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One of the big downsides of BitTorrent is that you have to be patient. Streams from Hulu start after a few seconds of buffering. Download a file from a torrent site, on the other hand, and you’ll often have to wait hours before you can start watching. “It’s a painful experience for users,” admitted BitTorrent Inc. VP Simon Morris in a recent interview with NewTeeVee, adding that BitTorrent has been pretty much “point-click-wait” instead of the “point-click-watch” experience people now expect from web video.
BitTorrent Inc. is now trying to tackle this issue with a new streaming feature in its flagship uTorrent client. Of course, this isn’t the first attempt to make BitTorrent a little more of an instantaneous experience. In fact, there are a number of ways you can stream your torrents. We tested a number of them and compiled a quick list of five ways to get your streams on.
First a word for the wary: BitTorrent streaming isn’t quite like YouTube yet. A number of client makers have tried different approaches, and some of them actually work fairly well if all the stars align correctly. Still, there’s a good chance you’ll run into some hiccups. For example, streaming really depends on availability, so you can pretty much forget about it if there aren’t enough peers available to download from. It’s a good thing you can always watch the complete file once its on your hard drive.
Here are our top five contenders:
uTorrent, BitTorrent Inc.’s flagship client, introduced streaming functionality with last week’s release of version 2.1 alpha. Users just have to click on a stream button to start play-back of a file while it’s still downloading. At least that’s the theory. uTorrent uses the DivX web player as its default streaming application, so streaming only works with files supported by that player. The client offers its users an option to change to VLC or other players, but I still couldn’t get an .m4v file to play.
Littleshoot is a BitTorrent plug-in for your browser that works on Firefox, Safari and IE under OS X and Windows. You can use it to search Isohunt.com or browse any other torrent site and then automatically download any torrents right within your browser. Common video formats can be streamed once enough data is buffered. Littleshoot hands the video to whichever plug-in your browser uses to play back the video format in question, which is why Mac users should install something like Perian to get QuickTime to play back DivX and XviD. Streaming with Littleshoot is admittedly a little bit of a gamble. In one instance, it only played a few seconds of a file even after I had downloaded more than 60 percent, and torrents with multiple files can’t be streamed at all.
Bitlet is a Java applet that makes it possible to stream videos via BitTorrent in your browser. The latest version uses HTML 5, so the video playback works with most modern browsers. However, you won’t be able to use this for just any torrent file. Bitlet uses Ogg Theora as its video format of choice, so many videos from The Pirate Bay likely won’t work. Still, Bitlet remains a viable alternative for video publishers interested in streaming without breaking the bank.
Tribler is a BitTorrent client developed by some of the same researchers that are also involved with the EU-funded P2P Next project. Tribler has always been a sort of experimental playground, and the latest version is no exception. It lacks any option to load torrent files, but instead relies on an internal search that seems to work well for popular content. Tribler also includes an integrated video player and the option to start viewing files while the download continues. Unfortunately, Tribler is almost painfully slow when compared to other BitTorrent clients, which makes streaming a little bit of a “point-click-come-back-tomorrow” experience. Tribler’s developers have been doing a lot of work on P2P streaming, so it’s nevertheless worth keeping an eye on this one.
Put.io is proof that BitTorrent streaming can work flawlessly — as long as you throw a server in the mix. It’s essentially a cloud-based file sharing service that allows users to add their torrent links to its website, download media files to Put.io’s servers and then stream them directly in any browser. It’s also possible to add Rapidshare links and stream those files as well, and the site can even handle RSS feeds from torrent sites to automatically add new episodes of regularly updated shows to your media library. Put.io users can also share files amongst themselves and stream any video any of their contacts are sharing. The site is currently in private beta, but following its Twitter feed might be a good strategy to get an invite.