Streaming live TV and delivering video on demand were out of the reach of many corporate communications teams until quite recently, but with technological advancements, from greater bandwidth capacity through to 4K screens and costs reducing every year, broadcast systems are now being put to daily use on a global scale.
The underlying technology behind IPTV and digital signage has converged, so that web content and TV pictures can be distributed alongside a full array of media sources. But installation of IPTV in an enterprise environment remains a big undertaking. So how can companies embarking on an IPTV/digital signage deployment reduce the risk of failure and maximise the ROI?
Understand IPTV and digital signage
Digital signage and IPTV are similar in terms of their ability to distribute media. The first is an electronic display that shows digital images, video, streaming media and information. The latter is a method of distributing rebroadcast television or synchronised AV content from an almost unlimited channels over an intranet or wide area network.
Both incorporate the same group of technologies: flat-panel screens, media players, and a content management server connected over a LAN and/or WAN.
Greater bandwidth gives networks the capacity to stream video, opening the traditional digital signage market to wider creative application, and giving corporate users the opportunity to expand beyond TV distribution across a closed network, and add live and recorded TV, plus advertising and brand messages as part of a multimedia mix.
Recognise the advantages of 4K
4K screens deliver a picture resolution four times that of HD, making them an ideal companion for today’s IPTV/digital signage systems. High resolution makes for engaging, targeted content and more impactful messaging. There is also an increase in the availability of 4K media players and decreased costs for both the players and the screens.
Bear in mind though, although compression schemes such as H.265 are evolving to deliver higher quality over a similar bandwidth, 4K does generally demand more capacity.
Consider Multicast and IGMP
The underlying enabling technology for IPTV is Multicast. This is an established mechanism for sending data to large numbers of users over a network as a single transmission. This is opposed to Unicast which stacks transmissions and bandwidth usage while sending data on request to individual devices. Multicast is, therefore, a bandwidth-conserving technology which not only reduces data traffic crossing the network but reduces the number of servers and switches required. To avoid contention for network clients, it is also best to use the Internet Group Management Protocol, which ensures only requested multicasts are delivered to network clients.
Check network suitability
Can your network infrastructure cope? Is it multicast-enabled? Are there any existing throughput bottlenecks in the system? The IPTV network must be capable of sustaining bandwidth-intense, high availability multicast transport streams across multiple subnets, vLANs (virtual LAN) and WANS.
IPTV networks place a constant load on the network infrastructure, requiring network switches to meet specific minimum criteria. The overall switch capacity needs to exceed the total streaming bandwidth with a healthy margin to avoid contention.
Get the component technology right
The common components of IPTV include displays, media players, and content management systems:
Wherever possible select dedicated screens for IPTV. 4K consumer displays, even from reputable brands, are unlikely to be fully featured or offer as much control or processing power. There is a significant difference between reliable industry IPTV technologies (e.g. with rs232 control) and unreliable vendor specific domestic technologies (e.g. CEC control). All screens should be monitored so that problems can be alerted, diagnosed and resolved. One faulty display can result in missed revenue and damage to the brand.
If a company is going to design and deploy an IPTV/digital signage solution it is advisable to seek a player that can select, play and control multiple different media. Combinations of third party TVs and media players will not have a unifying client to do this but a fit-for-purpose media player will. They are also compact, with low power usage, and contain all the processing performance needed and content needs to be designed and developed only once and without compromise because of missing capabilities of most ‘SMART’ TVs.
Content Management Systems
These control live streamed broadcasts, internally encoded streams, HLS live streams, interactive video on demand and VOD content. They are the management hub of any IPTV/digital signage system. This gives system administrators all the daily functions needed to capture, manage, store and dynamically display all media assets enabling pin-point targeting of information on the basis of location, time or content - the right media to the right audience at the right time. The CMS should work to industry standards for video and audio and should have the capability to support all standard file sources and resolutions of at least 1080pHD and 4K as required.
Pick the right integration partner
Finally, but no less crucially, pick the right integrator. One option is a partner to integrate all the hardware and software elements of an IPTV system from multiple sources. This might provide the least expensive components for an overall lower cost solution. However, the recommended solution is to look for a partner to provide the entire solution from head end devices to media players and all the software and controls in between. A partner promoting a vendor that designs, manufactures and supports its own hardware will also be able to provide one port of call for training, network queries and all ongoing service requirements and warranty back up.
Companies who want absolute control over the quality and capability of the technology and future proof their investment in IPTV need to look carefully at all the technology options, and select an integrated approach.
IPTV/digital signage creates infinite new opportunities for the kind of personalised consumer experiences that businesses need to deliver today.
Investment in IPTV/digital signage can reap dividends in terms of corporate communication and brand messaging. However this investment is at risk of limited return if attention is not paid to selecting the appropriate core technology from a partner who intimately understands its implementation.
Shaun Oxenham, CEO at Cabletime Ltd