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I was going to keep this for an opportune moment, in synch with my own posting trends and the different emphasis I was trying to carry off on different days, but since Dom has recommended Joost to me as an entertainment source, I thought I would give him the benefit of my opinion post haste.

Introductions

If like me you’ve never heard of Joost, a brief description might be in order to bring you up to speed. I needed one when Yusuf sent me the invite. I’ll let the creators speak for themselves so that I have an incontestable definition. From their FAQ:

Joost™ is a new way of watching TV on the internet, which uses new and established technologies to provide the best of both the internet and TV worlds. We’re in the process of making it as TV-like as we can, with programmes, channels and adverts. You can also see some things that we think will enhance the TV experience: searching for programmes and channels, for example, as well as social features like chat. There are many more new features to come!

A word about pedigree. Just in case you think Joost is a fly by night hack of a company, it’s been founded by the same people who bought us such great internet success stories such as Kazaa (before it became shite/legit) and Skype. If anyone has a chance to pull back corporate television from the yawning abyss it faces via the rise of p2p access, I’d wager they have to be the odds on favourite. Their technology has revolutionised every other industry they’ve dealt with so far, and I don’t see why they can’t do it to television.

A final word of warning. At the moment Joost is in an invite only Beta, and I don’t have any invites at the moment to hand out. Things might change dramatically before it moves into public release. One example is their new deal with Viacom, which should see a lot of Viacom’s content – channels such as MTV and Comedy Central – made available. That could be enough to get many more people interested and give the system critical mass.

Explanations

Now you might ask how in the hell that works. Either it’s based on the familiar streaming, with all the information just being sent at you, a higher resolution version of YouTube or it might be based on the more modern p2p streaming apps like Coolstreaming and TVAnts which take the idea of software like Bittorrent and use it to broadcast real time tv, usually so people can watch the football without paying the exorbitant rate that’s charged – if the game is available to view at all. Silly rules, in the UK at least, prevent broadcasts of live matches in the 3:00 PM kick off slot to protect live attendance at games, but of course broadcasters in Asia such as ESPN STAR are not subject to these rules and can show these afternoon kick offs. What follows is left as an exercise to the reader. I’ve digressed enough.

It turns out its an encrypted version of the second option, and this should allow them to legal content if they can guarantee that their scheme is good enough and people will be able to have access to their desired programming on demand without unduly aggravating the copyright owners cartel. Again the FAQ says:

Joost™ uses secure peer-to-peer technology to stream programmes to your computer. Unlike other TV and video-based web applications, it does not require users to download any files to their computers or browse through complicated websites.

Impressions

Now that the preliminaries done we can now get down to the serious business. It’s a reasonable download, clocking in at a very respectable 8MB, but in this era of broadband and, really you can’t be using Joost without it, that’s hardly a big barrier and you should find yourself with the installation file in no time. The installation is quick intuitive and doesn’t really offer many options, and those that are given are not complex. So a quick and easy install.

Which leads to my first gripe.

It automatically starts in full screen. Now while I understand as a TV program that it might be sensible, to maximize the useful screen real estate, it’s disconcerting the first time it happens [your screen just goes black] and you don’t really want to suddenly have your screen disappear.

There is an option on the start screen to switch to a smaller sized screen later on, and it’s one of the first things I did. I don’t like to have the screen full sized in one program and even when I watch TV I usually want to use my chat programs or surf the web as often a TV show isn’t as enthralling as its creators think it is.

The interface is otherwise great to use, and I like the way the controls just fade away if you don’t actually need them at that moment. They’re easy to use and intuitive, making it quite easy to flick channels and to cycle through the content that’s available, and there really is a lot of content for a service that very much is in the beta stages. Most of it is focused on music and documentaries at the moment, so not really my cup of tea., but there are a fair few out there who might well like that.

The image and sound quality is very much par for the course, equivalent to my experience using other less legal streaming TV programs and rather depressingly close in quality to the very paid for experience that I get from Now Broadband TV. Roughly speaking it’s equivalent to a standard definition TV signal, and while sometimes it can get slightly more grainy, on the whole the quality is stable and comparable.

Like all streaming TV it takes a little while to get started, as the software tries to make sure it’s got enough video on hand to play for at least a few second, but everyone is so used to Real Player and WMP buffering, that it’s pretty much par for the course. Sometimes it does have a tendency to start playing before it’s ready to go in which case you get an aggravating stop start experience.

There are also a whole plethora of side features, designed to generate the interactive side of the equation with channel information, show synopsis, ratings and a variety of other stuff, such as some extra plugins a notice board and all the other general crap that one now finds on every site that is out to generate a community. I’ve not really bothered to take a look at them in any depth to see if they’ve proved popular, but these are really always dependent on critical mass. If they can get enough people using the service, and the strong response to their beta would suggest that people are interested, they’re not going to have much difficulty with the Web 2.0 side of things.

Summations

Overall it’s a decent service, with some serious pedigree behind it, and therefore it actually has some chance of changing the way we deal with television forever. Naturally I’m going to expect much more commercialization to kick in to take the gloss of the dream. They’ve already agreed with Viacom to be running ads, so there goes one way to distinguish them from a vanilla TV network.

At the moment though, given what other p2p streaming apps have achieved, the real marker for Joost is legality rather then any amazing technical innovation or any radical new way of doing things that will make things fundamentally better. I’ve not seen enough evidence that they have anything radically new to offer, and so if they didn’t have the name, I think they’d very much be also rans.

But with their strong grasp of viral marketing, a very good technical grasp of computing and networks, as so amply demonstrated by their previous projects, and an area that most people agree needs wide reform to bring it into the 21st century, I wouldn’t write Joost off just yet. They’ve so often already changed the way we use the Internet.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m surprised you have managed to obtain an invite, and even more surprised you could take screenshots of the TV programs. I wonder if this means Joost is less secure than they claimed…

    Anyway thanks for doing the review. I only heard about Joost from other podcasts and would otherwise not pay much attention to it (my schedule is sufficiently filled up with local free-to-air TV). Let’s hope Joost will strive and give the incumbent players a little pressure.

    • mtalib
    • Posted March 14, 2007 at 6:17 pm
    • Permalink

    I lucked into the invite as once again Yusuf had a spare one and was kind enough to pass it on.

    And you’re right, you can’t take screenshots as the beta is subject to a non-disclosure agreement that restricts taking some screenshots, and so it’s difficult to know which ones are specifically excluded and which aren’t.

    I got around this by using their officially approved screenshots, but I could take my own screenies, and did in fact create my own set before deciding that it would be legally less dubious to use their provided media gear.

    I think the review itself is lukewarm enough to not worry about the bias in not selecting my own materials to illustrate my points.


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