Most people didn’t notice when the TV they were watching went from analog to digital. It didn’t matter that the pictures they saw were now reproduced from bits rather than waves. HD, DVR, searchable guides, VOD, and even call waiting just started to filter in. These services and features felt like regulated and standardized additions, given their primitive user interfaces and interaction models, which were most often due to legacy design and hardware constraints. Paid television providers, whether telephone, dish, or cable companies, dedicated portions of their managed data network’s capacity to the purpose of streaming video.

TV had made its first steps toward becoming an application. Users (not viewers) now power up their streaming video device and search a rich guide or catalog of television networks that make digital content available to television service providers. They interact with the guide app, the DVR app, the On Demand app, or the Marketplace app to choose which video stream that the TV device decodes.

OTT (over the top) devices such as Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, Vizio VIA TVs and tablets, Roku set-top boxes, Google TV, Apple TV, and a range of similar devices from Sony, Panasonic, LG, Sharp, and so on, offer a similar experience using the other part of your “network” service provider’s dedicated bandwidth.

Content coming from this portion of the available digital bandwidth is most often sourced outside of the provider’s network on the Internet, so quality of service issues can easily arise. It’s in the best interest of the provider to make sure they are not the one causing any service issues, so in the end, service issues with OTT content are unusual.

OTT devices like the ones noted above are a new class of open video streaming devices, which offer a host of software application services such as Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, Amazon, and Cinema Now. These apps offer their own catalogs of available content,

often in a more intuitive and rich user interface environment. Wireless devices like phones and tablets are even more capable and feature-rich, with excellent hardware user interface controls, allowing a much better browsing, scheduling, purchasing, and interaction experience. The same software applications are available for all leading mobile platforms. But in the end, users are still choosing a video stream for devices to decode and display.

What you may not know is that ALL of these devices are really just an application suite. Video playback is the video playback app. The entire TV experience is really just a combination of various apps on these specialized or not-so-specialized media devices. When you are watching TV, the “computer” that is displaying the content is doing all sorts of things. And what is even less understood is that, given the “appness” of TV, the things this computer can be doing are endless.

Folks are still trying to figure out the best purpose for this unlimited capability. Some want to augment, interrupt, or distract your viewing with other content, whether supportive or parasitic. Some want to learn what people are watching and for how long, along with the watcher’s sex and age. Some want to monitor QOS (quality of service) so they can always bring you the best picture at any given time.

Nonetheless TV is an app. It is alive and aware. It is looking out for you. It is capable at any time of being more than just a video stream. It knows exactly what scene of a show is on and can offer contextual entertainment, information, advertising, or incentives. It knows this not just on a channel-by-channel basis, but from all the viewing you do from the time you plug in your device until you unplug it.