Even if you’ve been streaming movies and TV for years, you may be confused about IPTV (Internet Protocol Television). You might even understand the concepts of “IP” and “TV” separately, but just not how they work together.
It’s understandable to be confused. There’s a lot of misinformation about accessing IPTV services and whether it’s legal.
This article will walk you through what IPTV is in simple terms. By the time you reach the end, you’ll know what IPTV is, and how you can use it.
What is IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)?
IPTV stands for “Internet Protocol Television,” and its an alternative to cable or satellite TV.
Let’s break that down:
You may be familiar with IP addresses. They are an identifying address assigned to every device connected to any network that uses that Internet Protocol.
With someone’s IP address, you can typically narrow down their location and figure out who their Internet service provider (ISP) is. Those providers can also use IP addresses to identify people who might be illegally downloading content online, among other reasons.
TV, of course, is something that most people are familiar with.
Over-the-air (OTA) cable TV was once the standard. You received a signal to your satellite, antenna, or even directly to your TV that allowed you to watch live TV channels, including your local news, favorite sitcoms, and more.
More recently, digital transmissions have become the norm. And you might have enjoyed TV service from your cable company through fiber optic cables.
These days, with a fast Internet connection, more people are cutting the cord. It’s possible to watch your favorite movies or find new video content online.
Even if consumers had fewer options, they recognized that it was a better deal to pay Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu than their local cable or satellite TV company. Video game consoles, smart TVs, and streaming devices replaced OTA TVs.
What does this all have to do with IPTV?
Every streaming service is a form of IPTV, streaming content to your TV screen or connected device using the IP protocol, just like a web page.
Even if you weren’t familiar with the term before, you’re likely one of the millions of people who have used IPTV services already.
How Does IPTV Work?
IPTV services work differently depending on how they broadcast. Some IPTV services offer more than one option, while others may only focus on one.
Let’s talk about each one.
Video on Demand (VOD)
Video on Demand, or VOD, is the most common type of IPTV broadcast.
VOD is similar to Netflix or Disney+ in that you get to watch specific content whenever you want. Behind the scenes, the IPTV service transcodes TV signals to ones that your streaming device can understand, often without paying a subscription fee.
This might seem too good to be true, and it could be if the IPTV services don’t have the right to broadcast that content.
However, many traditional TV services have gone this way because it’s a great way to attract new viewers.
Examples of the most famous legal video-on-demand services are Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix.
VOD is similar to DVR (time-shifted) content, allowing you to watch content after it’s been aired live.
Next up is live broadcast TV, a type of IPTV similar to your local news report or Monday Night Football on ESPN.
You log in at a specific time to catch live TV channels, usually getting TV programs directly from the source rather than a third party.
Internet Simulcasting \ IP Casting
Finally, we have a category with a few names: live internet simulcasting, IP casting, or live IP.
IP Casting is streaming content by someone other than the source, and it can be completely legal if the IPTV service has licensed the content.
Pluto TV is one example of legal live IPTV providers that offer on-demand video. It’s actually owned by Viacom, which has contracts for content usage and relies on ads that keep the IPTV service free to users.
A lesser-known type of IPTV is something called “hybrid IPTV.” This combines traditional TV with IPTV in a single set-top box.
The IPTV part of that service is similar to sources you might use on your streaming device, Kodi box, or computer.
Is IPTV Legal?
Now that we have a basic understanding of IPTV, the big question is if IPTV is legal.
It is…at least some of the time.
As long as an IPTV service is willing to pay enough money, they could obtain your favorite TV show’s rights.
However, if they can’t reach an agreement, the rights expire, or the content owners would prefer to put it on their own streaming service (like HBO Max or Disney+), you could be out of luck.
Sometimes, you end up with the infamous 2013 deal where Dodgers fans living in Southern California couldn’t watch their team’s games because of a contract dispute with Time-Warner Cable (Spectrum).
If consumers can’t find a way to watch the content they want, they may start considering IPTV services that may not be entirely legal.
Unfortunately, it’s often hard to tell whether an IPTV provider is above board or not. Without looking at a company’s license agreements, how do you know they’re allowed to broadcast it or not?
IPTV services have good reason to obscure when they’re breaking the law, and you might assume that it’s not your job to uncover the truth. However, law enforcement and Internet service providers have started to crack down on illegal IPTV use.
Fortunately, it’s usually easy to determine whether an IPTV service is legal.
Examples of Legal IPTV Services
You probably already know about some of the most popular IPTV services. Several are even owned by the biggest names in telecommunications.
We already mentioned Pluto TV, which is available on several streaming devices and requires no configuration.
Xumo is similar, offering both live TV and VOD. It’s owned by telecom giant Comcast, so you don’t have to worry about the legality or how long the service will last.
BBC’s iPlayer includes the channels BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News Channel, and CBeebies. It’s restricted if you live outside of the United Kingdom. Still, many people get around that by using a VPN like IPVanish.
Even YouTube offers its own live options, with TV channels such as HGTV, TNT, and Nickelodeon on the lineup. However, it’s not free.
Whether you love British drama, anime, Disney movies, sports, or comic movies, you’ll find an IPTV service that fits your style.
In fact, many streaming services now offer optional packages that give access to niche and live content. That means you don’t have to sign up for a separate service.
Many services appeal to consumers by offering some free content. If you look directly at services from TV channels like CBS or The CW, you’ll find apps that provide a mix of free and paid content.
It’s a bit difficult to recommend other IPTV services because new ones pop up all the time. Others go down because they’ve run into issues with the law, Internet providers, or ad buyers.
How to Tell if Your IPTV Service Is Illegal
Since there may be no easy way to determine if an IPTV service is legal, you’ll have to look for some telltale signs.
- Free services
- An IPTV service that charges a one-time fee for “lifetime access,” rather than a monthly fee.
- An IPTV set top box that promises a fully-loaded TV experience without explaining how that’s possible.
- Poorly-designed software
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all TV boxes are illegal or even offer IPTV options.
For example, some boxes simply have legal software pre-installed so that all you need to do to stream, watch IPTV, or enjoy the media you already own is plug and play.
Using IPTV on Kodi
If you like Kodi and use it regularly, IPTV can make it even better. Although you can always install a TV tuner to get OTA (Over The Air) signals, an IPTV service may be a better option, depending on where you live.
First, you can install an IPTV add-on to enjoy live TV and video on demand directly within Kodi. These add-ons may or may not be legal, depending on where you get them.
IPTV add-ons for Kodi will only work if you have an account with the service and configure the add-on. Some may require you to install an additional plugin to make them work.
The second option is to buy a fully-loaded Kodi box.
A “fully loaded” Kodi box is a set top box that comes preloaded with Kodi, and many popular apps and add-ons – including several IPTV services.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though.
While not all of the add-ons on fully-loaded Kodi boxes are illegal, some likely are. On top of that, some of the add-ons and apps are sub-par quality, which might make them more hassle than they’re worth.
Many people prefer to buy their own streaming devices, install Kodi, and choose whatever apps and IPTV services work best for them.
From price to performance, you’ll need to shop around.
If you want the best possible experience, pay attention to what other consumers say about support and firmware upgrades.
Of course, Kodi isn’t the only way to enjoy IPTV, just one of the many options you can choose to explore.