What is IPTV?

The term IPTV might sound unfamiliar, but if you’ve ever watched internet TV via your broadband connection, then you’ve already used this form of technology. Here’s how it works, and what the benefits are.

Person watching TV using the internet

IPTV explained 

An IPTV service uses the internet protocol (IP) to transmit your television programming. This is the same protocol referenced in VoIP services (like video messaging) or in your computer’s IP address. 

Cable and satellite television services are the other ways to access digital TV in the UK. With these methods, viewers receive radio signals sent out by broadcasters, viewing what’s available as it’s transmitted. Content might be transmitted using the light pulses of a fibre-optic cable, or the radio waves from a satellite. 

In the case of IPTV, series and films are instead transmitted using an internet or broadband connection. This allows you to pick and choose the type of series you’d like to watch, without any set schedule. Because the programming is stored on servers, it can be retrieved over the Internet whenever you wish. It is becoming the gold standard for digital television. 

It’s important to note that IPTV doesn’t refer to the device you’re watching your content on; it simply refers to the way the TV signals are received. 

You may already use digital video services like YouTube, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and 4oD on your laptop, which are quite similar to IPTV. However, IPTV often gives the additional advantage of watching Live TV broadcast over the Internet, as well as choosing videos on demand. And rather than streaming your choice on a computer, you can watch it on the bigger TV screen if you wish.  

Increasingly, IPTV is offered as part of a bundled broadband package, with a set-top box delivered by your provider. This transmits a wide range of digital channels directly to your home television. 

How does IPTV work?

How does IPTV work? You’ll need to connect with an IPTV provider in order to use this type of service. Major providers like BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk will send you a set-top box, which transmits the programming of your choice directly to your television. These act as adapter between the Internet connection and television receiver, translating incoming signals to display programs from the Internet to your TV. 

When looking at how it all works from a more technical perspective, it’s a bit more complicated. Broadcasters or telecom companies need to have a storage system that’s complex and secure enough to store high volumes of data for easy retrieval, with a user-friendly interface allowing customers to pick and choose their programmes. 

IPTV: Digital deep dive

Video files must be encrypted and encoded in streaming-friendly formats, while supporting up to millions of users at once in the case of blockbuster live events. So how does IPTV work, keeping all of these demands in mind?

Video is broken down into data packets for easy transmission over the Internet. These are stored in secure servers, and transmitted at high speeds through fibre-optic cables to each household. Using Internet Protocol as a mode of communication, requests are sent out from your set-top box, and videos sent back in milliseconds. 

The set-top box is the endpoint piece of equipment that makes it all happen in your home. It decodes and decrypts your video programming, displaying them on your TV screen. Connected to your wireless router, it uses your broadband to deliver video and TV content at high speeds. What these speeds are depends on your service provider, broadband package and geographical location. 

Types of IPTV UK services

IPTV services are delivered in a variety of formats. Here’s a closer look at how these options work. 

Video on Demand

If you’ve ever watched a series on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you’ve already used a Video on Demand, or VOD service. As the name suggests, this type of streaming service allows you to pick and choose from a menu of television and film options. Click your title of choice, and you’ll receive instant access to streaming video via the internet. 

Catch-up TV

Another type of IPTV service is time-shifted media. Many set-top boxes also include a catch-up TV feature which allow you to pause, fast-forward, rewind or record your shows. However, the difference between time-shifted media and VOD is that you’ll have a brief window of time to catch up on your programme – it may not remain available indefinitely. 

Live IPTV streaming

The third type of IPTV service is live broadcasting, from concerts to sporting events. This works much the same way as any other broadcast TV event, but instead of being transmitted through satellite the video is sent over the internet. 

Who offers IPTV in the UK?

Many leading broadband providers include IPTV UK services. Here are a few examples of what’s currently on offer.

  • BT – BT’s service includes the YouView box, giving viewers access to programming including live sporting events. It’s bundled together with home telephone and broadband packages. 

  • TalkTalk – Like BT, TalkTalk offers a YouView box giving access to movies, sports and box sets. There are flexible price points and plans as part of this package, so you can access more content when you want it and less when you don’t.  

  • Virgin Media – Powered by TiVo, Virgin Media’s set-top box is bundled with its fast fibre-optic broadband packages. 

You can also opt for standalone devices like the Amazon Fire TV stick, which plugs directly into your television and lets you access online video content. 

Is IPTV any good?

Now that you know a little bit more about what IPTV is and how it works, it’s time to ask the real question: is IPTV any good? 

The answer, of course, depends on the type of service you choose. With the success of VOD services like Netflix, media providers are working hard to offer customers a comparable level of on-demand content. So here a few benefits of IPTV: 

  • Accessibility – You can access content when and where you want it. While you have the option to watch IPTV programming on your main TV, you could also connect with your laptop or take shows with you on the go. 

  • Flexibility – Rather than the defined schedule of traditional TV, you can watch your favourite shows after the fact using catch-up TV features. 

  • Price – IPTV UK services are often very competitively priced, and may even come as a bonus feature of your broadband deal. Rather than paying a premium for each cable channel, you can access a higher number of channels at once, at lower prices. IPTV usually includes full access to the provider’s programming, with flexible pricing plans and easy cancellation. Just read the fine print to be sure. 

How do I get IPTV?

Once you’ve decided to give IPTV a try, the first step is to make sure that you have the best possible broadband connection. You can compare broadband deals to boost your speed or find a better option if needed. 

When you sign up for a new IPTV deal, you will be sent a set-top box that allows you to watch your television programming with the best possible HD experience. This will either plug directly into your TV, like the Amazon Fire stick, or it connects via a cable. Many media companies include a set-top box as part of a broadband bundle at lower rates, so explore these options first. 

As you compare IPTV UK packages, there are several factors to consider. 

  • Cost of installation

  • Unique benefits or perks

  • Cost of set-top box

  • Broadband connection speed

  • Package price and month-to-month flexibility 

Whether you’re a sports fanatic or reality TV addict, you’ll gain access to content that you can watch when and where you like. And as broadband gains in speed, IPTV options will grow right along with it.