The Joost Problem: American ‘Broadband’

Joost, despite an early lead when it comes to the P2P television is beginning to get some criticism about its video quality. A skeptical report on JoostTeam points out that the bit rate is about half that of video from DivX Stage6 or the iTunes Store. And even that resolution is inferior to standard definition digital video from cable providers.

joost_network_activity.jpgWhile Joost promises that they’re working on improving the quality, and touts the power of their advanced video compression codecs, there’s only so much that compression can do. The fundamental problem that Joost faces is the fact that the broadband available to North American households simply isn’t fast enough for them to provide image quality comparable to digital cable or satellite, much less high-definition video.

On my high-resolution, widescreen laptop monitor the blocky, pixelated quality is still clearer than the wildly distorted analog signal I receive through rabbit ears (which makes me wonder if an upgrade to digital rabbit ears will even work for me), so I’d still rather tune into Joost than turn on my TV. But nobody with a boss home theater is going to cancel their cable service to watch Internet streams of this quality.

My concern is that with DSL provider AT&T moving into IPTV, and cable Internet providers already delivering video, what little competition there is in America for consumer broadband providers, any incentive to increase speeds (especially the upstream bandwidth) could hit a wall of corporate self-interest. After all, why should companies like Comcast offer the kind of high speed broadband enjoyed in Europe and Asia when it would simply enable companies like Joost to compete with the company’s own digital video offerings?

Even if there is a significant increase in network speed, without any guarantees of network neutrality, Internet providers could simply charge Joost and other independent IPTV upstarts for the bandwidth rights to stream video of comparable quality to their own digital video offerings. And guess who that cost would get passed on to? That would be you. So while Joost has a lot of potential on other continents, the cards are stacked against the company here in the USA.

Screenshot of network traffic monitor with Joost running on my computer.

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