Modern technology never ceases to innovate and develop. Today, we already have numerous applications of technology in our daily lives - from industrial, to communication, to medicine, to business, to education, and up to entertainment. However, despite the many technological advances, people still rely on one of the most common household mediums when it comes to entertainment -- the television.
Television is a device that receives audio-visual signals from different sources and reproduces them on a screen. They are used to broadcast different information such as news, educational programs, or entertainment shows. From being a simple monochromatic (or black-and-white) devices, televisions have vastly improved and developed as time passes by. Today, televisions don’t only display programs in color, but they can also display them in high-definition or even in 3D.
A television set can receive signals using different modes of transmission. It started from over-the-air transmission, called terrestrial transmission, where broadcasting network companies were assigned a specific range of radio frequency signal band (known as channels) that they can use to send out audio-visual signals. Television sets receive these signals using an antenna. This type of transmission is referred to as analog TV.
Transmission then shifted to digital TV where subscribers receive the audio-visual signals thru coaxial or fiber optic cables. This makes reception of signals more stable and less prone to interference.
It was then followed by satellite transmission, which combines analog and digital technology. Satellite dishes replaced antennas in receiving over-the-air radio frequency signals that are then “translated” to digital signals, allowing a clearer and crisper transmission.
Today, aside from the three modes of transmission mentioned above, there is a fast-rising mode of television transmission that is gaining popularity and is becoming an alternative for television patrons -- online TV. Also called as internet TV, online TV is a modern type of television transmission that allows customers to receive digital audio-visual signals by utilizing the power of the web.
Normal TV versus TV on the Internet
Normal television and online TV are almost the same when it comes to output. Both technology allows end users to see live or pre-recorded programs in audio-visual format. Aside from a slight variation on the available programs and content, the differences between normal television and online TV lie mostly on their technical aspects.
Normal television transmission modes utilize either analog signals (which can be compared to waves) or digital signals (which is a series of 0s and 1s). Either way, an end user must have either an antenna to receive analog signals or a subscription to a TV service provider, technically called a multiple-service operator (MSO), to watch TV.
Online TV, however, transmits signal for programs and information using data packets. In technical broadcasting terms, online TV is a type of over-the-top content where the distribution of audio, visual and data signals does not require an antenna or an MSO subscription. The internet becomes the mode of transmission for the television signals. Simply put, online TV is receiving audio and video data using internet connection.
In general, a television transmission system has four elements -- content provider, mode of transmission, receiver and display device. For normal television, the content providers are the networks and the transmission mode is either over-the-air or cable. The receivers are either antennas, set top boxes, satellite dishes, or an on-board receiver. The display for a normal television transmission is any type of TV set.
On the other hand, online TV has numerous types of content providers and receivers, but only uses the internet (whether cable, DSL, or wireless) as its mode of transmission. Unlike terrestrial, cable, or satellite transmissions that can only be viewed in a television set, online TV is accessible using any device with internet capability such as a computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. Because of modern science, though, manufacturers have already developed gadgets and technologies that allow television sets to receive and process internet data packets. In that case, some television sets can already be used for online TV.
Two Types of Online Streaming Content
Online television content comes in two types: livestream or video on demand (VOD).
From the word itself, livestream is a platform where live audio and video content is transmitted real time over the internet. This is just like watching TV the normal way; the only difference is that it is done via an internet connection. Livestreaming is comparable to webcam chat applications like Skype, but several viewers can access the transmitted data. Livestreaming content is mostly transmitted one way, but some technologies and devices give the end users the capability to interact via chat, voice, or video.
Video on demand (or VOD), on the other hand, is like a library of videos online. The available “shows” are listed and a customer can choose which show to watch anytime he wants. When an end user accesses a video on demand content, the content provider will stream the data to the end user’s device. Once the data is loaded, a customer can then watch the chosen program. He can also pause, rewind, or forward a video on demand show whenever he wants, although he will be unable to download and save the content.
Depending on the content provider that an end user has, a livestream or a video on demand program can be in standard definition, high definition, or 3D. Access to these contents could either be free or paid whether via subscription (a customer pays a fixed recurring charge to access the content for a given period of time) or pay-per-view (a customer will pay a charge to access the content one-time).
Internet TV Content Providers
There are different content providers for online TV that an end user can choose from. Note, however, that different content providers have different protocols when it comes to payment, device compatibility and availability of content.
Independent Service Providers -- These content providers mostly offer video on demand content, although some of them feature livestream programs (mostly concerts, events and seminars) from time to time. An end user will need to subscribe to an independent service provider of his choice to access their offered content. Popular independent service providers for online TV include Netflix, Google Play Movies, Amazon Video, WhereverTV, Vudu and Qello.
MSO-Provided Content Services-- Cable and satellite TV service providers are starting to utilize online TV to reach more areas and gain more customers, especially in places that are tagged as “unserviceable.” These are areas without available TV cable connections and cannot be reached by satellite signal transmission. With MSO-provided content services, end users in “unserviceable” areas can still enjoy the same TV programs and content that TV providers offer via internet. This is also an ideal choice for “cord-cutters” or “cord-slimmers”, people who want to enjoy TV service
without paying a hefty price for cable TV subscription.
Dish Network is one of the first networks to launch an MSO-provided content service called Sling TV. Other MSO-provided content services in the market today include Time Warner Cable’s TWC TV and Charter Communications’ Spectrum TV Stream.
Network or Channel-Provided Content Services-- Some independent TV networks and channels also provide online TV services to their customers with their own content service platforms. Depending on the type of content that the network or channel caters to, customers can either watch livestream feeds or browse a list of “catch-up” episodes. Some of these content service platforms also include exclusive online-only content such as trailers, extended episodes, and behind-the-scene footages. Popular network-provided content services are CBSN (Internet TV news channel by Columbia Broadcasting Services), Fox on Demand (video on demand streaming service by Fox Broadcasting Network), NBC on Demand (video on demand streaming service by National Broadcasting Company), and ABC on Demand (video on demand streaming service by American Broadcasting Company).
For channel-provided content services, popular options include CNNGo (online streaming platform of Cable News Network or CNN), HBO Go and HBO Now (MSO-bundled and standalone streaming services by premium channel Home Box Office), WWE Network (online streaming services by World Wrestling Entertainment Inc), and Telemundo Now (online streaming services by American-Spanish network Telemundo). Hulu, another prominent Online TV service provider, is a joint venture of three big television networks -- Fox Broadcasting Company, Disney-ABC Television Group, and NBC-Universal Television Group.
Peer-to-Peer Video Hosting Services -- This is more of a community-based content provider where users can upload their own videos and stream videos of other users. Since this is community-based, anyone can upload any type of video that they want as long as it complies with the hosting service’s terms and conditions. Despite this, though, some video hosting services tie up with major networks and channels to avoid copyright infringement. Examples of peer-to-peer video hosting services are YouTube, Crunchyroll, or Vimeo.
There are several peer-to-peer video hosting services that combine user-uploaded content with other Online TV service contents such as livestream feeds and copyrighted material. Crackle, for example, is a video hosting service that distributes original content from Sony Pictures Entertainment and hosts videos uploaded by customers.
Online TV Receivers
To enjoy online TV, an end user must have a receiver with internet connection. The receiver will process transmitted online TV data from content providers and show it on a compatible display such as a computer or notebook monitor, a smartphone or tablet screen, or an internet-capable television set. Depending on the device that the end user has, there are different types of online TV receivers that he can utilize.
Web browser -- This is the most basic type of online TV receiver that a desktop, notebook, smartphone, or tablet user can use. Most content providers have a web-based platform that users can access to watch livestream feeds and pre-loaded content. By using a web browser such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, an end user can visit the web address of a content provider to view their available content.
Some web browsers, however, may need additional programs or plugins such as Adobe Flash Player and Java Runtime Environment to play online TV content.
PC software or mobile app -- An alternative receiver that computer and smartphone users can download and install in their devices are online TV software and applications. Most content providers manufacture and supply a partner software or application for their customers, but there are also third-party software and applications that the end users can download and install. Most, if not all, software and applications today are already compatible with major operating systems either for computers (Windows, MAC, and Linux), smartphones (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Nokia Lumia, and Microsoft), and other devices (PlayStation, Xbox, and Smart TVs).
However, it is still strongly advisable to double-check the specifications of an online TV software or application before installing it to ensure that it will work properly and prevent malfunctions. Some of the popular online TV software and applications in the market today are Direct-PCTV, LiveTVWeb, PlayOn, Satellite Direct, and StreamDirect Pro.
Digital media players (DMP) -- For end users who prefer to watch online TV using their television sets, digital media players are the perfect receivers. These are consumer electronic devices that are capable of connecting to a home network via Ethernet or wireless connection. To use a digital media player, though, a television must have an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port as this is where a DMP is connected.
There are different models and types of digital media players, from small boxes to USB-type sticks. Digital Media Players usually come with a remote control and a software application that will display on the television screen for navigation and control. Popular brands of digital media players are Apple TV, Roku, Google TV, Boxee, and WD TV.
Smart TV -- A Smart TV is an innovative television set that is integrated with internet capabilities and functionalities, allowing end users to use the television for web browsing and internet access just like a computer. A Smart TV usually has an Ethernet and a USB port where end users can connect their modem, router or mobile broadband dongle. Some Smart TVs even have built-in wireless adapters so they can connect to a wireless internet network. It also has a software application, which acts as the menu screen so customers can navigate and toggle between different functions.
Set-top box -- TV service companies provide set-top boxes to their customers to receive and process television signals. With the introduction of online TV, set-top boxes have now been developed and innovated to have internet capabilities. Unlike digital media players that only process online TV data, internet-capable set-top boxes can stream online TV content and still receive (and, with some models, even record) programming from a cable TV or satellite connection.
DVD player, Blu-ray player, and gaming consoles -- Some media devices like DVD players and Blu-ray players, and gaming consoles like PlayStation and Xbox, have internet capabilities, thus, it is also possible to use them as online TV receivers. Some of these devices already have a built-in online TV software, while others may require a separate software or attachment to stream online TV content.
Online TV technology has really defined a new standard when it comes to information and entertainment. By utilizing the power of the internet, together with innovative technologies, end users can watch their favorite shows, stay updated with the latest news, and enjoy television programming whenever they want, wherever they may be. Indeed, online TV is the new generation of television, perfect for today’s modern times.