Browse Definitions:

TV operating system

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A TV operating system (TV OS) is the bootable software in smart TVs and set top boxes that makes it possible for a user to access and control advanced features and connected devices. 

As in a personal computer, there is a graphical user interface (GUI) for interaction in a TV OS. Essentially, smart TVs are Internet-connected entertainment-specialized computers that can connect to many devices wirelessly.

TV operating systems allow a user to browse not just channels on satellite or cable TV but also on demand video services. The systems also access pictures, music or video content on connected storage devices or streamed.

TV OSes use apps to connect to websites like Youtube, Netflix, Hulu or Vimeo. Web browsers, which are generally included, can access social sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as other types of web 2.0 sites.  Users can pair a wireless keyboard, smartphone or tablet PC for input, making the TV almost as user-friendly as a PC for web browsing.

Examples of TV operating systems include LG’s webOS,  XBMC’s Boxee, Google TV, Yahoo! Connected TV, MeeGO (Linux Foundation, AMD, Intel), Microsoft Mediaroom, Opera software’s Opera TV, Ubuntu TV,  Rayv, TVBLOB and wise TIVI.

TV operating systems can be open or closed source. Some were repurposed OSes originally designed for other devices. Just as in a standard computer, an OS is what bridges the gap between capabilities and usability, which makes a TV operating system a deciding factor of how good a smart TV is.

As in any operating system, there can be security vulnerabilities in a TV OS.  At the 2013 Black Hat convention, SeungJin "Beist" Lee showed attendees the possibilities of a new sort of surveillance: how cameras and microphones on smart TVs can be turned into state-of-the-art snooping devices by malicious hackers.


This was last updated in August 2013

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