What is IPTV and how does it work?
What is IPTV and how does it work?

What is IPTV and how does it work?

For several decades, traditional television has been losing ground. It’s not just about the truly outdated analogue television. But also about the terrestrial digital television that came to replace analogue, in the DVB-T and DVB-T2 formats. And traditional cable (DVB-C / C2) and satellite (DVB-S / S2) operators do not feel much better. Some time ago, the grow of subscriber base of DVB operators slowed down, and in some places began to decline…

The reason for this was the changed global trends in technology evolution, and the widespread ubiquity of the Internet. Which brought to the fore the the technology of television spread over Internet protocols. Technology named IPTV. What is this technology? How does it work? What does it give to its users? Is this a positive trend or a negative one? We will consider these and other questions in this article.

What is IPTV?

Internet television (IPTV) is television delivered over the Internet using Internet protocols. The first plus is hidden in this formulation. Subscribers of this service do not need antennas, satellite dishes, or additional coaxial cable in their apartment. All that you need is an Internet connection, an Eternet cable from your home Internet provider, or a wireless connection to WiFi or a mobile data network (3G, LTE, 5G, etc.).

Unlike the earlier technology for delivering video content by downloading to a subscriber device, IPTV assumes the continuity of the transmission of the original media data. The player on the client device starts playing almost immediately after receiving the first frames of the transmitted video. Without waiting of fully load.

Types of IPTV

IPTV television did not appear yesterday. Having originated several decades ago, it continues to change and develop to this day. And in this development, television has gone through several stages, which, very, very conditionally, allow to divide IPTV into several types:

  • Live TV is the most basic type of IPTV, in fact, similar in functionality and capabilities to the old television of the DVB family. This is just a streaming broadcast of live TV channels without any additional features. You can watch channels and switch between them. And… That is all.
  • Time Shifted TV / Pause Live TV. Since the broadcast of the same Live TV usually goes to subscriber devices that can record and store video files, the next stage of IPTV evolution was quite obvious. The ability to pause the broadcast, i.e. to stop its demonstration and start recording the video stream into the internal memory of the device, with the possibility of further viewing from the point of stopping, seemed like a huge breakthrough at the beginning of the 2000s. And the possibility of the subsequent rewind forward and backward within the recorded piece, even more so. True, some DVB set-top boxes can do the same, but still …
  • Сatch up TV / TV archive. The next logical step in the development of IPTV was even more obvious. What if organize record the broadcast of the channels not on the device, but on the server? And not just some program, but the entire broadcast over the past couple of weeks? And not on one specific channel, but on all at once? Then we get the pinnacle of modern IPTV. Catch up TV inflicts a truly fatal wound on DVB television. After all, this is an opportunity to watch your favorite TV shows when it is convenient and such a desire arose. There is no more need to drop everything and run to TV because your favorite series has begun. Or leave work early to watch the main evening news on your favorite channel. Now, the subscriber is the owner of his shedule, and can watch any favorite programs when it is convenient to him. And all broadcast, for example, for the last 2 weeks is available for viewing. And also, ads can be rewound.

And these are only 3 basic types of IPTV. Also additional “options” that are formally not a Internet television, but in fact are supported by any full-fledged IPTV platform:

  • Video on Demand (VoD). This is not television, it is a catalog of films, series, TV shows, music videos, or just audio. Which is available for viewing constantly, at the request of the user. Modern reincarnation of the same Download TV, which became the progenitor of IPTV. Only the requested video is not loaded onto the front player, as before, but starts streaming and playing immediately after the first frames are recieved.
  • Video surveillance/Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). Actually the same technologies and approaches, but instead of TV channels, signals from IP video cameras are delivered to subscriber devices. From public cameras to watch the traffic jams on the way to work, for example. Or for check free tables in your favorite bar. From common cameras of multi-apartment house, from a camera built into the intercom at the entrance, or from a camera directed to the courtyard playground. From the subscriber’s own cameras in his apartment. Live only, or with archive recording. In advanced variations, even scenarios based on the analysis of recordings are possible (motion detection, emergency actions, face recognition, etc.).
  • Digital Video Recorder (DVR) is a service that allows you to record and store TV programs regardless of the general TV archive. As much as the subscriber needs. Six months, one year, decade. On the subscriber device or on the operator’s servers.
  • Search and Recommendation System. And finally, the main “cherry on top of the IPTV cake” is the recommendation system. After all, finding of favorite content is also a job. Follows to the broadcasters, making subscriptions, films / series hunting, looking to favorite director, or actors news. Big efforts. Why not entrust it to the operator’s IPTV platform? Let her keep track of what her subscribers are watching. And then, based on hybrid methods of collaborative filtering (CF based on the neighborhood + CF based on the model), it generates personal recommendations to each of the subscribers. And subscribers will not waste their precious time, and will only watch what they love, without wasting precious time to searching. in fact, just only few IPTV platforms are able to do it. Only Youtube, Netflix, Michael Jackson…, and DREAM Platform developed by GS Labs. Well, maybe a couple more platforms. But but not to much.

IPTV or OTT? Multicast or Unicast?

Initially, IPTV operators were internet providers who delivered their interactive television over their own network to their subscribers. Then the most cunning of them decided that it was possible to trade services not only on their own networks, but also to service the subscribers of other operators. This is how the Over the Top (OTT) technology appeared, which allows the delivery of a TV signal via the open Internet, outside of the Internet provider’s own network. Well, then, the cunning guys from Youtube and Netflix decided that their own network was not required at all, and began broadcasting their video services to all subscribers in the world, without looking at the providers. And now everyone IPTV operators want to do the same.

“Dinosaurs of IPTV” broadcast all TV channels in one big stream. From the source server immediately to entire local network, to all subscribers at once. Round the clock. This broadcasting technology is called multicast broadcasting. And it has its advantages. Yes, all channels are broadcast at once, but only once. And any number of subscribers can watch Live TV and Time Shifted TV, and this will not increase the load on the network in any way.

But this technology have a limits too. The archive of TV programs cannot be broadcasted at this way. And it is problematic to deliver multicast to subscribers of other providers. Some technologies to do this is exist, but the cost of delivering the entire package of channels between operators will cost a lot. A subscription fee from one subscriber cannot compensate for this. And the Unicast technology appeared as solution of this problem. Allowing to send to the subscriber not all channels, but one, specific and just requested by the subscriber. And not only the channel’s live broadcast. But also any part of the archive stored on the servers.

Soviet science, and even British scientists, have not yet defined the relationship between these terms. There are experts who sincerely believe that true IPTV is only multicast, only hardcore. And OTT “is different”, which has nothing to do with IPTV term. There are those who consider OTT to be a subclass of IPTV.

Most experts prefer to use the unifying term IPTV / OTT to avoid holly wars. And practically any modern IPTV platform and devices can, if necessary, support both multicast and unicast sources at the same time.

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