IPTV vs. Cable and Satellite
IPTV has become the digital television alternative. But can it compete with cable or satellite TV?
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February 05, 2008 by Ben Hardy

Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is an up-and-coming technology with lots of promise. Ironically, it’s the smaller regional telecommunications companies that are making IPTV waves in mostly local markets, although at least one national company has big-time plans to replace your current digital service with their digital solution.

IPTV to Your TV – How it Works
Never heard of IPTV? Even if you haven’t, chances are you’ve used it, or something like it. In fact, anyone who has ever accessed their digital television service’s Video on Demand feature has some familiarity with how IPTV works. Internet Protocol Television is an alternative way of sending digital television service to either a computer, mobile phone, or a television. It is this latter solution that we will explore, as the IPTV solution is fast becoming an attractive alternative to traditional cable or digital broadcast satellite (DBS) service.

Without getting too technical, IPTV refers to a method of delivering both live TV and stored video (on-demand or pay-per-view) to the home in the same manner in which internet content is sent, and over that same network. IPTV is a form of “switched video,” or switched broadcast technology, whereby the end-user only receives the programming being requested. Where satellite and cable companies cram 100% of live programming content into end-users set-top box 100% of the time, IPTV content is delivered only when asked for. Just as typing in “www.electonichouse.com” in the browser bar brings the site’s content to your computer, so does changing the television station to Discovery HD bring the content to the IPTV-subscriber’s set-top box, and thus to the connected television.

“It’s a different manner of delivering broadcast-quality content to the subscriber,” says Haavard Sterri, Executive Director of Marketing for SureWest, a telecommunications company based in the Sacramento, California area. By broadcast quality content, Sterri refers to all the options consumers have come to expect from their digital television service provider, including your beloved HD channels. On the user end, IPTV looks and feels much like traditional cable or satellite. Turn on the TV, request a channel, and up it comes. There’s even a set-top box that connects to the TV, just like cable or satellite. But the use of Internet Protocol to deliver the digital television content enables some service providers to integrate service across platforms, bringing a convergence of the voice, data, and television services brought to the home, on the same network, all using the same language, through one company (see “Convergence” below.)

It’s telecommunication companies like SureWest that are largely responsible for the push in the growing IPTV opportunities nation-wide. To date AT&T is probably the biggest IPTV provider, with their U-verse service now available in 11 states, and a U-verse Initiative that aims to expand the service across 22 states by the end of 2008. “We’re the only national service provider, and we are 100% IPTV,” says Destiny Varghese, spokesperson for AT&T.

Better Than Cable or Satellite?
The average consumer might not care to understand what goes on behind the scenes to bring IPTV into the home, or how it is different from cable or satellite. But that end-user experience sure is important. Consumers have gotten used to comparing digital television service providers using a set of criteria, which usually includes: price, packages, bundles, HD channels (quantity AND quality), installation, and a few other comparison points. Making the same evaluation of an IPTV service is a wise step for the consumer with the option. And it is important to understand that, like competing cable or satellite companies, the offerings of each IPTV service provider will vary from market to market and company to company.

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Ben Hardy - Contributing Writer
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.

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