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How To Build Your Own IPTV-VoD System

By Alexander Cameron, Managing Director, Digital TX Ltd.

There's a secret many people in the IPTV/VoD industry don't want you to know. Setting
up an IPTV network is actually incredibly easy. In fact, almost anyone can do it. But if
you knew that, you'd build your own and no-one would make any money by selling you
proprietary products with huge mark-ups.

IPTV networks are basically intranets, only the web browser isn't on a PC, it is on a set-
top box. If you've set up an intranet or public website, you can set up your own IPTV
network and do what you want with it. You don't need massive and expensive servers,
specialised set-top boxes or overly large development teams working with complex
software. With the right hardware and software, it should take you less than a few hours.

But why would you want to build your own?

Maybe you could, and/or want to:

• Create an internal TV system for training, advertising or information display;
• Create an IPTV showcase for your clients so they can visualise opportunities;
• Evaluate current IPTV technology without massive expense;
• Convert your existing client websites and applications to IPTV versions;
• Cross-train your web developers so they have IPTV skills;
• Simulate a real IPTV network to test applications and ideas;
• Put your products and services on an IPTV demo platform;
• Build a great new idea or application that would work well on IPTV;
• Integrate your current web-based systems into an IPTV environment (e.g. VoIP)

Doesn't look too difficult does it? Let's get started.
What you'll need:

• A TV
• An IP set-top box
• A multicast-capable router
• A web server
• A video server
• 2 x PLC Adaptors
• Sample video material

In this guide, we're going to be cheap and cheerful, using free open source software
(FOSS) where we can. We'll also be adhering to open standards wherever possible. Our
HTML screens and menus will be housed on an Apache web server running PHP, Perl,
Python & MySQL, and our video will be encoded in MPEG-4 H.264 AVC, packaged in a
simple MPEG-2 transport stream. We'll stream out our video with VLC and Helix Server.

Naturally you can exchange any of those for something else that does the same thing, for
example, WM9/IIS/.Net/SQL Server instead of MPEG-4/Apache/PHP/MySQL.

1. Finding a new home for the kit
Luckily, your brand new shiny IPTV system won't need much space at all. The 2 PCs
(web server and video server) can be hidden away under a desk, kept in a server room or
tucked away under the stairs somewhere. Using PLC adaptors means you don't need
cabling dangling around. What you will need is a space for demonstrating it on a TV.
That could be on a desk, in reception or in a corner of the office with a couch.

2. Choosing the right set-top box
The most critical decision in setting up your system is what IP set-top box you will be
using, as all of them run different software and have different capabilities. All of them
connect to the TV using a standard scart cable or RCA sockets, and display PAL/NTSC
video at standard resolution. It's preferable if they have a web-based control panel, but
many have proprietary configuration screens or use simple telnet. Firmware upgrades are
best served with a remote TFTP server, such as that provided by vendors like

The most popular choice of software is an embedded web browser, which for all intents
and purposes does the same thing as a PC web browser like IE, Firefox, Opera or Safari.
The developer interface tends to be a mark-up language, usually HTML/Javascript. The
main embedded client software programs in use on IP set-top boxes today are
Fresco/Galio (from Ant Plc), Opera, Escape/Evo (from Espial) and Myrio (based on
Espial). You can think of them of little web browser units.

There are a lot of OEM vendors of IP set-top boxes to choose from all across the world.
Some examples include Complete Media Systems, Amino, Kreatel (now Motorola),
Vidanti, Tilgin (formely i3 Micro), ADB Global and Netgem. Most are open to the idea
of directly selling 1-10 units at a time, although in many instances it is better to go
through a central distributor like Garland Partners. The cost varies, but you should be
paying in the range of £100-250 GBP for each set-top box, including a remote control
and/or keyboard.

In this guide, we will be using the CMS 1080 (from Complete Media Systems), running
Ant Galio 2.0. The box itself supports video delivered in H.264 AVC or Windows Media.
We will be using the former.

3. Setting up the network
IPTV runs over an IP network, which means it will work over your existing home or
office Ethernet network. You'll probably already have a router or switch that your
desktop PCs are plugged into, although it will be best to create a new, separate network
for your TV as the traffic load is much higher than a normal data network designed for
internet and/or LAN connectivity.

You can use any router or switch at all, as long as it supports multicast. Any £50-200
product from the high street or online retailer will do. Check the side of the packaging or
the manufacturer's documentation to see if the product you choose supports multicast
natively (IGMP etc). Normal 100Mbit Ethernet is fine, although use Gigabit Ethernet if at
all possible.

If you're running all the screens and video from one server (for example, a portable laptop
demo), you can even just use a simple crossover cable. Don't try and run video over a
wireless connection, no matter how good the reception is. HTML screens and menus will
work fine, but processor-hungry compressed video is another story.

An IP set-top box is just another network client device. When it is connected to the IP
network, it is assigned an IP address by DHCP just as a desktop PC would be (this can
also be static). If your router doesn't act as a DHCP server, you don't have a network
gateway or are experiencing problems with a crossover cable, simply download and
install a free DHCP server from the internet onto your web server PC.

Your PLC (powerline communication) adaptors create an Ethernet network over existing
electricity cabling, which avoids the need to have wiring everywhere when you can't use
wireless. They generally come in pairs, and cost £100-200 from the high street, your ISP
or online retailers. The first should be plugged into an AC plug near the router, and the
second should be plugged in next to the set-top box. Both then have Ethernet sockets
which you plug normal cat-5 cable into.

4. Streaming live broadcast video
The first thing to simulate on your IPTV system is live TV that can be tuned into, and this
can be done in two ways. The first is easy, the second is either painful or expensive. Live
broadcast IPTV needs to be multicasted 24-7 over the IP network, as unicast is too
inefficient. We will be streaming live TV from our video server.
For each channel, we need to broadcast a 5 minute looping pre-captured video clip to a
multicast IP address. For this, we can use the free VLC player, or the industry standard
WinSend, created by Pixstream. The clip itself ideally needs to be previously encoded in
MPEG-4 H.264 AVC, and formatted into an MPEG-2 transport stream. However, VLC
being the Swiss army knife it is means we can convert open virtually any video file and
encode it on the fly as we are broadcasting. Open your video file, and use the advanced
options in VLC to stream the output onto the network as UDP, using a multicast address
such as to a random port (such as 10201).

You can test if the stream is being correctly outputted by opening the same network
stream with another copy of VLC on another computer on the network. Do this for as
many channels as you require. Once they are broadcasting, the set-top box will be able to
tune into the multicast stream just as VLC does.

The more advanced way to provide live broadcast TV (such as Freeview) over an IP
network is to convert MPEG-2 video received from a DVB receiver (a TV tuner card, for
example those made by Hauppage) into multicast format, which is known as IP
encapsulation. The painful way is to code your own encapsulation program using the
vendor's SDK, and the expensive way is to buy industrial hardware that does it for you
(for example, Exterity, Anevia etc).

5. Preparing VoD content
Making DVD quality video across your network is split into two separate parts – getting
the video files into the right format, and secondly, setting them up to stream from a video
server. The bad news is that there isn't a free or open source VoD server that you can use
to exactly simulate what would happen in a commercial service.

Your video material will need to be pre-encoded in the same way the live multicast video
is. Software encoders from vendors like Elecard, MainConcept Cyberlink and Nero will
easily compress video from most formats (MPG, AVI, MOV etc) into MPEG 4 H.264
AVC, but they will additionally need to be encapsulated in an MPEG-2 transport stream
for delivery over the network. The free open-source Media Coder program produces
excellent results.

Video is very temperamental and requires state control, unlike typical web protocols such
as HTTP. RTP (real-time protocol) and RTSP (real-time streaming protocol) were
designed to provide VCR-like controls for IP networks, and most, if not all commercial
VoD servers use these technologies for delivering quality-assured video. A lot of set-top
box manufacturers have adapted their hardware to be able to simulate VCR-like features
using HTTP so video can be streamed directly from a web server like Apache. We will
use a combination of both to stream files ending in .mpg.

The main choices for serving video on-demand over our IPTV network are the open-
source Helix Server and Darwin Streaming Server, both of which come in Windows
flavour, but can also run on Linux. We also have a trial of the Elecard RTSP server that
can also be run on either OS. If your own network is set up to use Windows Media, you
can happily and easily unicast and/or multicast video from a Windows Server PC running
the free Windows Media Server.

Once the video files have been pre-encoded, they need to be placed in the directory on
the video server that has been allocated as the storage folder, as well as mirrored in the
Apache web directory allocated on the web server. Almost all the RTSP servers have a
web-based configuration panel and will need to index/identify each file for streaming.
Once these are in place, test the RTSP capacity of the server by opening a network stream
to them in VLC, and once any problems are corrected, your IP set-top box will play them
using its in-built API.

6. Creating screens and menus
Menus for the TV screen are created in HTML, CSS and Javascript, just as normal web
pages are, using the same standard tools (Dreamweaver, Photoshop etc). The software on
the device is an ordinary web browser like IE, Firefox, Opera or Safari, and overlays the
web pages you create on the screen through the scart cable (OSD). Most have full support
for open standards and current technologies such as RSS and AJAX. Some also include
the Macromedia Flash 6 player. It's a case of write, and then refresh the browser screen,
just like normal web development.

When the IP set-top box starts up and gains an IP address via DHCP, it will also request a
“starting” URL of a web page from a web server, in the same way a PC web browser
(e.g. IE, Firefox) will request a default home page. Producing screens for IPTV is almost
the same as building an intranet site, with the only difference being that the HTML and
Javascript contains set-top box-specific code that only the set-top box understands and
executes (e.g. for tuning into multicast streams or issuing RTSP commands).

Each set-top box's hardware is different, so there is a different Javascript API for each
device model that must be obtained from the manufacturer. Video can be displayed and
scaled as any kind of image on the page, and manipulated by normal Javascript functions.
The set-IP will not come with any software applications pre-installed (or even commands
on the remote to go back or refresh the screen), so the very first application you need to
create is an electronic programme guide (EPG) to navigate around your service and
watch video streams.

When mocking up screens in Photoshop, it is important to know that a standard definition
PAL TV screen is 720 pixels wide by 576 pixels wide, before the so-called “safe area” is
taken into account. Colour is considerably more primitive and much more sensitive to
variance than on a desktop browser. The only input device available is a remote control
with key codes similar to a desktop keyboard.

Using HTML for menu and screen displays means content can be dynamically generated
using a server-side process just like any web page. The TV screen displays whatever you
send it, meaning you can integrate any type of web-based system into your new IPTV
network, such as the Asterisk VoIP PBX, the Jabber IM server, multiplayer game servers,
your own web application or an external XML API.
7. Showtime!
Once you have your network set up, its up to you to get creating menus and screens, and
adding video content onto your video server that can be played back through the TV. The
production procedure is exactly the same as it is for a website, only with TV-specific
functionality and usability issues. Over a few days or weeks, you suddenly have an entire
TV network to yourself that you can do anything to, just as when you have your own
website that you can do anything with.

Once you're happy with what you've put together, its time to sit down the boss, colleague,
wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or fellow interested nerd and beam with pride as you press
buttons on that remote and surf around.

Digital TX is now offering a great value one-day workshop course on IPTV and
Video On-Demand (VoD) specifically for web and media professionals. It can
help you get up to speed on the latest technologies, content deals, operators and
applications across the world, and offer immense value in identifying both new
opportunities and threats for your business and personal career.

If you would like more information, call Alex on 07986 37317, email or visit Readers who
quote TVON2006 will receive a 10% discount on the course fees.

About Digital TX Limited
Formed in early 2004, privately owned and based in London (UK), Digital TX
Limited is IPTV/VoD consultants for interactive digital television and broadband
media. Some of the keywords you might associate with us are IPTV, Video On-
Demand, Triple Play, Broadband Entertainment, Video Over IP, Interactive
TV, Network Video Gaming and Telco TV.