The term Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) covers a vast array of products and services but for a simple definition, IPTV is basically any form of video or radio media format that can be streamed across the internet to you on an internet enabled device. More recently IPTV has become more recognised as a paid service, coming in the form of either a one-off payment or via subscription.
The IPTV industry is already popular in the US and Canada, but around much of the rest of the world it is still in its infancy. Recently, thanks to some big titles like Google TV, Apple TV, Fetch TV, the Telstra T-Box and a few others, the entertainment form is finally starting to spread its wings.
What is IPTV?
The key feature of services where IPTV is used in the naming of the service is the offer is based on a bundle of TV like streams from the internet in a new easy to use interface, often with a subscription element. If you were simply accessing youtube.com from your home computer for short form video clips, this is not advertised as IPTV. IPTV services are differentiated in that they are more like TV with long form video delivered by the internet.
Due to the broad definition of IPTV you'll find that it comes in many shapes and sizes. There are three forms that will be found most commonly.
Live Stream Internet TV
Live stream IPTV is basically just regular television like national TV or cable. The only difference being that instead of being delivered digitally over the air to your antenna through traditional channels, you're streaming it via the internet and your internet connection, either by phone line in ADSL 2+ or via cable broadband.
What's the difference with this? Well, a lot channels and functions are available via IPTV that you won't find on regular Digital Freeview or Pay TV and vice versa. There's also the added bonus of easy installation. If you're a renter, many landlords/body corporates will shy away from installing cable Pay TV, especially for just one unit in a block of units or townhouse. With IPTV, if you have a broadband connection then you already have all the infrastructure you need to get IPTV. So if you're sick of national free to air television but can't get cable, then IPTV is an easy and (usually) cheap solution.
IPTV usually works on a subscription basis, but tends to be cheaper than cable, depending on your internet service provider (ISP) or the IPTV service you choose. When you initiate the TV and IPTV application, the content on each channel is streamed to you via the internet. Depending on the capabilities of the IPTV box you are using, you can usually record the content when you are away from home to watch later.
Delayed Broadcast (aka Time-Shifted IPTV or Catch-Up TV) replays a film or show that was broadcast hours, or sometimes even days beforehand. IPTV providers often have a storage buffer where they will hang on to broadcasts for a certain amount of time. That means that if a customer were to miss a show they still have the option of viewing it in its entirety during this period. Once the allotted time has passed the IPTV provider will dump the episode/film to make space for more recent broadcasts.
There is also Start-Over TV which works on a similar principal. As long as a viewer tunes in during an episode or movie they will be given the option of restarting it from the beginning. This option does not last as long as the previous service, as a customer will usually not have the option of restarting a movie once the movie itself has finished.
Video On Demand (VOD)
VOD is becoming an increasingly popular way to rent and buy movies. VOD is similar to the On-Demand service provided by cable television, or even just renting a DVD. Customers browse a series of titles and decide on whichever they wish. After making a selection the stream should begin momentarily.
When renting over VOD, customers will usually be given the option of Standard Definition (SD) or High Definition (HD). VOD is a great alternative to traditional movie rental as providers can offer a larger range of films, both recent and classic, for cheaper prices. There's also the added bonus of not leaving your couch while browsing.
When buying a movie via a VOD service the movie will download directly to your hard drive. This is usually a cheaper way of getting HD movies and it doesn't require you to get up and change discs every time you want to switch between films. But watch out, HD movies take up a lot of hard drive space. So you'll need a decent sized library to make it worth it.
Many VOD services also offer a subscription option. Services such as Netflix and Zune Pass (neither is available in Australia yet) ask for a monthly fee from their customers and in return offer unlimited access to their massive media libraries. If you're a huge movie buff and love seeing new films then this option may work out to be cheaper than paying for movies individually.
IPTV in Australia
IPTV in Australia is a small industry compared to the US. In Australia there are a few big players: Fetch TV, Telstra T-Box, Apple TV, TPG, iiNet and FOXTEL.
Additionally, the major networks in Australia are all offering catch up services for many of their shows where you can view the show online from their website. These videos are streamed in flash video format and work through an internet browser. Apple TV, Fetch TV, and Telstra T-Box do not have a web browser so cannot access this specific content. In this scenario, you would use the Fetch TV set top box or Telstra T-Box to record the show on the digital hard drive as it airs so that you can watch it later.
Telstra is Australia's biggest telecommunications company. They have the largest share in every corner of the country's telecommunications market and now they've branched in to IPTV as well.
The Telstra T-Box acts much like cable TV, only with limited channel content. Owners can choose between national and cable channels, set programs to record in advance and have various menus from which to access content. However, the Telstra T-Box content does differ from cable TV in two basic ways.
The T-Box does not offer as many channels as a service like FOXTEL. While there are still plenty of options to choose from, die hard channel surfers may find their experience lacking.
The T-Box offers internet content such as YouTube, Bigpond Videos and Bigpond Movie purchases & rentals. Much like with Apple TV, Bigpond subscribers have the option to download and watch movies. The 320GB hard drive is capable of storing over 100 hours of content, or you can simply 'borrow' your movies for a 48 hour period.
Setting up the T-Box takes a while and you'll need to switch between the computer and your TV to set up your online account. There's also a couple of updates to be installed, which should take around 20 minutes.
Once everything is up and running it's pretty straightforward to navigate the menus. The Menu options are My Recordings, Program Guide, Watch TV, Bigpond Movies, Bigpond Videos, Watch Bigpond TV, My Rentals and Settings. Scroll between menus vertically and through them horizontally once you've made your selection.
All Bigpond internet content such as Bigpond Videos is unmetered, but services like YouTube will count towards your monthly download limit so be careful. Telstra has designed an aesthetically different menu style for all metered content so as to avoid confusion. This should help customers keep an idea of how much unmetered content they're adding to their monthly cap.
FOXTEL on Xbox 360
FOXTEL on Xbox 360 is exactly what it sounds like; FOXTEL on your Xbox 360. To get it you will need:
- A fast Broadband plan with a large download allowance.
- An Xbox 360
- An Xbox Live account
This is a great option for Xbox 360 owners to use their games console to get Pay TV from FOXTEL with no set up and no contact. Renters or those in apartments who want FOXTEL but can't get permission from their landlord/body corporate to have it installed now have this great option. Prices and packages are cheaper than traditional FOXTEL and there are no set up fees or contracts.
However, one disadvantage of this service is that you can't record the FOXTEL channels to your XBox 360 as compared to the traditional FOXTEL IQ packages. This is a live stream service only, streamed via a broadband connection.
You can see the full channel range and FOXTEL Xbox 360 pricing here.
Fetch TV is one of the most established IPTV providers in Australia and is supported by iiNet, Internode and Adam Internet. With Fetch TV customers have access to a similar style of product to the Telstra T-Box, with different channels and internet content.
As far as TV channels go, Fetch TV offers very few compared to cable TV or even Telstra's T-Box. However, they're soon bringing some very interesting, if esoteric, services to the table. Fetch TV is working on offering both a Hindi and Pakistani channel package with 11 channels each. These deals are obviously not for everyone, but should give them a strong stance with Australia's South Asian citizens.
Fetch TV does offer a few apps, such as Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter. But you'll most likely find yourself still turning to your trusty computer to access these popular websites.
Fetch TV's one major strength over Telstra's IPTV service is their mammoth 1TB Hard Drive. That's around 1000 GB of space, around half of which is dedicated to smoothing out your streaming experience. The other half is reserved purely for your downloaded movie collection. With 30 movies available for free watching at any time and 40 for rentals, Fetch TV definitely has a strong product when it comes to movie streaming and storage.
Google TV is a sort of IPTV/universal interface hybrid. As well as providing a massive amount of online content for your TV, Google TV combines your cable STB, DVD player, Xbox, TiVo, sound system and just about anything else you have plugged in to your TV.
Bringing all of your media forms together and splicing them with the internet gives you a luxuriously hassle-free way to search for entertainment. If you're after a specific movie just put the title in to the search bar and it will scan everything in seconds. You'll get an easy menu of results from your recorded programs, movies saved on your computer, movies available online, movies available on any internet subscriptions (such as Apple TV, Netflix or Zune), YouTube results, Podcast results etc. It's really easy to spot the result you're after as well. You won't be intimidated by a hoard of useless search results crowding your screen as some other IPTV services are wont to do.
Integrating all your media also means you can control them all with the same remote. With Google TV there are 3 real options for remotes.
SONY has designed a 2-handed controller, similar to a PlayStation controller, which has a QWERTY keypad on it as well as just about any other function you could possibly think of. Logitech has released a lightweight QWERTY keyboard that sits on the lap. The keyboard has a trackpad as well as traditional controls such as play, pause, rewind etc.
The best and probably most exciting option is your phone. If you own an Android smartphone or iPhone you can use your phone as a remote control. That means no more searching for the remote to turn the TV on, just pull your mobile out of your pocket and off you go. The fact that modern smartphones operate on touchscreens is a great bonus here. You can scroll through screen after screen of buttons for different services, meaning you can have a tonne of functionality in a very small space.
Google TV does not require a contract. It is a one-time purchase that links all of your other entertainment technologies together while bringing the freedom of the internet to your TV.
Apple TV is a purely VOD streaming service. Customers have access to a huge range of titles and can choose whether to rent them in either standard or high definition.
The Apple TV STB is tiny, fitting easily in to one hand. It comes with a minimalistic aluminium controller but can also be controlled by any iOS handset, such as an iPhone or iPad.
Streaming from the Apple store is fast, reliable and cheaper than renting DVD's in a traditional sense. If you're looking for an easier way to rent movies, Apple TV is definitely worth a look at.
TPG IPTV is a very different kind of IPTV than the more popular services. TPG IPTV has no STB and is designed to be streamed to a computer, not a television set. Thus the only way to hook it up to your TV is to connect your television screen directly to your computer or laptop.
TPG IPTV runs only on TPG ADSL2+ broadband plans, which are cheap and offer generous data allowances. The service only provides 18 channels, most of which are unfamiliar channels such as Greek TV, France 24 and Channel NewsAsia. The company is working on bringing more channels to the mix but this IPTV service really does not offer much when compared to the major players.
IPTV comes in all shapes and sizes. It offers a huge variety of options for all kinds of entertainment lovers. IPTV appeals to anyone looking for an easily installed answer to PayTV, anyone who wants the internet on their TV, to lounge-lizards looking for an easier way to buy or rent movies and more. Because of the huge scope of information and entertainment made available to us by the internet the sky's the limit for this versatile and growing media service.