TV Without Your TV

A recent post at BoingBoing compares two television viewing programs for computers—or rather, simply states bluntly that “Miro Kicks Joost’s Ass.” Even having not used either program before, this seemed potentially simplistic to me, so I figured I might as well download both and see how they work. Here is my very brief review, based on admittedly very brief usage on my Macbook.

Joost
A program that streams shows with the approval of corporate overlords. Cory Doctorow hates it because it has DRM and people should be able to copy stuff, make new stuff with it, etc. It has 250+ channels. It’s ad-supported, and after you’re done watching a show on it, it will go on to another show in the same channel automatically.

PRO

  • Access to bunch of shows you’ve heard of
  • Episodes load very quickly

CON

  • Forces a 10-second commercial into show where no commercial break was originally planned
  • Viewing controls (like, how do I stop watching Robot Chicken and look at other shows) not exactly intuitive
  • Pop-up ads in corner can be suppressed by a button (which seems intentionally designed as mystery-meat navigation), but pop-ups still sometimes show up anyway
  • Occasionally freezes on slow connections, just like any other streaming
  • You don’t get to keep shows on your hard drive, just stream them as desired

Miro
An open-source program that lets you specify RSS feeds of uploaded TV shows (like from TVrss.net), downloads the shows automatically, and then lets you watch shows in the program and manages your shows in a format kind of like iTunes. There aren’t “channels” per se, but they use the term anyway to describe the thousands of RSS feeds you could choose from. Extended setup instructions here.

PRO

  • Fairly intuitive interface for keeping track of shows
  • Cuts a step or two out of how you might have been stealing shows before, which might make it easier for you to set up your parents if they get fed up with Comcast

CON

  • Built-in torrent client is bizarrely slow
  • Downloading shows by torrent can take a few hours, the better part of a day, or more (even with a good torrent client)
  • Doesn’t really do anything you couldn’t do before if you were willing to follow an RSS feed yourself, click to download each episode as it comes up, and then watch it in VLC or Quicktime
  • Very misleading use of the term “channel” confused me and everyone else I tried using this program with

Summary…

I generally approach watching TV in either of two ways: crashing in front of the thing and just pulling up something to view at a moment’s notice (e.g., when eating dinner alone), or tuning in regularly for the same shows (e.g., following Lost). Joost is probably better for the first, and Miro is probably better for the second.

The ads on Joost really irk me, and perhaps I’ll stop using it altogether when I run out of the bite-sized chunks of Robot Chicken I’ve been cycling through whenever I plop down with a sandwich. I suppose you could build up a backlog of shows with Miro for casual viewing like I’ve been doing, but that kind of forethought kind of defeats the purpose of casual viewing. Plus, while downloading a recently-posted show can be quick, downloading stuff that aired awhile ago can take days. Ultimately, however, until Miro works out its issues with its torrent downloading, it’s basically not worth using at all.

In the meantime, my preferred method of watching TV will remain through either (a) Netflix or (b) following RSS feeds from TVrss.net, downloading stuff with Transmission, converting it to MP4 with VisualHub, and then streaming to my television through my Xbox 360 with Connect360. It’s not as cheap as using Miro (as I actually paid for VisualHub and Connect360), but I’m not a big fan of watching TV on a computer monitor anyway.

Update: After using Joost some more, I’ve concluded that I probably won’t use it again. Once I ran out of Robot Chicken episodes, I got frustrated trying to use its interface and find anything else I really wanted to watch. Also, Miro just released its 1.0, and I was going off the public preview.