At a Glance
The latest creation of Kazaa and Skype inventors Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, Joost offers you a free, ad-supported, "TV-like" experience at your PC screen--along with some cool interactive tools to help you find new things to watch.
I recently tested the beta version of the service and came away with a mixed opinion: I liked the look and feel of the site, but found the picture quality and the video selection somewhat lacking.
Like Skype, Joost has a simple, attractive interface, so you can locate and navigate to shows in just a few clicks. The My Joost area lets you invite friends to watch specific shows while you do; it has a simple IM tool for chatting as you watch. Another widget enables you to use a five-star system to rate the shows you've watched.
Joost's search box, which appears at the bottom of the screen when you move your mouse, returns relevant results--when the keyword matches Joost content. For example, the keyword 'nature' yielded a list of National Geographic specials, but a search on 'Burt Reynolds' came up empty (Joost doesn't carry Hooper yet).
And that's a big issue: Joost's community and content discovery tools become fun and useful only if you have plenty of content to search through and chat about. Joost isn't there yet.
Joost hosts roughly 160 hours of professional-grade (that is, not user-generated) video from around 100 content providers worldwide. Some of the video comes from large content owners like Viacom and Warner Brothers TV Group; other sources are smaller, Web-only producers like Heavy.com and Lime.
Unfortunately, much of the video being provided to Joost by the big media companies is far from prime-time stuff. From Viacom's Comedy Central network we get a sitcom called Stella, rather than, say, The Daily Show. After I exhausted all seven Ren and Stimpy episodes and all ten National Geographic specials, there wasn't a lot I wanted to watch.
The biggest challenge Joost faces is picture quality. Joost terms its video "broadcast quality," but at best it approximates a cable TV show recorded on VHS tape about a decade ago. Too often Joost's video becomes jittery and pixelated, and sometimes it cuts out completely, leaving you to stare at a black screen with an error message embedded in the middle. Joost says it's working to fix these problems.
But just as with other inventions of Zennstrom and Friis, we're willing to forgive some of Joost's shortcomings because, well, it's free.