We spent ten hours reviewing Joost--not because the setup was challenging or because the software was difficult to use (both were a breeze and took less than three minutes). But the service was so addicting, we couldn't pull ourselves away from the interactive, peer-to-peer television platform. And with more than 150 channels--and fresh content being added daily--can you blame us? The interactive experience and surprisingly high quality hooked us, but that doesn't mean we didn't find ourselves frustrated and ready to go rent some DVDs at times. Joost is going to have to work out some kinks before it's ready to win over mainstream television watchers.
Sleek UI You Can Tweak
Joost is invitation-only at this stage, which means you'll need to be invited by another Joost user. (Fortunately for you, we've got your free invite right here.) Once we received our invite, the installation couldn't be any simpler. From the Joost Web site, we downloaded the program and agreed to the terms and conditions. When you launch the program you have to fill out a user profile; we weren't happy that we couldn't avoid filling in our sex and birth date.
Once installed, Joost launches in full-screen mode, and the entry page displays swirling crystal bars in vibrant magenta, blue, and green. After the introduction, the home screen appears with controls in a diamond shape. The black center screen displays Joost's colorful icon and is the central viewing area. The controls are found on the bottom of the screen in a long box containing four rows of icons, all of which offer explanations when you mouse over them. The top row has all the core controls, including Volume, Play, and Fast-forward buttons.
Right below that is a row that lets you flip through each of the channels without actually having to jump to them; you scroll through the channels with the right vertical arrows. You can also flip through the programs on the channel bar with the horizontal arrows. If you want to play what appears in the screen, just hit the Play button on that row. The bottom row offers a search box for finding programs without the need for scrolling. To the left of the search field is a channel catalog that displays all the channels with visual programming listings.
The My Joost icon is a guide to personalizing your Joost-watching experience. Clicking on this will bring you to the widgets page, which lets you chat and add RSS feeds (among other items) to your viewer. Above that lies a circular-shaped logo of whatever channel you're watching. This button lets you access the channel's interactive features, though we couldn't find any as of yet. The My Channels button brings up a list of your saved channels.
The Joost interface is chock-full of controls and buttons and was overwhelming at first. We got comfortable with the buttons and widgets within minutes, though we still found ourselves wishing for a more central menu. Nevertheless, the sleek and attractive GUI offers a glimpse of what the future of television holds.
Crisp Playback, Content Needs Work
Although finding a specific video is a bit challenging, we were impressed by the range of content. From MTV's Laguna Beach to recent CNN news segments, you'll find a handful of mainstream content; however, it's just not all there yet. Rather than finding episodes on South Park we were stuck with older Comedy Central shows like Stella and Strangers with Candy. There's a ton of niche programming, however, with everything from Ron Jeremy's TechShow to channels devoted to cartoons, boxing, and fighting sports. Joost's content, while perhaps not compelling to the average TV watcher, had us hooked within minutes (admittedly to reruns of Who's The Boss on the FunnyBone channel).
As for the quality, it was so good we forgot the videos were being streamed. All the content we viewed looked crisp and clear, with very little distortion. However, the viewing experience varied based on the speed of our Internet connection. We found that using Wi-Fi made content take longer to load and caused frequent pauses during video playback. But when we switched over to a hardwired broadband connection, we encountered few pauses.
Regardless of which connection we used, a selected program sometimes took several minutes to appear, as the screen would get stuck on the Coming Next screen for 60 to 80 seconds. This delay put a bit of a damper on the on-demand experience. When we tried to fast-forward with the scroll bar, jumping to the directed spot took more than half a minute.
No discussion of Joost's video watching experience would be complete without a look at the company's advertising integration. To get free content on your PC, you have to endure some relatively painless advertisements. While watching Laguna Beach, we counted three short video ads, which is about 90 percent less than you'd find if you were watching the show on MTV. Other programs have small widget advertisements that appear on screen and are moveable.
Made for Multitasking
While Joost's video quality sets it apart from the other Internet video providers, the interactive extras really make this the juncture of Internet and television. Clicking on My Joost brings up a list of widgets that you can add to your Joost screen. Our favorite is the ability to log into instant-messaging programs like Google Talk and Jabber.
Once you log in, your chat windows and buddy list appear on your main page transparently, so you can keep on watching. We chatted with several friends during testing and found the experience so much better than chatting with a boring desktop in the background. You can also join channel chats and talk to others who are watching the same show as you. We were also impressed by the integrated RSS feed that lets you add any feed to your Joost screen, so you can stay on top of the news while watching reruns of Charlie's Angels.
Joost has us addicted because of its sleek interface and top-notch video quality, but you'll need a pretty fast broadband connection to be to keep it running smoothly. If you're the kind of person who needs to call your best friend during the commercials of Grey's Anatomy to discuss Izzy and George, or you're just big on multitasking and love TV, this service is definitely one to watch.
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