We were invited to participate in the Beta testing of Joost, and I set out to visit the site and download the program. The program downloaded flawlessly, and startup was abundantly simple. The program is only a 12 MB download, but requires 500 MB of disk space to use as a cache. My dinosaur system was on the fringes of the system requirements in regard to processor speed, which turned out to be a slight problem that I will get to later. Starting the user interface almost immediately produced one of the coolest surfing videos I have seen in a long time. I must say, I was held spellbound for quite a few minutes.
The quality of video and sound at Joost is rather awe inspiring! The connection comes up full screen, and I scarcely noticed the UI until after the surfing stream ended. As with most new toys, we seldom read the directions and this makes any UI evoke a gasp, "Duh". However, like any 50,000 hour Internet veteran, I could figure it out - right? As it turned out, anyone could figure it out, as the interface utilizes subtle mouse-over prompts to direct the user through one of the sharpest set of controls I have ever seen.
As Paul Glazoski mentioned in one of his earlier posts, "Rather, it's the little things that make it shine brighter than the rest." Paul sure hit this one on the head, as this interface is exactly what many of us have suggested to other sites. The menu windows are transparent, with the softest impact on view-ability you can imagine. Whoever worked on this aspect of Joost is worth more money! The menus can be either dynamic or static, and the function inside the windows is as well thought out as the exterior. One almost has to get used to the controls being so clean and simple. You can view a much better example than mine of the combination of video and UI at Svetlana's earlier post.
How Does It Drive?
As I hinted to earlier, the full screen video and audio at Joost is fantastic. I use a Sony 19" LCD and the initial surfing video was like being there. Then I had a few problems, of course! The video began to skip a good bit, as did the sound. I suspected that the problem was my processor, so I put Joost on standby (which is a cool feature) and closed the few applications I had running. This seemed to help a little bit, but most of the rest of my tour was interrupted with spaces of skipping stream. I verified my CPU usage at MAXED OUT, and went about the business of finding similar problems from other testers. To my amazement, there really were not that many people with similar problems. The range of posts was very diverse, and most video aspects were related to ports, active-x controls, and the like. I am sure my difficulty was processor speed, as it is only 1.2 GHz, and not P4.
Is It Fully Loaded?
The site has almost all the options, but the 12 disc CD changer has only a few discs. Obviously, this Beta machine is not going to have this week's broadcast of "24", but I was extremely impressed with what is available at Joost. The list of available categories is really too long to list here, so I will simply tell you of the ones I could watch best. Fifth Gear is an automotive section where I viewed a great video on the new Porsche 911 Turbo. Hot and Wet is a section with hot stuff from the beach. There is a special broadcast of Paris Hilton that demonstrates a side of her personality we have not seen in her own section. The most unique and interesting streams currently are dealing with various topics from around the world. These video segments are of excellent content and quality, and the shorts are really captivating! These in particular, took on the flavor of National Geographic presentations, but with a more personable and original tone. This site can have anything the audio/video-file could ever want, but of course adding content will be up to so many factors.
Other features include: IM compatible with both Jabber and Gmail, notice board, news ticker news feed, Joost blog, chat channel with friends, rate it, and clock (which was cool). All these features came under the UI heading My Plug-Ins, with still more to come. All these features brought with them the same eclectic simplicity and function of the other tools. I can't emphasize enough to you that all these windows and tools are transparent. Every TV on the planet should have such a well thought out interface, seriously!
To be honest, I don't see but one. The video bugs and compatibility problems are not worked out. Really, this is a non issue given any Beta release, and most of the problems I saw posted were not so serious. Any video streaming or transfer problem seems acute when it is happening on your computer, but once they are worked out people soon forget. From my perspective, any Beta of this complexity that did not have a few problems would scare me! The only other negative aspect of my test session at Joost was my old favorite nemesis the advertisement!
No free site can exist for long without them, but couldn't someone come up with a better commercial? Well, believe it or not they did! The commercials at Joost are brilliant! In between segments, rather than a 30 second tirade about how great some hyped up product is, Joost commercials are about 3-5 seconds long. Someone at Joost fabricated a commercial that is almost startling at first. The screen changes to (for instance) Cingular, followed by a short comment with high impact imagery. It is a little difficult to describe, but these are not ordinary frames of video. I think the message is,"Hi, Look at this, got it? Thanks! Now on with the show!" Very high quality, simple messages say it all and let you enjoy the show.
This is a lot to take in all at once. I am way out on a limb here, especially given my distrust of hyped products over the years. What Joost has done here is phenomenal, but it may be the tip of the iceberg given upcoming releases by other companies. At the very least Joost represents what really smart people can come up with given the resources and imagination to do so. At the other end of the spectrum, this could very well be T.H.E. web 2.0 release of the new year. With interactive and community capabilities, combined with superior audiovisual output and content, Joost looks like they are going to deliver on the promise. The bottom line is I gotta get a better processor!
Below is a screen from inside Joost. Capturing a still frame was difficult, but note the relative clarity behind the transparent UI. These elements can be customized to suit the user. Most frames set to the corners and set to static are virtually unnoticeable.
Thanks to Phil Butler for this excellent review