Bill Gallagher

The Components and Advantages of IPTV
By Bill Gallagher

According to the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) IPTV Exploratory Group, IPTV is defined as “the secure and reliable delivery to subscribers of entertainment video and related services. These services may include, for example, Live TV, video-on-demand (VOD) and Interactive TV (iTV). These services are delivered across an access agnostic, packet switched network that employs the IP protocol to transport the audio, video and control signals. In contrast to video over the public Internet, with IPTV deployments, network security and performance are tightly managed to ensure a superior entertainment experience, resulting in a compelling business environment for content providers, advertisers and customers alike.” In other words, IPTV is television delivered via an IP based network.

While the basic concept of IPTV is simple, actually creating a comprehensive IPTV system is not. Some may qualify posting videos online using free online services to be viewed on set-top boxes or smart TVs as an IPTV system, but it is a very crude version and wouldn’t suffice for an entire multi-unit infrastructure. To create a functional and comprehensive solution there are a few things that need to be in place:

TV Head-End
The TV head-end is the station or broadcast center where the delivery of IP multicast streams, encoding, recording, and encryption take place. When viewers are watching TV delivered by an IPTV system, the content they are viewing originates or is being delivered from the TV head-end.

Resource Management
Resource management is done through another piece of hardware referred to as the application server and refers to an IPTV system’s ability to keep track of customer privileges and utilize content information. One of the advantages of an IPTV system is providers can customize channel availability down to the individual set-top box; the application server keeps track of all the data necessary to manage all of the system’s end-points and gives them the necessary privileges. With its resource management capabilities, the application server also controls the system-level interface to third party technology. With application program interfaces (API) the system can interface with external programs that need system information to carry out tasks such as billing.

Middleware
The middleware, also known as the interactive portal, is the graphical user interface (GUI) that the viewers see. The electronic program guide, navigation, or any visual guide with which the viewer interacts make up the middleware.

Video-on-Demand Platform (Optional)
The bulk of the content in most broadcast set-ups (IPTV, cable, or otherwise) is live viewing, or content that is broadcast live from the head-end to the viewers. VOD content is essentially stored content that is delivered to viewers whenever they choose as a unicast from the server. A unicast is a one-to-one stream of the content and is displayed when a viewer selects a certain program, such as a movie, to watch on-demand. The server delivers a unique copy of the content to that particular viewer for a specified amount of time.

Transmission Network
The transmission network is how content gets from Point A to Point B or Point A to multiple points. In the case of IPTV, the transmission network is the IP based network, be it through an Ethernet or wireless connection. Think of it as the road through which the video content travels.

Gateway
The gateway is the equipment at the end of the transmission network that brings the video content into the viewer’s home. In the case of an IPTV system, this would be the viewer’s home router.

End User Customer Premises Equipment (CPE)
The end user customer-premises equipment is the set-top box or smart TV that decodes, decrypts, and displays TV content (multicast & unicast) on the TV screen in a viewer’s home. The CPE takes the data packets sent from the head-end over the IP transmission network and turns it into a picture for the viewer to see.

IPTV Advantages
An IPTV system with these key elements provides numerous advantages over a standard cable delivery system. First of all, all of the content is digital which vastly improves the picture quality that viewers experience. Also, viewers will almost immediately recognize that an IPTV solution gives providers the ability to offer much more content. This is due to the switched broadcast capability of IPTV. With cable infrastructures, the cable company puts every channel on the wire at all times; the viewer then picks which channel they want to view and tunes into that channel. Because of this, with a standard cable delivery system, the provider is limited by the available bandwidth. The switched broadcast capability of an IPTV system allows it to put only the content the viewer is requesting on the wire, and when the viewer requests a different channel, the provider switches the channel. This allows the provider to have virtually an unlimited amount of channels and frees them from the constraints of the available bandwidth.

Another advantage of an IPTV system is that it is economically more efficient. Many pieces of an IPTV system are significantly less expensive due to the ever decreasing cost of IP related technology, allowing providers to give their customers more content for less. The cost of transporting content with Internet Protocol is inherently less than the current cable delivery costs. IP set-top boxes are less expensive than cable set-top boxes, and IP networking costs are declining faster than traditional networking costs.

In addition to being able to provide more content for less, with IPTV, providers can provide interactivity and associated features to their viewers. This advantage was the main topic of a previous blog post by Scott Morrison entitled “Interactive Television for Everyone.”

IPTV also gives smaller operations like campuses, small telephone companies and cable operators, hotels/motels/resorts, and numerous other industries features typically only offered by big name cable companies. Utilizing the middleware that accompanies the IPTV system, providers have the ability to provide branded services like video-on-demand, time-shifted television, the “start over” feature, and converged services such as on-screen caller ID.

IPTV allows for more content at a lower price, provides interactivity and features not typically seen in smaller operations, and with the LEIGHTRONIX IPTV solution, LuxeVision™, providers can create an IPTV system using their existing DSL/PON, cable, or Ethernet infrastructures. To learn more about IPTV and what LEIGHTRONIX has to offer, visit www.LuxeVisionIPTV.com or email an IPTV specialist at iptv@leightronix.com.

Bill Gallagher has over 30 years of experience in the broadband and telecommunications industry, working as a global supplier of IPTV systems with GoBackTV® and Aurora Networks prior to joining LEIGHTRONIX’s IPTV development team.

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