PUBLISHED: 02/11/2014

If you’re responsible for selecting a video distribution system for your organization, you have a few options to consider. Essentially, the choice boils down to whether RF (Radio Frequency) or IP (Internet Protocol) is the technology that will provide the most efficient, and cost-effective, solution. You also need to determine which best serves the needs of your customers, patients, students, etc. so it’s important to obtain their input during the process.

RF: A Time-Tested Technology

We are all familiar with RF (i.e. tuning to any channel on a TV). RF technology is perhaps most commonly associated with radio broadcasting. The RF spectrum, or “bandwidth,” has been segmented to accommodate a variety of technologies, with the 5-860 MHz range being designated for TV video. RF video is typically the more cost-effective option if you don’t have computers at the receiving end.

With regard to the television channels available with RF distribution in the U.S., the traditional method was to receive programming via an analog signal, in accordance with the National Television System Committee (NTSC) Standard. However, most over-the-air NTSC transmissions were turned off as of June 12, 2009, paving the way for digital TV as mandated by the Advanced Television Systems Committee Standards for digital television transmission. Digital TV is available in standard definition (SD), or the more technologically advanced high definition (HD) formats, with terrestrial, cable, and satellite networks serving as the source, and in most cases provides the customer the choice of hundreds of channels coming from one provider.

Internet Video vs. IPTV…What’s the Difference?

IP video distribution includes Internet video and IPTV. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same technology. It is important to understand that IP doesn’t necessarily mean that the video originates from the Internet. Instead, it simply refers to the protocols that apply to how data is organized on the Internet and a variety of other networks. One way to think of IP, it’s the language which computers and other devices use to communicate over a computer network. When you hear the term “IP,” it can refer to data that is distributed over the Internet, as well as stored video such as movies that are available through video-on-demand i.e. similar to the programming you can access on a typical hotel room TV menu.

Internet Video Basics

Internet video is often called “streaming video” and refers to video that you download through your Internet connection. If you’ve ever used a service such as Hulu or Netflix to watch a movie or television show on your computer, or accessed programming via a SMART TV, you’ve had experience with Internet video. Some type of a media player, which is computer software that is capable of playing back media files, is necessary to access Internet videos. Windows Media Player from Microsoft Windows is perhaps the most widely recognized media player on the market.

The biggest drawback of Internet video is its unreliability. Because the streaming video is played back as it is received, it is easy to lose the signal. If anything interrupts the signal, you will also lose the information being distributed. You may have had the frustrating experience of trying to view programming on the Web, only to have to put up with constant stops and starts, or even losing the transmission for periods of time. Consequently, Internet video is not recommended for organizations such as hospitals and educational institutions where having a clear, reliable signal is paramount.

IPTV Basics

IPTV differs from Internet video in that it is a standardized service that distributes a variety of television services over a packet-switched network (the Internet is one example) via the Internet protocol suite. IPTV can take the form of live television, time-shifted programming (watching a replay of a live or recorded television after the time of original broadcast), or video-on-demand where you select of a catalog of movies to watch at your convenience.

While IPTV includes streaming characteristics similar to Internet video, the video is not distributed as it is received. IPTV has the ability to reorder video and packets that come over a network. It can also request a new transmission for a malfunctioning packet, a process that is not available with Internet video. IPTV offers the advantage of buffering, which mitigates the difference in the rate in which data can be received and the rate in which it is processed. By allowing timing connections to be made on a video stream, buffering reduces the potential for signal interruption. IPTV normally includes a set-top box or some type of computer device on the receiving end that performs the buffering function.

Z-Band’s Video Solution Can Accommodate RF and IP

A unique feature of the Z-Band’s video distribution system is its ability to simultaneously multicast RF and IP data/streaming video over one Category/twisted pair cable to a large number of TVs without consuming network bandwidth. The cable or satellite signal is fed into the “CATV IN” F-Connector on the back of the “GigaBUD,” the system’s video hub, while an IP 10/100 Base-T signal is connected into one of the RJ-45 jacks on the top row on the front of the “GigaBUD”. A remotely powered intelligent balun called a “GigaBOB” (stands for break out box) is connected to the bottom row of RJ-45 jacks on the front of the hub using Catergory cable no longer than 100 meters. The balun receives the signal(s) over Category cable from a RJ-45 wall outlet and splits the two signals into an RF stream and an IP stream. The output F-Connector on the balun uses a coax patch cord to connect the RF signals to the TV, and the “aux” output RJ-45 connector on the balun uses a twisted pair patch cord to connect the IP signals to a SMART TV or other digital device.

While both the RF and IP signals can be encoded, an important difference is that only the RF signal needs to be modulated in order to attain the appropriate frequency and channel. If a digital RF tuner is used, it also needs to have a decoder. With IP, an IP address decoder is necessary, which requires the use of a computer, or other intelligent device. This can create a significant expense for an organization that is not already equipped with computers.

Z-Band Is Your Source for Organization’s Video Distribution

In most cases, one size doesn’t fit all. With all of its new product offerings Z-Band can help you customize the video distribution solution that best serve your needs versus the standard approach of trying to fit one product for all needs. Contact Z-Band for a demo, free quote, or design assistance.

Bill Donmoyer