HuffPost Live’s new iPad app could be a second screen breakthrough

The Huffington Post (s aol) launched an iPad app Thursday that may one day pave the way for tablets to dethrone TV as king of our living rooms. The app, called HuffPost Live, offers a strong mix of entertainment and social interaction and, most importantly, can throw itself onto a TV screen.

To provide some background context, recall the popular news site launched an online TV network in August that streams 12 hours of live footage a day from New York and L.A. It’s a big investment, but the company is hoping its hyper-engaged user community will follow the brand into the video space, and that all that footage will produce buckets of viral content clips to spray across HuffPo and AOL web sites.

So what is the significance of the iPad app in all this? At first glance, not much. The app is simply another way for a user to watch the live stream — which features both ordinary people and celebrity guests like Bill Maher — while reading and adding comments, and sharing shows to Twitter or Facebook. Here are a couple of screenshots that show how comments can appear either stacked or tiled:

On its own, the HuffPo Live app is not extraordinary. Where it could be a real game changer, however, is the fact that the app can be slung onto a TV set using Apple (s aapl) TV. This means that Huffington Post has a chance to control not just a living room’s second screens but also the primary one as well.

In practice, this could occur if groups of friends watch the presidential elections on HuffPo Live and share comments in real time via their iPad — comments that would appear on their TV. If this comes to pass, HuffPo Live will have created what amounts to a walled garden extraordinaire in living rooms across the land.

But could HuffPo actually pull this off? In the short term, the answer is no, as the commenting system is too rudimentary. It allows users to like or flag a given comment but does not let users create a limited community like the ones they know on Facebook or Twitter. A company spokesperson says improved commenting features are coming soon (a Reddit-style up-or-down voting system might be one idea).

Meanwhile, bandwidth will provide another obstacle to HuffPo Live as most houses don’t have the capacity to enjoy an uninterrupted live stream on several devices at once. (Although, as Om’s recent account shows, things are improving quickly).

Still, the future prospects of a living room with a single media source dominating all devices is intriguing from both a user and marketing perspective. Will we one day see other content makers like the NFL or BuzzFeed try to do the same thing?