Streaming live TV and delivering video on demand are now within reach for almost all corporate communications teams. Greater bandwidth capacity, higher resolution screens and low costs mean broadcast systems are now being put to daily use on a global scale.
The underlying technology behind IPTV and digital signage has converged, so 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. How can companies embark on an IPTV/digital signage deployment, reduce the risk of failure and maximise ROI?
Digital signage and IPTV both 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 synchronized 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 allowing corporate users to expand beyond TV distribution across a closed network, and add live and recorded TV, advertising and brand messages as part of a multimedia mix.
4K screens deliver a picture resolution four times that of HD making them an ideal companion for today’s IPTV/digital signage systems. Following that logic, the resolution of 8K screens will be sixteen times the resolution of 1080 HD and even more impactful. This makes for engaging, targeted content and improved messaging. There’s also an increase in the availability of 4K media players and decreased costs for both the players and the screens. Consider though, although compression schemes such as H.265 are evolving to deliver higher quality over a similar bandwidth, 4K does generally demand more capacity, as 8K will when systems start to become available.
The underlying enabling technology for IPTV is Multicast. This established mechanism for sending data to large numbers of users over a network as a single transmission 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’s also best to use the Internet Group Management Protocol, which ensures only requested multicasts are delivered to network clients.
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 must exceed the total streaming bandwidth with a healthy margin to avoid contention.
The common components of IPTV include displays, media players and content management systems:
Displays - Dedicated screens are best 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). 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.
Media players – An IPTV/digital signage solution needs 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 (CMS) control live streamed broadcasts, internally encoded streams, HLS live streams, interactive video on demand and VOD content. They are the hub of any IPTV/digital signage system. This gives system administrators 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.
Finally, but no less important, 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, we the recommend partners who 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 to future-proof their investment in IPTV should look carefully at all the technology options and select an integrated approach. 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.