Technology

How to Get the Most of TV at Sea

5 March 2021By Barry Lawrence-Panter
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Written by

Barry Lawrence-Panter

Barry Lawrence-Panter is the technical sales director for Marine VSAT, which offers low commitment, high-quality Global VSAT Service, and impartial technical advice. www.marinevsat.net

For more than 40 years, vessels have been equipped with stabilized satellite antennas for satellite TV reception — and little has changed. Analog TV moved to digital in 1998, demanding a new generation of stabilized antennas with increased accuracy. Since then, access to thousands of channels has been the norm at sea. All the while, many of the broadcast companies are becoming wise and increasing subscription charges for yachts.

Thanks to satellite tech advancements, the cost of Internet at sea has reduced, giving dynamic access to a more cost-effective bandwidth. This opens the opportunity for streaming IPTV to vessels, which, despite being around since 2002, wasn’t used at sea until much later due to the unaffordable demand on Internet access.

With typical HD TV quality (1080p) requiring 6 mbps — and the higher quality 4K requiring 24 mbps — it would previously render these services inaccessible to all but the most prestigious yachts. With today’s leading tech with some providers, these streams can be “compressed,” reducing the bit rates by as much as half.

Thanks to satellite tech advancements, the cost of Internet at sea has reduced, giving dynamic access to a more cost-effective bandwidth. 

This evolution has in turn set IPTV at sea as a growing trend. That age-old problem of having a satellite TV antenna on port and satellite Internet antenna on starboard — and both experiencing blockage from the mast — can now be overcome by fitting dual VSAT antenna and streaming IPTV.

Now with technical problems resolved, IPTV also has the benefit of access to a far wider range of TV program languages — more charter guests can watch TV programs in their native language now. IPTV is accessible all over the world and despite various IPTV broadcasters’ attempts to block foreign users, work-arounds such as alternate IP addresses and VPN solutions are widely available to bypass international restrictions.

The next technical challenge was the distribution of IPTV throughout the vessel. It isn’t uncommon for an average-sized yacht to house as many as 20 TV screens. Since the former SAT TV distribution system is now rendered useless, taking this single IPTV channel and displaying on multiple TV screens is important. The simplest route to move over to High Definition Multi Imaging (HDMI) distribution is to take one AV source and distribute between the TV screens as required. When multiple IPTV streams are required simultaneously, the distribution remains HDMI, but the bandwidth cost will increase respectively with each stream.

For instance, 5x IPTV programs, each running at 1080p requiring around 6 mbps, each demands a total of around 30 mbps. Though a nice solution, it still comes with significant demand and Internet cost. As time goes on, compression hardware will reduce the load (and Internet requirement). When combined with the falling cost of Internet via satellite, we can expect it to become the new standard over the next decade.

This column is taken from the March 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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