Everything You Always Wanted to Know about IPTV and RF Coax but Were Afraid to Ask

Published: April 13, 2016

Have you been paying attention to Contemporary Research’s recent product development?

The manufacturer may be known for RF coax video distribution solutions, but it recently announced QMOD HDTV modulators and IPTV encoders as well as dedicated IPTV encoders.

CI recently chatted with Contemporary Research’s VP of technical services, Doug Engstrom, about customers’ evolving video distribution options and preferences, as well as how integrators ought to talk to their customers’ IT departments about video distribution:

Your QMOD HDTV modulators and IPTV encoders straddle the line between IPTV and RF coax distribution. For end users, what is the appeal of having both options?

Engstrom: In designing the new QMOD technology, we viewed digital RF and IPTV as two sides of the same coin. Both use encoded MPEG streams; the difference lies in packaging the stream for either RF or IP distribution – or both at the same time. The key benefit is that the customer doesn’t need to buy another encoder to distribute content over IP. The future is included.

Are customers more aware of IP streaming these days and therefore inclined toward IPTV solutions? If so, what are some considerations that integrators or consultants ought to discuss with them? For instance, will they have enough bandwidth? Will their IT departments be able to support it?

Engstrom: Even if a customer’s current network does not support IPTV streaming, it’s good to know that they can when the network is upgraded. The key factors are network bandwidth and that new or upgraded routers support multicasting. Many networks can support limited unicasting, where one stream is sent to one receiver.

Do IT departments discourage the use of digital RF?

Engstrom: There are instances where IT staff told sites not to wire a building for RF coax, only to discover that the network isn’t ready for streaming.

Enlightened IT departments view digital RF distribution positively, offloading the bandwidth burden of streaming to RF, while knowing that at some point in time, the same content could be ported for IP.

Enlightened IT departments view digital RF distribution positively, offloading the bandwidth burden of streaming to RF, while knowing that at some point in time, the same content could be ported for IP.

Are there sites that do both RF and IP distribution today?

Engstrom: Yes. QMOD technology allows them to re-energize their RF coax system for HD video distribution. At the same time, they can multicast the same program as IPTV- delivering content to locations that don’t have an RF connection.

I’ve heard that you are developing new options for RF and IP encoding. True?

Engstrom: The next update, which will be free, adds H.254 MPEG4 encoding and new distribution options. All QMODs have two encoders, and now we can take advantage of that in a more efficient way for RF and IP.  For example, if a user chooses to distribute both programs over RF and IP, the digital RF channel will have two programs embedded in one channel, and IP will be sent as two independent single-program streams. Users can also set up the QMOD for split distribution, with one encoder formatting a high-bitrate MPEG2 channel for RF, and the second creates a lower-bitrate H.264 for Ethernet distribution.

Besides the ability to distribute content via RF or IP, what other attributes set QMOD apart from others?

Engstrom: QMOD employs a natively dual-encoder processor, reducing the cost of using separate encoders for each program. Since we’re an integration-centric company, both encoders include a hardware scaler. This eliminates issues with non-standard—and PAL—video, formats VGA signage properly, and allows the integrator to up- or down-scale content as needed. Everything can be setup and tested via front-panel menus and Web pages.

Your new QIP IPTV encoders are dedicated to IPTV distribution. Why was it important to offer that option to integrators and consultants?

Engstrom: While many sites prefer QMOD’s RF/IP options for content delivery, there are sites that are fully integrated for IPTV distribution. The QIP series of IPTV encoders include all the features of QMOD technology, without the added cost of RF processing.

How can a system designer determine if RF coax or IPTV is appropriate for a particular application?

Engstrom: The first question to answer is if the site has available RF or IP infrastructure. The second query checks if the RF system is open or closed—modulated or no channels versus encrypted cable channels—and if the IP network is capable of passing video over IP.

RF has the advantages because TVs have built-in tuners, distribution requires almost no maintenance, software licenses or system updates, and facility-wide TV control can operate over the same coax. You can use a forms-based Web app for control or custom systems.

IP works especially well for interactive applications and store-and-forward signage. Because video is constantly streaming, network bandwidth and the ability to set up video LANs and multicasting is critical. Active support by the IT team is important as well. Facility-wide control would be handled via custom systems and programming.

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