Joost Review

There’s been a bit of a fuss over Joost recently. The reason? Well they’ve done something many people have said should have been done. They’ve given us TV over the Internet. So is this the start of something big, or just a toy? I’ve been playing around with it for a few days with the aim of finding out.

So what is Joost?Joost Logo Essentially, it’s a TV set top box that lives in your computer. It does all the things you expect a set top box to do, basically provide you with TV. And this set top box analogy continues when you fire up the application. It immediately switches to full screen mode, which removes you from your computer and places you on your sofa watching TV. It doesn’t really feel like your watching TV on your computer. In the background, the TV signal is being streamed along your broadband connection using a new compression technology, which allows for decent quality (more on quality later) full screen video.

So what do you get? Well, TV. This varies from region to region. I’m in the UK, so your channel list will no doubt differ from mine.List of channels in Joost Essentially, I got a fairly mixed bag. There’s a channel that shows re-run segments from Fifth Gear, a channel that shows boxing, football (soccer), music gigs, a sci-fi channel, a documentary channel and a handfull of others. To see what’s on in your region, have a look at the What’s on guide. The quality of programming varies greately across the channels. Theres certainly enough on there for me to at least spend some time investigating what’s available.

One of the interesting twists Joost pus on the whole TV thing is the ability choose what you watch. And I don’t just mean channel surfing. When viewing the content on a channel, you can browse all the content available on that channel and select any show to watch, instantly. Joost Channel CatalogueThis is where Joost’s streaming technology really comes into its own. Usually, when watching video content online the video is constantly downloading. It will attempt to fetch the content as far into the future as possible. For this to work, the application you’re using to watch the content has to know what is expected to come next so it can download it. With Joost’s feature allowing you to chop and change what you’re watching, this becomes far more difficult. Even with this limitation, the video is actually fairly smooth. I did experience a few hiccups here and there, typically the video would just pause for a second or so and then resume. This isn’t a huge problem and would only happen once every five minutes or so. I would image that if Joost takes off in a big way their resources would improve to the point of eliminating this as an issue.

Something important to note at this point is that Joost is completely free. There are, at the moment, no fees. Joost is entirely advertising funded and these advertisements vary in size and intrusiveness. Joost InterfaceDon’t get me wrong, I’m happy to watch adverts in return for good, free content. I’m just wary of Joost making some bad decisions when it comes to advertisements. At the moment, adverts are restricted to full screen adverts that run between programs and small adverts that appear in one of the corners of the screen. There certainly seems to be a theme to each channel, for example the Fifth Gear channel was constantly running Opel (Vauxhall/GM) adverts. At the moment, they aren’t too intrusive but as I said, its a fine line. Incidentally, my concerns are based on the fact that streaming ans storing this amount of data isn’t cheap, and the bills have to be paid.

I think this will be the part alot of you are interested in, the quality. Well, you can judge for yourself, there are screenshots dotted around this page which show off Joost in all its quality. They are full screen grabs from my MacBook 13 inch. As you can see, it’s not exactly HD. What it is, is acceptable. Movement is handled admirably, there are some artefacts on screen during fast movement but thankfully aren’ really noticeable unless your looking for them. Joost ScreenOverall, there’s a YouTube feel to it all, theres a heavy level of compression going on and you can tell at times. At times, this ruins the experience and reminds you that the show you’re watching is on your computer, and not on the TV over conventional means. The other thing that removes you from the sofa & tv experience is the interface. It’s heavily mouse driven, and wouldn’t work with a conventional remote control. Its pretty, I’ll give it that, but as far as usability goes, there’s some way to go. I found it difficult to find options at times, and for some reason they use a strange circle type symbol to close windows. There’s also some features in there that can’t quite fathom out. I simply don’t know how to do certain things. A heavy streamlining of the interface is needed, with a focus on usability over prettiness. I can understand why they’ve taken the approach they have, an interface that looks the way Joost’s currently does is very good at drawing interest, what it’s not good at is keeping users and showing off all the features.

Overall, I think Joost is an interesting idea. At the moment its passable and certainly holds a great deal of potential. There are a few improvements that would help greately, such as streamlining the interface and ironing out the streaming. I’d also like to see some Apple Remote integration, that would certainly be a winner for me. Personally, I’d also like to see some more mainstream shows appearing. I’ve heard there is a good selection in the US, unfortunately, us Brits aren’t that lucky. Its obvious that some of the films were made in the Eighties and hadn’t had a great deal spent on them. The real future for Joost is surely in the replay market. If you miss a show on the TV, then you could go on Joost and watch it when you get a chance. This is certainly feasible should they gain a sufficient audience. Remember, the more viewers, the larger advertising revenue, the better programs.

Joost is currently in Beta and is available for Windows and Mac operating systems. The pictures and experience above is taken from the Mac Client running on a MacBook. If you’d like to get in to the Joost Beta, have a look here.