Joost is a web-based TV service from the makers of Skype and Kazaa - and it's free.
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.
We recently tested the beta version of Joost and came away with a mixed opinion. We liked the look and feel of Joost, 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 will 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 Joost video comes from large content owners such as Viacom and Warner Brothers TV Group. Other Joost sources are smaller, web-only producers such as 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 we exhausted all Joost's seven Ren and Stimpy episodes and 10 National Geographic specials, there wasn't a lot on Joost we wanted to watch.
The biggest challenge Joost faces is picture quality. Joost terms its video "broadcast quality" but at best it approximates a satellite 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.
There's not yet enough content, and the picture quality needs improving, but Joost has the potential to be a great way to view TV online. And given the success of Skype, we're willing to be Joost makes it.