The developer of Bitlet.org, a browser-based BitTorrent applet, has started to test an experimental P2P video streaming client. Bitlet’s video applet is fairly limited in its support for video codecs, but video publishers willing to trans-code their clips can already use it to save substantially on bandwidth costs.
The whole idea of such an applet doesn’t seem to go over so well with BitTorrent traditionalists, who argue that streaming makes BitTorrent’s protocol less efficient and that Bitlet may slow down other BitTorrent clients. Bitlet developer Daniele Castagna doesn’t think this is a big problem. Bitlet may prioritize its traffic differently, but it still acts in the spirit of BitTorrent, he told me today.
Bitlet started off as a Java applet for BitTorrent file transfers in 2007, making it possible to download torrents from The Pirate Bay and similar sites right within your browser — and without installing any additional software. Just go to Bitlet.org, paste your torrent URL into the form field, start the Java applet, and the bits start flowing.
The site added support for audio streaming via BitTorrent in early 2008, and finally launched a test of its video streaming earlier this week. “I wanted to write a prototype just to test if it’s feasible to stream video using (BitTorrent),” Castagna told me during an IM interview. Bitlet’s video streaming only works with videos encoded with Ogg Theora right now, something Castagna explains has to do with his desire to use open-source video codecs, adding: “That seemed (like) the only free and valid alternative.”
Castagna uses Amazon’s S3 as an initial seeding server for the videos of this test, and the initial results are encouraging. He told me that he’s seen roughly 50 percent bandwidth savings through BitTorrent, even though the test has been fairly limited, with only a few users accessing the streams at the same time. “I’m curious to see if it can actually work on a big scale,” Castagna added.
BitTorrent-savvy publishers that want to do their own test-runs can already do so by seeding their videos as torrents and adding a short prefix to their URLs, but they shouldn’t expect too much love from the BitTorrent crowd. Comments were largely negative when Torrentfreak covered the new video streaming applet earlier this week. Most users complained that Bitlet breaks the original BitTorrent protocol design, which makes client download the rarest piece of a file first in order to guarantee optimal data distribution.
Castagna admitted that he had to tweak the applet’s downloading behaviour in order to make streaming work, but he believes that Bitlet encompasses the spirit of BitTorrent as a way for publishers to distribute data without burdening all of the costs. In his own words: “The idea is to help to reduce (the) cost of distributing video (while) providing a decent service to the user.”