solutions package, especially when it comes to customer support. After all, do you really want your distributor network to field calls from upset customers?

Ultimately the biggest takeaway between the IPTV and OTT comes down to quality. We have all experienced packet loss while watching YouTube or Netflix (glitches and pixelation when users watch online videos). OTT IP creates a direct connection with your device, whereas IPTV services are supported on managed networks that can support multicast streaming. That is, a single video can be shared with all viewers on the same network, instead of making a connection with each individual user.

How Does IPTV Work?

Now that we have answered the question, 'What is IPTV', you're likely wondering how IPTV works. Unlike traditional TV, IPTV works off of an IP network and provides content delivery of audio and video for users to consume.

How is IPTV streamed? When you want to watch IPTV TV shows, you would do so through your internet connection by way of a set-top box, as opposed to your cable or satellite provider. When you click the link to start one of the TV shows, this sends a request to the content source or sources (usually a server or servers). The server divides the video content into data packets over internet protocol IP in a video compression format. It delivers the data to a local node in your neighborhood. The signal then travels to your home, usually through fiber optic cable where your device or set-top box decodes it so you can watch your IPTV channels.

Hosting for IPTV Service Providers

As mentioned previously, as an IPTV provider, you need to ensure that you have a reliable hosting solutions provider, but equally important is finding a premium service carrier. Oftentimes when setting up a streaming business, or any start-up for that matter, the cost of a start-up is always a concern. But smart entrepreneurs understand that there are certain costs that you simply cannot 'cheap out' on. Remember, the premise of your entire business is predicated on providing an 'experiential' service, that of getting the satisfaction of watching the latest episode of Mythic Quest or the most recent Star Wars or Marvel movies. When you provide a poor viewing experience, your customers will look for another provider. So ensure that you have more bandwidth than you need to ensure future growth, along with the right components in your server.

What are the Pros, Cons and Benefits of IPTV?

Where we see the most rapid adoption rates for IPTV is with those who use a set-top-box. Not to be mistaken for video on demand (VOD) devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV Stick. An IPTV set-top box is used to convert the signal that is received through an internet connection in order to broadcast the video onto your TV screen. The box itself can be connected through HDMI or AV cables, or even via WI FI.

Once set up, you must subscribe to an IPTV service provider network. Often this is usually a reseller of a company that manages a network of content. These service providers are often open to helping you get set up. There are a great many IPTV providers who can set you up with any number of packages, offering TV channels in the thousands.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Smart TVs, another form of watching digital television. While many of these devices come with built-in technology to stream content over the internet, most are OTT services such as the hugely successful Roku. These are great options for those who are, shall we say, less technically inclined (read: your parents trying to connect the VCR back in the 80s). The technology comes built into the television and does not require a set-top box or stick. Because this is an OTT service, you will likely not get the thousands of IPTV channels that you want.

Pros

What are the benefits of IPTV? When you watch through a streaming box, IPTV offers a more pleasurable watching experience as you are not subjected to packet loss as you would be with OTT. IPTV is also very cost-effective, especially if you are still paying traditional cable rates. You can purchase a subscription for as low as $19.99 and receive thousands of channels from your IPTV service provider. Some IPTV services offer international channels, which is great especially for those new to the country and are looking for programming in other languages or from their native country.

One of the greatest benefits IPTV offers beyond video-on-demand (VOD) is live TV. Sports fanatics absolutely love this aspect because, well, they're sports fanatics and now they can watch virtually any international sports event at the drop of a dime.  If sport isn't your thing, you can stream live IPTV for programs such as the Grammys, the Oscars, breaking news, and political broadcasts anytime.

In addition to the thousands of TV channels,  live TV, you will also have access to thousands of movies. And not just some movies, all of the classics, foreign movies in multiple languages, and often recently released movies. If that's not enough, aside from live television, most programming is commercial-free. How great is that?

Many of these service providers will also allow you to use your service across a range of devices, whereas OTT and traditional cable and satellite providers will charge you per screen or device.

Cons

Do you remember in the old days when our satellite TV would go down every time there was a storm? Fortunately, IPTV is not subject to that kind of problem, but it is reliant entirely on your internet connection. If your internet service provider has a tendency of going down, you may want to switch before making the move to IPTV.

If you're on broadband internet but have a slow connection, you may have latency and buffering issues to deal with, so ensure that you have a strong connection of at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second). This is if you happen to fall into the category of being a videophile (or video snob) and insist on watching only in high-definition  (720p or better). If you are fine with lower broadcast standards such as SD (standard definition), then you are fine with lower speeds of around 10 Mbps to 18 Mbps. The absolute minimum would be 2 Mbps, but we wouldn't recommend it. High speed is definitely the way to go for the best viewing experience.

The way we will watch TV in the future

The future of IPTV runs in direct parallel with the future of television, period.  You can expect television of the future to be a completely immersive experience. Television will continue to evolve as new and improved technologies come to market. Its evolution will intensify and not only create new programming formats but push the boundaries of personalized viewing experiences that we cannot yet comprehend. Along with that comes,  immersive and gamified ads (never mind VR and AR, those topics are for another article).

We are already seeing streamers like Netflix developing interactive tv content where the users choose which direction the story goes (see Bear Grylls You vs. Wild). Instead of simply watching something on your TV screen, you will have the opportunity to participate in the show and interact to potentially impact the outcome of the program, giving new meaning to 'reality-show'. Running Man, anyone?

Set-top boxes will likely remain the most popular choice among consumers in the near future, while more TV and VOD services like Peacock, HBO Max and Disney Plus join rank among Netflix and Youtube.

How Do I Get Started

You can find IPTV set-top boxes almost anywhere online, including Amazon. Like anything, shop around, remembering that you need to find a service to subscribe to. Often you can find a local IPTV service provider who can also provide you a set-top box at a competitive price. Some of them even offer installation and will come to your home and demonstrate the installed product for you.

Once you have decided on an IPTV service provider you are on your way to a new world of TV channels, (a place of not only sight and sound, but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.). With IPTV you get premium VOD service, having all of the channels on the broadcast spectrum, thousands of movies, live IPTV and events, in real-time, not time-shifted.

The future of IPTV is very exciting, and I hope I was able to define 'What is IPTV' for you. Now when someone asks you 'What is IPTV', you have your answer.

If you are looking for further information as to how ServerMania can accelerate your streaming service subscription, please check out our page on streaming media server solutions.

If you are a streaming provider and looking for the best in customer service, support, competitive prices, and TOP TIER network carriers for your streaming service, then you need to book your free consultation right now.

Are you ready to choose your server? ServerMania has you covered with every possible configuration you can imagine for your streaming service and is backed with customer service, support, competitive prices, and partnerships with TOP TIER network carriers. Hop on over to our 10 GBPS unmetered service page to review your options.

No one understands streaming content better than ServerMania and we would love to discuss your service needs with you.

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This article makes reference to IPTV service providers, we wish to make it explicitly clear that we would only ever recommend that consumers use providers who have legally obtained all necessary licenses for the content they distribute.

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Rob Rapiti

Rob Rapiti

Rob is the Content Marketing Manager at Servermania. His goal is to help break down the often complex and technical aspects of IT into relatable, easy-to-understand information.