Joost: TV 2.0

One of the main gripes us expats in China have is the lack of decent TV. With most homes sporting nothing but standard cable, CCTV9 is about the only offering unless you’re fluent in Mandarin, and then, you’re still limited to the plethora of Chinese soaps that seem to do little but rehash classic Chinese storylines in new, completely unoriginal ways.

As such, in my time in China I’ve tested out pretty much every new site that claims to be offering streaming TV over the Internet. I’m always hopeful that they’ll have a bunch of cool shows, stations I’m familiar with, fast streaming video, etc… and, without exception, I’ve always been left wanting.

Joost™ the best of tv and the internetHowever, an e-mail invite to beta test Joost from my buddy Steven might be the channel-surfing solution I’ve been looking for. Created by the peeps that brought us that other expat wonder, Skype, Joost displays some real potential.

Channel-wise, they’ve a quickly expanding portfolio that includes some greats like MTV, Reuters, Comedy Central, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, PokerHeaven TV, and a big bonus for Canucks abroad – MuchMusic. Some channels are limited by geography (“Ren and Stimpy” is US only, for example), but overall there’s no shortage of things to watch. Full channel list.

joost01.jpgEverything is on-demand as well, so you don’t have to wake up at 3 a.m. to catch that show that plays in the afternoon in Eastern Standard Time. You just click the show you want to watch, and it goes. Adding to this, Joost has fully integrated Web 2.0 conventions such as commenting on shows, chatting with other watchers of the show, etc. A great place to post spoilers, to be sure.

The big concern I have is speed, and I’m not 100% satisfied, but it’s better than any other I’ve seen. Last night when I first gave this a go, it was reasonably fast with virtually no lag. However, this morning’s very quick check had it a bit choppy (it may have smoothed out if I gave it a chance). The bonus is though, when it flows, it flows nice. Though not HD, when you watch it in full-screen mode, slightly pixilated, but completely watchable.

The way I understand it, Joost uses torrent-like P2P technology that gets you downloading the content first from their servers and then punts you off into the community of other watchers, where you leech from them, while seeding for others.

joost02.jpgAll of this requires you have some newish system requirements. You’ll need a P4 processor, about 500 MB of RAM, a reasonable video card (32 MB+), a solid broadband connection (hit or miss here in the PRC), and around 300+ MB of free disk space for the cache (the actual program is only a 10 MB download that stretches out to 30 MB or so).

One other thing you’ll need to have is a high monthly transfer rate allowance with your ISP. I am not 100% sure about the details of this here in China, but imagine it’s not much of a problem as people are endlessly downloading movies here and not having problems. I think it’s about 300 MB of transfer for an hour’s worth of viewing, which over the month could add up if you have such caps (does anyone have these anymore?).

As Joost is still in beta mode, you need to be invited by a friend to check it out – but as invites are unlimited, I’m happy to give anyone an invite that e-mails me about it (click the contact button at the top of this blog).

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