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Summary:

Ever since we interviewed Janus Friis, the co-founder of Skype about The Venice Project, his latest start-up that plans to use peer-to-peer technology to disrupt the television industry, we have been intrigued and have been dying to get a look at the service. Even though they […]

Ever since we interviewed Janus Friis, the co-founder of Skype about The Venice Project, his latest start-up that plans to use peer-to-peer technology to disrupt the television industry, we have been intrigued and have been dying to get a look at the service.

theveniceproject.gifEven though they have launched a beta program, an invite to the service hasn’t been forthcoming. Like a lot of you who left a comment in response to a previous post, looking for an invite, we don’t have one either. But that didn’t stop us from trying to get a peek at the service, and now we have, thanks to some well-placed friends who were willing to share their exclusive access for exactly 30 minutes. What follows is a firsthand look at the Venice Project and what we found inside the most awaited new application on planet broadband.

venicesetup1.gifAfter you log into the service you are taken to a download page, where you can download the latest build. For now, The Venice Project works exclusively on Windows XP Service Pack 2 edition. It takes less than a minute to download on a decent cable or DSL connection, and the install is pretty straightforward.

venicesetup2.gifIn fact, I would venture to say that it is as simple to install the Venice Project software as Skype, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Janus’ obsession with usability. The installation consumes about 250 MB per hour, the company says, which makes it one of the true broadband applications. I wonder what the incumbent service providers will have to say about this! But that’s a topic of discussion for another day. Once you install, I recommend that you reboot, though the service doesn’t require you to do so.

Post reboot, you are good to go. Double click on the icon that sits on your desktop (or in the dock) and that’s it, you are taken to a start screen, which shows some of the default channel options, staff picks and all that beta stuff. I am going to let the screenshots speak for themselves, instead of trying to explain what it looks like and how it all works.

Let’s talk instead about the service in general. I had heard from a lot of people who were lukewarm on the offering and were not impressed by the photo quality. I am not sure what happened, but those problems have been fixed. The visuals on a Lenovo T60 with a 15.2-inch screen were stunning and crisp. The streams came through without a problem and there was very little jitter. Still, no point hooking it up to a big screen TV… just yet! There isn’t LIVE TV content on the service right now and most of what is there consists of meager offerings streaming off the Venice Project servers. So you can’t truly judge how good this service will be when it comes to “live” broadcasts just yet.

There was a noticeable lag in switching channels, or between different menu choices. But as I said, these will go away with time. Setting up “my channels” was fairly simple. You just double-click and keep adding channels (or programs) you want to watch. Removing them was equally simple. It is very “dummy proof” and they have done a good job of organizing the service in a way that you can visually navigate without reading a manual.

I also liked that there are a lot of social elements built into the service. There is a “plugins” feature but not much there except the chat. You can chat with your buddies, or you can set up a “program or channel specific” chat network. I am guessing this is where a lot of innovation is going to come.

So how does this stack-up against say a Skype or Kazaa, the two previous startups that were a Janus & Niklas co-production? I think from a disruptive standpoint, it is right up there with those two. Free Phone Calls, Free Music… Free Television… pretty easy to understand the unique selling proposition.

However, unlike Skype which had “forced viral distribution” built into its business model, this one needs content… a lot of quality content. Large media companies, globally, would like to get their pound of flesh from the Venice Project (now that the Skype boys are all rich, they can pay right!). The technology certainly works, and for content providers – say the Disney and Viacoms of the world – this is a pretty good thing. It frees them up from the carriage providers and gives them a global audience.

I saw some clips with ads embedded in them, and they worked just like plain old television. With a more directed audience, and targeted ad distribution platforms such as one from SpotRunner, can turn this into a win-win for everyone. More on this when we get our official invite.

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  1. Just a quick couple of notes on your otherwise rather complete story from a developer on The Venice Project.

    First, you don’t need to reboot after the install, you can just let TVP start up right after it’s installed. Great usability matters to us indeed and rebooting is not so nice.

    Also, even though there aren’t a lot of plug-ins available yet, there are two other plug-ins besides the chat ones. One offers ratings and another allows to add your favorite RSS feeds to a news ticker. Both plug-ins can be seen on one of the screenshots that we made publicly available.

    http://theveniceproject.com/screenshots/06myvenice.jpg

    Like you said, this is beta software, and we are working hard to make sure the product is as usable as can be while allowing very powerful interaction with your TV watching experience.

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  2. There is no need to reboot – it does not change the way the venice project works.

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  3. Well, let’s be honest here. It is not hard to get free television. Believe it or not, things like CSI and the NFL are actually being broadcast over the air! Then there is all the good stuff that is available illicitly over existing PTP, Usenet, and others. It may not be streaming, but who cares. I use my DVR to time shift the stuff I get from Comcast, so waiting for something to download at broadband speeds is not a big deal. Then there all the paid ways to get good content. So, the real issue is not about free or streaming, but about quality of content. Unless the stuff available on Venice is as good as what’s available via major licit and illicit sources, who cares what the picture quality is like?

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  4. Hi Om

    Do you think it is a good idea to offend against the policies? The beta home page cleared states you are not allowed to take screenshots of the shows itself.
    Quote: “With one major exception: screenshots of the UI. The problem is not so much the UI, that one is ours, but the TV content you will always see behind our interface. Which is not ours.”
    And tell me your username and we can chat via “chat” :)

    Regards
    Corsin

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  5. I just received my beta program membership a few days ago. I have not tested the service fully, but I am generally impressed.

    The installation was smooth (no reboot) and the image quality is very good. Additionally, I can really see the value of the social aspects of the service within the software. Also, the software was sophisticated, but not complex. I managed to watch a bit of a Lassie episode and still felt hip!

    All in all, a bit more refinement on the user experience (i.e. navigation) of the software/service along with more content makes this a very compelling offering.

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  6. I saw that same language on the beta page and have been hesitant to post screenshots. However, I saw one of the early beta testers actually published shots on his blog before the public beta went out. He indicated that certain content might be cleared for shots. I’ve asked for confirmation or a list of ‘cleared content’ but haven’t heard back yet.
    http://dashslot.co.uk/?p=96

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  7. “Unless the stuff available on Venice is as good as what’s available via major licit and illicit sources, who cares what the picture quality is like?”

    It’s easier and quicker than downloading (and isn’t going to land you in court), more convenient than watching it when the broadcasters decide you’re going to watch it, and cheaper than a TiVo. The Venice Project isn’t just about the video, either — there are already a few community-type elements in there and more are planned for the near future, and we’re going to be able to add “value” that just isn’t available from the current TV/video solutions. (If it were just about “quality video”, do you think YouTube would have become as popular as it has?)

    Ok, so I’m obviously biased, but don’t dismiss TVP just yet! :)

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  8. This looks like an interesting service, but it seems to me that HDTV poses a serious obstacle to this sort of offering. Currently online video works because slapstick is fine in small grainy windows. I think it’ll have more than enough success to make these guys some more money, but I don’t see it as being especially disruptive when viewers are increasingly investing their bucks in brand new 50 inch HDTV’s.

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  9. Ludovic

    I did not say you need to reboot, but in my past experience with windows applications, its safer to reboot the computer. just in case.

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  10. IndySTeve and others… since i am not an official beta tester so …

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