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IPTV & Internet TV

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With the advent of faster adsl, more and more consumers are using their broadband connections over the Internet to view TV programs and content.  We take a look at some of the common questions about Internet TV and IPTV.



 ~ What is Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)?

IPTV stands for Internet Protocol Television and is content which is delivered via the Internet - rather than the more traditional methods such as terrestrial TV (digital or analogue via air), cable or satellite.

Content for viewing is stored on servers and streamed over the internet into your home, usually by some sort of set top box.

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 ~ What is the difference between IPTV & Internet TV?

The line between IPTV and Internet TV can sometimes get a bit blurry, but generally speaking:-

  • IPTV comes under the control of a service provider who manages what content is available to their customers by way of a set top box.  Examples could be BT Vision, TalkTalk YouView.
  • Internet TV is available to a wider audience and content is streamed via the web.  Examples would be iPlayer, 4OD
  • Smart TVs are a kind of hybrid device integrating TV, set top & web access.
  • Some IPTV providers may also be called Triple Play Providers because they bundle Telephone, Broadband and TV in one package.  Examples would be BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin Media.

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 ~ What are the different types of IPTV/Internet TV?

The main types of IPTV/Internet TV are:

  • Live Stream - Content that is broadcast live in 'real time'.  Some content providers may broadcast a live stream via the Internet at the same time that the program goes out over the air to terrestrial TV. There may be a short delay of a few minutes when compared to terrestrial or satellite. e.g. BBC News, Sky Go.

  • Catch-up TV - TV shows that have have already been broadcast, but are available to watch at a time more convenient to the viewer. Content providers have various lengths of times that the show may remain available for viewing from their servers depending upon popularity of the show.  e.g. BBC i-player, ITV Player, 4OD, Sky on Demand.

  • Video on Demand - Video content available to stream or download.  Usually movies or TV series, . e.g. content from Netflix, iTunes, Lovefilm.  Content also available from triple play ISPs such as BT Vision, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin.

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 ~ How fast should my internet connection be to watch IPTV/Internet TV?

According to iPlayer

BBC iPlayer TV programmes streamed to your device use 1500kbps or 800kbps of bandwidth for standard (SD) tv content.

To enjoy high quality, uninterrupted programme playback you'll need an internet connection that delivers at least 2Mbps of sustained bandwidth for SD content, and at least 3Mbps of sustained bandwidth for HD content.

Other streaming content providers such as ITV Player, 4OD, Sky etc will be similar.  Some content providers may offer a lower bit rates for mobile devices.

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 ~ What bit rate should I use?

The obvious answer is the higher the bit rate then the better quality image.  Standard Definition (SD) of 1500kbps should work fine on most devices for general viewing, although fast motion such as sports will fare much better in HD.

Most IPTV devices such as YouView & Smart TVs use Adaptive Bitrate technology to constantly monitor and give the best available quality of stream.
Available bitrates from the BBC are 400 kbps, 500kbps, 800kbps, 1500kbps... and of course 3200kbps for HD.

In the UK, most content providers such is iPlayer, 4OD etc stream HD content at 3200 kbps using the 1080i standard.

Be aware that the higher the bitrate then the more bandwidth you will use - something that is very important to take into consideration is you are on an account with restricted monthly usage or with an ISP that has download caps.

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 ~ How much bandwidth does streaming TV use?

This is an important consideration if you are with an ISP that has download caps or monthly download allowance limits. The amount of bandwidth you use will depend on the bitrate of the stream or quality of the download. 

As a guide the BBC gives the following information as typical per hour :

Typical streaming bandwidth used per hour
Streaming (PC, PS3)
Low bandwidth streaming (480Kbps) = 190-210MB
Standard quality streaming (800Kbps) = 320-340MB
High quality streaming (1500Kbps) = 600-640MB
High definition streaming (2800Kbps) = 1.10-1.20GB
Set-Top-Boxes, FreeSat, TVs etc
Standard quality streaming (800Kbps) = 320-340MB
High quality streaming (1500Kbps) = 600-640MB
High definition streaming (2800Kbps) = 1.1-1.2GB
iPlayer desktop (1500Kbps) = 600-640MB
Windows Media Player (WMV) = 550-600MB
Portable devices (WMV) = 210-230MB
Mobile streaming (396Kbps) = 160-170MB
Mobile 3g streaming = 120-130MB

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 ~ Do I need a TV licence to watch Internet TV?

We cannot definitively advise you if you need a TV licence to watch streaming TV and would refer you to the NTVLRO for up to date information, who currently state:

You need to be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV. This includes the use of devices such as a TV, computer, mobile phone, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.

  • TV does not just apply to the BBC, and includes all channels including but not limited to ITV, Freeview channels and Sky.
  • It doesn't matter if you have a TV connected to an ariel/dish or not.  If you have a device (such as a PC) on which you watch live TV then you must purchase a TV Licence.
  • Live TV includes the use of BBC news channel which is broadcast live and carries a warning about needed a licence to view.
  • Live TV also includes (but is not limited to) any channel that broadcasts a simultaneous live stream such as BBC iPlayer live, ITVPlayer, Sky Go etc.
  • Live TV is not quite so clear cut to define - "As they're being shown on TV" would seem to imply that once a program has finished being broadcast on air, then you don't need a license to watch it via iPlayer. So if a program finished at 10pm, you are ok to watch it after that time.
  • If in doubt contact the NTVLRO

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Last updated May 2013

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