What Is IPTV?
Let’s start with the basics. What, exactly, is IPTV?
IPTV stands for “internet protocol television.” The “IP” in IPTV is the same as the one in your IP address or VoIP (voice over IP). All that means is television programming is being communicated using the internet protocol.
To understand what that means, you need to know a bit about how non-IPTV works. With cable or satellite TV, broadcasters send out signals and viewers receive them—you’re only able to watch what’s being broadcasted. Unless you have some sort of recording device, you don’t get to dictate what’s on when. You just tune in when you can and watch what’s available.
IPTV is different. Instead of transmitting content via light pulses in fiber-optic cable or radio waves from a satellite, IPTV sends shows and movies through your standard internet connection. (You may be using a cable or satellite internet connection, but these are independent of the ones that usually carry your TV signals.)
Instead of broadcasting a range of shows on a specific schedule, most IPTV uses video on demand (VOD) or time-shifted media—we’ll discuss these, and a third format, in just a moment.
There’s some complicated network architecture behind all of this making it work, including lots of transcoding from traditional signals to IP-friendly ones. But the important thing is that you don’t have to watch what’s being broadcast. You can tell your provider what you want to watch, and they’ll send it to you immediately.
If you’ve used a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, it’s the same idea, but with TV instead of movies or syndicated shows.
Do You Need a Set-Top Box for IPTV?
Because most TVs aren’t equipped for IPTV, you may need a set-top box that “translates” what you receive over your internet connection into a format that your TV can read.
Your computer, on the other hand, doesn’t need anything to watch IPTV. Once you sign up for a service, you can use it to stream whatever you want in any of the IPTV formats (which we’ll discuss next).
So if you can mirror your screen to your TV, you can watch IPTV without a set-top box.
While IPTV is definitely getting bigger, it’s still a pretty niche market. Services like Netflix and Hulu offer a lot of TV shows (when they can get the rights to them), and video on demand is growing quickly.
It’s the other formats of IPTV, where there’s a significant potential for changing how people watch TV, that have yet to take off.
Catch-up TV is becoming more popular. Downloading apps for providers like FOX, CBS, and NBC let viewers see the shows that they missed without the effort it takes to set up and record something via a set-top box like a TiVo.
NOW TV, TVPlayer, and Epicstream are all making headway into the live IPTV market, but they’re still not as mainstream as more popular VOD services.
Sports seems to be the area of TV that’s most quickly embraced IPTV. There are plenty of subscription sports packages that you can watch from your computer or stream to your TV whenever you want.
But it’s a safe bet that the rest of the television world will be right behind.
Many services are popping up that allow users to create their own VOD and live-streaming services, too. That way people can share their skills, advice, and passions with anyone else in the world (you can see how some people are using Uscreen to do this on our Examples page).
Starting Your Own IPTV Service
If you’re interested in starting your own IPTV service, your best bet is to hook up with one of these providers. They have the bandwidth, server capacity, and distribution channels that you need.
All you need to do is sign up, choose a plan, and start uploading your content. What sort of content? Who will watch it? How will you make money? All of those things are up to you.
There are IPTV channels for learning magic tricks, getting fit, learning to dance, watching movies, and pretty much anything else you can think of. If you have something you want to share with the world, you can use IPTV to do it.
Of course, you’ll still need to record all of that content. Which takes a lot of work. But once you’ve done that, these services will let you promote and distribute your TV shows, videos, or movies with ease.
It’s like building your own version of Netflix just for you and your subscribers.