What Is IPTV?
We answer your questions about internet protocol television (IPTV)—including which types of IPTV are legal and which might be bad news.
You may have heard tales of IPTV (internet protocol TV), a magical way to have every TV show and movie at your fingertips—and possibly even for free. IPTV is real, but you should know a few things about it before you try to catch that golden TV goose. Read on for answers to popular questions about IPTV.
(Photo: Andres Jasso on Unsplash. Cropping and text by CableTV.com)
What Is IPTV?
Internet protocol TV (IPTV) is TV delivered via the internet, and it comes in three flavors: video-on-demand IPTV, live TV streaming IPTV, and time-shifted IPTV.
Video-on-demand (VOD) IPTV
Video-on-demand IPTV has three subtypes:
- Transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) is for renting or buying digital movies and shows through TVOD retailers like Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Redbox, and VUDU.
- Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) is where you pay a monthly fee to access a library of movies and shows. Popular SVOD IPTV services include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Paramount+.
- Advertising video-on-demand (AVOD) or free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services have no monthly fee, but unskippable ads. Think Sling Freestream, Tubi, and Pluto TV.
Live TV streaming IPTV
Like SVOD and AVOD, some live TV streaming services involve subscriptions, and others are free to watch but have unskippable ads. The difference is that the main feature of this IPTV type isn’t a content library—it’s a lineup of live, linear TV channels.
Some of these services, like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV, have both live TV and a deep on-demand library. You might hear these services described as hybrid IPTV.
Some services, like Hulu, Paramount+, or Peacock, have only the last five episodes of a currently airing series. That’s called time-shifted IPTV. It means you can watch episodes later than the usual time slot—but not forever—making it easier to stay caught up on TV series.
Is IPTV the same as OTT?
IPTV is similar to, but not the same as, over-the-top TV (OTT).
OTT streams content to an app over a public, unmanaged internet connection and frequently involves SVOD services both live (YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV) and on-demand (Netflix or Paramount+), or AVOD/FAST services (Sling Freestream or Tubi). OTT services beat IPTV in ease of installation, device compatibility, price, and accessibility.
IPTV streams content over a private, managed, remote server and doesn’t use as much of your bandwidth as OTT. These services are tricky to install and often require a special IPTV box and a router, but they have better content quality and delivery.
How do I get IPTV?
You probably already have IPTV. How can you tell? Take our quiz!
- Do you watch YouTube?
- Do you subscribe to a live TV or on-demand streaming service like Hulu + Live TV or Netflix?
- Do you use an AVOD streaming service like Tubi or Pluto TV?
- Do you rent or buy digital movies and shows?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you have (or have used) legal IPTV. We will discuss that more in the next section.
To get potentially illegal IPTV, you sign up online—typically on a questionable site. Depending on the IPTV service, you may or may not have a monthly payment, and you’ll have to buy an IPTV box. We don’t recommend these services, hence the lack of specifics.
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Is IPTV legal?
IPTV is legal if the IPTV service licenses the content fair and square—that’s a critical difference between the major IPTV (streaming TV) services and the questionable ones.
How do I know if an IPTV service is sketchy?
You may come across IPTV services that offer 15,000–20,000 channels and a ridiculously comprehensive on-demand library—including even first-run movies—for free or cheap. These services are probably (read: totally) illegal, so we don’t recommend using them.
Here’s how to identify these services so that you can avoid trouble.
IPTV red flags
- The price is ridiculously affordable.
- The channel count and library size are exponentially higher than those of legit streaming services. No legal IPTV service can afford the licensing fees for so much content.
- The service’s website has many spelling and grammar mistakes. A legit site will take the time to proofread copy.
Granted, some of these services work, and the site operators are more likely than you to get nailed for piracy—but it’s not worth it. Also, we wouldn’t trust a sketchy IPTV site with our credit card information.
That said, whether or not you use these IPTV services is your decision.
Is Kodi legal?
Kodi is a legal IPTV service—to a point. Kodi is a free, open-source app, so it can have illegal applications. Let’s talk about the legal stuff first.
Kodi lets you manage your digital media collection in one location, much (but not exactly) like a Plex media server. Suppose you have an epic collection of movies and music and take so many cat pictures. In that case, Kodi is a fantastic way to organize, sort, track, and, most importantly, enjoy your files in an immensely customizable user interface powered by Kodi add-ons.
Add-ons allow you to customize Kodi with:
- Album and movie scrapers for cover art, lyrics, movie/show details, track listings, and more.
- Audio and video decoders for file compatibility
- DVR functionality (OTA antenna required)
- Games and game controllers
- Skins for visual customization
With many official add-ons available, the Kodi experience is already fun and useful—and it’s compatible with popular streaming devices like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, NVIDIA SHIELD TV Pro, and the Roku Ultra.
Remember, though, that Kodi is open-source software. Anyone can create Kodi add-ons, including potentially illegal ones that give you access to those ridiculously huge channel lineups and (we hear) virtually any movie, even ones still in theaters. Unlimited free TV and movies—it’s a couch creature’s dream and, therefore, alluring. Is it worth the headache, though?
Should I use shady IPTV services?
I know people who use what we’ll call “dark Kodi” with a VPN and report only minimal problems. I still wouldn’t mess with them. But ultimately, only you can decide if using dark Kodi or other shady IPTV services is worth the risk of breaking the law, falling for a scam, downloading malicious software, or violating your internet service provider’s terms of service.