What is IPTV?
IPTV is an acronym for “internet protocol television.” Interestingly, IPTV uses the same exact protocols that your web browser uses, meaning that IPTV relies on an IP address and accesses a network similar to that of the internet to bring you television programming.
Wait, what is the difference between IPTV and normal TV?
Alright, so at this point, you might be asking yourself what makes IPTV different than your normal, everyday TV.
Well, for starters, there is a difference in how the content is delivered to you. With regards to regular TV, be it cable or satellite, the content is sent out as signals, and your TV, or an attached device, receives said signals and interprets them for your viewing pleasure.
However, IPTV works differently. You see, rather than depending on light pulses transmitted through optic fibers or on radio waves being sent via a satellite, IPTV sends the content your way through data packets that are delivered through a private network.
Not only is the technology surrounding IPTV more advanced than normal TV technology, but the required network architecture is also complicated, and it includes transcoding from traditional signals to data packets that are IP-friendly. But, you don’t need to delve into any of that unless you want to understand IPTV on a technical level.
Another difference is that when it comes to regular TV, you can only watch what is being broadcast right now, and unless you have TiVo, you will always be at the mercy of your content provider, forced to watch whatever they want you to watch.
Alternatively, there are many different formats of IPTV (something we will get into shortly), and the most popular is Video on Demand, which is shortened as VOD. With VOD, you get to choose what you want to watch and when to watch it, giving you way more control over your viewing experience.
Oh, so Netflix and Hulu are considered IPTV?
Well… Not exactly.
You see, even though Netflix and Hulu do send video content via the internet, they are not strictly speaking IPTV. Rather, they are defined as OTT, which stands for “over-the-top.”
OTT and IPTV are different, and we need to be able to distinguish them from each other:
1. IPTV and OTT work in completely different ways:
To begin with, OTT, in its simplest form is about delivering media content over the internet. Ergo, not only are Netflix and Hulu prime examples, but Youtube and Vimeo also count as OTT.
At this point, you should feel that OTT and IPTV are one and the same, but herein lies the main difference:
OTT is distributed without being controlled by a certain internet service provider, otherwise known as ISP, or a multiple system operator, shortened as MSO. Put differently, no ISP gets a say in nor are they responsible for the content that gets produced and distributed via OTT transmissions.
Because of this, an ISP’s sole responsibility with regards to OTT is transferring the data packets over the internet from point A to point B, nothing more. The flip-side of this coin is that as far as the ISP is concerned, data packets for a movie are treated exactly the same as data packets for an e-mail. Due to this, the quality of the content you receive via OTT is mainly defined by your internet connection.
As for IPTV, things are a bit different. Although IPTV uses the internet protocol, the content itself is transferred over a private network provided by the ISP and dedicated to the IPTV in question, and the packets never go through the public internet. In other words, the ISP becomes responsible for what is being broadcast and can control it as they see fit.
Seeing as IPTV is transferred over a specifically dedicated infrastructure, the ISP can ensure a higher quality of video content. After all, the data packets themselves are treated differently, and IPTV is controlled by standardized metrics.
Owing to the fact that OTT and IPTV work differently, the ensuing business models and content produced are bound to differ. For instance, while OTT relies on content aggregators and user-generated content, IPTV broadcasts content that is more curated and with higher production value.
At this point, if you feel that this is confusing and your head is spinning, the only thing you need to remember is this:
OTT is content that is delivered over the public internet.
IPTV is content that is delivered over a private network but uses the same technology of the internet.
2. The equipment required is different:
Another key difference, which will come into play later, is that OTT only requires an internet connection and a laptop, whereas IPTV requires more specialized equipment. (What this specialized equipment is will be discussed later.)
3. Both OTT and IPTV share a few similarities:
Aside from being broadcast using IP technology, OTT and IPTV have plenty of similarities, the most prominent of which is that they both share the same formats: VOD, time-shifted medium, and live TV. That being said, when talking about the formats of IPTV, we will mention some OTT content providers as well to make it easier for you to understand the format we are talking about.