WARNING: techie posting: I finally got myself an invitation to be an “official beta tester” (yeah right) of a new piece of Internet-ware called Joost. From the people who brought us Skype. Its overall aim is to take “all the magical bits of television, the even better bits from the Internet, and mixes them together so that you can watch what you want, when you want in full screen high-quality proper TV”. Watch the official promotional video here.

Here is a screen capture of how it looks on the computer screen:

Joost. Beta-stage Internet & TV mashup with community-like features.
(This is Priyanka Chopra in a song from the film Don in an Indian music-video channel on Joost)

I must say that the user interface is quite beautiful and very simple to use. It’s starts in full-screen mode and I was quite amazed at the quality of the picture in most cases, although you can spot the compression artefacts sometimes. You can browse through channels and also browse through what’s on in a very simple to use on-screen display which is sumperimposed over what you happen to be watching at the time. You can also “search” the programme listings. The channels are currently a bit obscure, although there are some familiar names amongst them. And then the programmes within the channels themselves are also quite obscure, but nevertheless of reasonable to good viewing quality. For example there appear to be some independently-produced Sci-Fi shows that probably don’t get much “real TV” airtime, and some live London rock/pop concert footage that were probably made for Internet viewing. There is no timed schedule as such; instead the programmes just carousel through the channel you select. All in all, it’s a very well executed concept and as the channel and content lineup improve over time I think it could be something very significant.

However. BUT.

Yes, however, but …. unlike Internet radio stations which you can happily have on in the background whilst you are using your computer to work or perform other tasks, Joost is TV, and much of the content requires “user engagement”. Which means you have to concentrate on the show in order to enjoy it. Now I don’t know about you but sitting on my swivel-chair and staring at my laptop screen on a desk in the corner of my bedroom is not exactly my idea of watching TV. There’s a nice sofa and larger TV screen and surround sound downstairs for easy viewing. Also, there’s a portable TV in the kitchen that gets used for 90% of the viewing in our house, because the kitchen is where most of our time is spent. I can’t see myself taking my laptop into the kitchen to watch Joost instead.

Also, I did some technical analysis of the effects that Joost was having on my laptop computer and broadband Internet connection. Specifically I wanted to understand why my laptop fan was kicking in. The fan comes on when the processor starts to run a little hot. So I went into Windows Task Manager to see how much of my laptop’s CPU Joost was consuming. The Task manager also allows you to get a view of how much instantaneous bandwidth is being consumed on your broadband connection.

Now, my laptop is not a wimpy one by any means. It’s a top of the range Toshiba Tecra with Intel core duo processors and 1 gig memory. And for these performance tests I used a fixed 10Mbps Ethernet connection against my 8Meg broadband link to the Internet. Couple of screenshots below.

Network and CPU performance running Joost on my laptop

As you can see, Joost was taking about 25-30% of my CPU power and an average of around 6% of my broadband capacity, peaking up to around 25% on some occassions. The net effect of the CPU impact was the fan in my laptop was switching on and making a noise and the gadgets on my desk were getting hot as a result of the hot air being blown onto them. So I had to open the window to get some cool air to circulate the room. And between 6% to 25% of the broadband capacity might not sound a great deal, but when you translate this into megabits per second, 6% is around 600kbps which is what you would expect in order to account for the decent video quality you’re getting with Joost. (In fact it’s quite remarkable that it’s only around 600kbps that delivers such good full-screen viewing quality!) However, even at 600kbps – that’s 73 kilobytes per second, which is about 130 megabytes per half hour viewing. Nine such viewings will take you to one gigabyte. People on a limited data transfer broadband package better be aware of this. For example here in the UK, Sky’s free broadband package has a monthly data transfer limit of 2 gigs. That will get used up in less than 9 hours of Joost viewing.

All things said, Joost is one to watch. (No pun intended.)

And a Happy Easter to all those celebrating.

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