Get to Know IPTV

Have you ever wanted to pause a television program or replay a scene you just missed? Have you ever wanted to speed up or slow down—even reverse—the TV Guide channel?


Unless you have digital recording equipment like TiVo, these interactive features are not a part of your normal television experience. But that's all beginning to change. The kind of interactive TV you’ve been hearing about for years is now becoming a reality, with Internet Protocol television (IPTV).

IPTV vs. Internet TV

Internet TV and IPTV both refer to television programming and video transmitted over the Internet. In that sense, both formats are IPTV. However, the two forms are different:

  • Internet TV typically refers to television broadcast over the Internet that you view on your computer in a Web browser. Examples include news programming available for viewing on the Internet, Web sites that broadcast standard television programming, and even YouTube video. This kind of IPTV is characterized by low-definition video and uneven transmission speeds.

  • The second type of IPTV—the focus of this article—is a subscription service delivered to your home by a service provider, much the way cable TV works today. This kind of IPTV not only provides high-definition (HD) television programming but also interactive features that allow you to play programs and movies on demand, pause and replay video, watch Pay-per-View shows, and other features. Some providers also include text messaging, digital telephone, and Internet access in the service.


How Is IPTV Different from “Regular” TV?

IPTV service providers offer channel packages similar to those offered by standard cable service providers. The biggest differences between IPTV and broadcast television are the interactive features available with IPTV and the availability of video-on-demand programming. Some service providers offer different bandwidth packages, with the larger (more expensive) bandwidth packages providing higher speed and higher-definition television.

IPTV can also include telephone service, and you can install software widgets that enable remote digital video recording, on-screen windows for news and social networking, and other interactive services.


How Do You Get IPTV?

IPTV is not available everywhere. Currently, it is more widely available in Europe than in the United States, and most service providers in the United States today are focusing on large metropolitan areas.


Table 1. Current IPTV Offerings in the United States





U-verse TV

Cities in CA, TX, CT, WI, IN



Cities in CA, CT, DE, FL, IN, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, VA, WA



Sacramento, CA only

There are a number of small local providers in this country, however. The largest providers include AT&T, with its U-verse TV; Verizon, with its FiOS TV; and SureWest, with its IPTV offering. Table 1 shows where services are currently available from these providers.


Do You Need Special Equipment?

To take full advantage of IP TV features, you want to have a good HD digital TV. With some services, you can view standard-definition IPTV programming on any television equipped with a digital signal adapter, but you will have limited channel selection, and you won’t be able to view HD programming content. The only other equipment you need is typically provided by the service provider—a “set-top” box such as the Samsung SMT-H6155 HD Set-top Box that receives the IPTV data and sends interactive control data from you back to the service provider.



The Samsung SMT-H6155 HD Set-top Box for IPTV




Some service providers may offer additional equipment. For instance, the Verizon FiOS service is a fiber-optic–only service. When Verizon installs the FiOS service, an optical network terminal is installed that splits the TV, telephone, and Internet access signals into the appropriate house wiring.


IPTV Service Provider Offerings

Many of today’s IPTV service providers copy each other when it comes to the basic services they offer. However, there are both technical and content differences.

On the technical side, different providers use different infrastructures to deliver the signal to your house. Verizon, for instance, uses fiber-optic cable rather than copper wire or coaxial cable to bring the signals into your house. That said, Verizon’s IPTV service is not “pure” IPTV: It’s more a hybrid, using standard broadcast video for most of the programming and reserving IPTV for the interactive portions of the service, like video-on-demand, widgets, and the programming guide. In contrast, AT&T is a 100% IPTV service and typically does not offer fiber-optic to your house (although this may be changing).

The technology for delivering IPTV is evolving, and service providers are building out their infrastructures. So, if you’re considering IPTV service and are in a location where you actually have a choice between providers, you would be well served to your homework and talk to others who are using the service.

From a content and features perspective, offerings from different service providers also vary. Table 2 compares basic offerings from three leading providers.

Table 2. Feature Offerings by Provider





Basic Prices


U-verse TV

Up to 300 channels, including premium channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz

Digital video recording (DVR), video on demand, HD, optional phone and Internet

From US$59 to US$119 per month; custom packages are available; HD service costs an extra US$10



Up to 200 channels, including all the premium channels plus international channels

Video on demand; HD; multi-room DVR, which allows you to control and view DVR programs from multiple rooms; optional phone and Internet

From US$39.99 per month, but varies with location; additional costs for higher-definition packages and premium channels





260 channels, including international programming

Video on demand, HD, TiVo service, optional phone and Internet; video on demand provides unlimited viewing within a 24-hour window

Pricing varies and depends on channels included in the package



Making the Choice

IPTV may be new, but it’s growing rapidly. Today, there are about 29 million IPTV subscribers in the world and about 6 million in the United States. According to a leading media analyst, the number of IPTV subscribers is expected to more than double in the next 2–3 years. This means that IPTV service is going to become more widely available in the near future—something to keep in mind if you’re planning to purchase a new television or signing up for a long-term service agreement with your current provider.


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