What, exactly, is IPTV?

As far as I can determine, there are three very different things that are sometimes referred to as IPTV:

1. SAT>IP, as explained in my previous article.

2. Video that streams over the Internet, often in a container with the .m3u8 extension. Sometimes these are live channels, in which case Tvheadend can treat them as if they were a live channel received from an antenna or satellite dish. Note than some such streams are illegal, even if they come from a pay service. Maybe I should say, “especially if the come from a pay service”, since the pay services often don’t bother with licensing or paying for the content they are streaming. If you pay one of those guys, don’t be surprised if one day they simply disappear. There is a thread about how IPTV streams can be added in Tvheadend here, which I only found because it linked to one of my earlier articles, and a Tvheadend wiki page entitled Automatic IPTV Network. Note that content you view on a web page using the Flash player, or some similar proprietary player, is not IPTV – a true IPTV stream can usually be played directly in the VLC media player without any conversion.

3. And then there is what I’d call video sent as a data stream over a satellite transponder. Now, it is true that all digital TV is technically sent as data, but this type of data requires additional processing and sometimes isn’t sent in real time. For example a show or movie may be sent over a slow bitrate stream, and therefore take longer than the actual running length of the program to arrive. This data is sent over C-band or Ku-band satellite transponders, but typically it’s syndicated or one-off programming that will not air until hours, days, or weeks after it’s sent. No standalone “set top box” satellite receiver will receive or decode this type of signals. Instead, you must use a satellite tuner installed in or connected to a computer, and then there is specific software that can be used to receive and decode these signals. It’s a rather arcane process, but if you really want to know about it, use your favorite search engine to find posts and forums that mention the program IPCleaner, and then have a look around. If you ever fully grasp it, you’re doing better than I.

When most people talk about IPTV, they are probably talking about the second type. But when true satellite enthusiasts talk about IPTV, they may well be taking about the first or third type. North Americans are probably more likely to be talking about the third type, while satellite viewers in other parts of the world would be more likely to confuse IPTV with SAT>IP.

So, if you have ever been confused about what people are talking about when they refer to IPTV, hopefully this helps your understanding.

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