Welcome back Hypertransitory readers! In this post I want to talk about how we can all get ourselves some free entertainment via BitTorrent -and do it all legally!
FREE ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL!
Those of you who keep up with web/tech news no doubt know that BitTorrent has become synonymous with online piracy. There’s no denying this. The fact is that the BitTorrent technology has made providing and distributing files cheap, easy and convenient to pretty much anyone with an internet connection.
What I rarely see is anyone promoting the free and legal venues where you can go to get cool, different entertainment.
I say “different” because a lot of the stuff available freely and legally won’t be your average Hollywood or Top 40 radio material. You’ll see a lot of work by up and comers who are trying to get exposure or really just want the work to be freely available.
A great example of this was the documentary called The Yes Men Fix the World released about 2 years ago.
I downloaded the Yes Men Fix the World P2P Edition because it had extra footage in it that wasn’t found in the Youtube version (I think it’s all on YouTube now, though).
Don’t worry, you can get more than documentaries. There’s plenty of story driven stuff, too. Some of it is great, and some not so good, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path then this is the place to go.
HOW IT WORKS
So the reason it’s called “BitTorrent” is because the information in the file you’re downloading is broken up into zillions of “bits” between many computers, and as such the bandwidth and processing hit is also distributed between many computers. This is why a lot of big companies (especially video game providers) use the BitTorrent protocol to lighten their server loads when distributing patches and updates.
When I go to download a file using BitTorrent, the only thing I’ll get through my browser is an actual torrent file, which will be a file anywhere from about 16-200kb large or so that has the extension “.torrent”.
All this file contains is the information of where to go and get all the pieces of the file. I start downloading pieces from other people who already have parts of it, and as I get more of the file, other people start downloading the parts that I already have. When I’m completely finished the file will go into seeding mode, where all I’m doing is providing the file to other people.
The “.torrent” file has to be opened in a BitTorrent client program. Some of the major ones include:
- Vuze (Windows, Mac, Linux)
- Transmission (Mac & Linux)
- uTorrent (Windows, Mac, Linux (alpha)).
- Official BitTorrent client (Mac & Windows only)
uTorrent is the most popular, but many don’t care for the direction they’re going and have jumped ship. Here’s a list of top Windows alternatives to utorrent. Check the comments of that article for more suggestions to non-Windows users.
I’m on the Mac and I’m a Transmission user myself, although I’ve had to switch to Vuze once in a while.
For more on the concept of how BitTorrent works, check this link from the official site: BitTorrent concepts.
DON’T WORRY, BitTorrent ISN’T ILLEGAL
There’s no need for us to hide, we’re not doing anything wrong, but if you’re just someone who likes privacy, try these VPN Services (Virtual Private Network) and see if they’re something to your liking.
You don’t have to be a pirate to like having your privacy. I don’t use any of those services myself but they look inexpensive enough to give them a go if you’re up for it.
Anyway, the BitTorrent protocol itself isn’t illegal. It’s like using the “http” or “ftp” protocols, except in these two cases you’re downloading from a specific “server” machine, and in the BitTorrent example you’re downloading simultaneously from your “peer” machines. That’s why you might see it called Peer-to-Peer or P2P oftentimes.
There have been cases where ISP’s have engaged in “throttling” BitTorrent traffic, as they claimed torrent traffic alone was taking up most of their bandwidth. Vuze maintains a bad ISP list of those who are known to throttle or engage in “traffic shaping” (I’m not sure how up to date this list is).
When you hear people talk about “Net Neutrality“, this is a part of that argument. Essentially Net Neutrality proponents argue that all internet traffic should be treated the same. ISP’s or anyone else shouldn’t be able to determine which type of traffic and from whom is of higher or lower priority.
LET’S DO IT!
But now lets get some free stuff! If you haven’t already, go ahead and download one the clients listed above (or similar) and get it installed on your machine.
WHERE TO GO TO GET STUFF
When I was first on the hunt for some new material, I went to the Getting Started page on bittorrent.com.
They have a “search” field there, but I never use it (it searches using Bing). I would expect each search to at least automatically add “torrent” to my search, but that is not the case.
Of the sites listed underneath the search field I use Vodo (not to be confused with the Vudu On-Demand movie service) and Jamendo the most.
Jamendo is a legal music torrent site. I found some pretty good music on here. I know most of the artists providing their work that way probably hope to make it big in the mainstream, but for now we should take advantage of it and listen to some good stuff for free without ripping anyone off.
ClearBits is a site that hosts mostly Creative Commons licensed work, regardless of medium -so there’s books, films and music there. Admittedly I don’t go to this site as often as I should, I’ll have to follow their Twitter to keep up on the latest uploads.
The one I use the most is Vodo. This one is kind of like a KickStarter.com, except in this case the creators usually have whole chunks of the work done already, if not all of it, and are looking for money to continue to produce the work.
While most of the movies are free, some of them have the HD versions of the film available only if you donate $5 or whatever their donation tier setting is. Most of the ones I want have an HD version available for free. Honestly my usual method is to watch the show, then if I like it I’ll go back and donate something.
You can pick any one of the movies here. If you click on “All Films” at the top, then you can search through everything from that page.
If you’re a sci-fi guy like me, then you can just follow this link:
It may not be immediately clear where to download the free torrent. Check where the red arrow is pointing to in the below screenshot and you can download the “.torrent” file from there.
Basically, Otherworlds are six short films from different producers, all with a different sci-fi slant to them. Be warned, these aren’t Star Trek or Dr. Who type sci-fi (although I like that stuff, too). Some of this is really out there. What I liked about this was that most of it (if not all) is produced somewhere else besides here in the United States.
It’s nice to see some different perspectives on what sci-fi is and get some new ideas from people we haven’t heard from before. When you’re dealing with all the Hollywood work, a lot of it comes from the same people over and over again. Then once every few years they decide to let someone else in, and we can see that guy’s ideas for the next 20 years, etc, etc…
Two others that made the rounds in the BitTorrent realm were also sci-fi joints like L5:
The crew aboard the spaceship Argo has just awoken from hypersleep to a nightmare. Having spent the last twenty years searching for a new home to salvage humanity from a dying earth they return home and find something has gone terribly wrong.
And the other one is Pioneer One:
A mysterious spaceship has entered Earth’s atmosphere. A US Department of Homeland Security investigation has uncovered a live human being in a Soviet space suit in an unstable condition. A note in Russian, found at the crash site, claims the man is the child of cosmonauts living at a base on Mars.
You can see that I’m adding YouTube trailers here, and actually many of the films you’ll see on Vodo are simultaneously released on YouTube as well. I just prefer to not watch long movies sitting at my computer screen. Even though the PS3 YouTube App is out, I still don’t like using it. I’d rather download the hi-def version and move it over to my PS3 the old-fashioned way, via usb stick.
STARTING UP YOUR TORRENT
If you downloaded one of the “.torrent” files and it’s your first time doing so, your operating system may not know what to open those files with, so you may have to either drag the file on top of whichever torrent client you chose, open it with the Open command from inside the program itself, or do a Command-I on the Mac and set the “Open With” section to the new program. On Windows I believe you can do a right-click and open the Properties to change the file association to whichever program you want. I’m totally stumped in Linux (if it’s even a problem in Linux), but if anyone knows, please leave it in the comments and I’ll update it here.
Once you open up a torrent file most clients will start trying to connect immediately. They’ll begin downloading and also uploading (seeding) the torrent file simultaneously.
Some of them ask for a save destination every time you add a torrent, but you can change this within the preferences of each app. I have mine set to be paused automatically when added. I might have a few queued up, but I’ll wait until I’m going to sleep or other time when I won’t be using the net to start them going. Depending on the number of files you’re downloading at once your available bandwidth can really take a hit.
Being a good citizen
You’ll usually see a section in your program labeled “Ratio”. The program is keeping track of how much you’ve downloaded vs. how much you’ve uploaded. To be a good citizen of the BitTorrent community you should maintain a ratio of at least 1 (1:1). This means you’ve uploaded as much as you’ve downloaded, so you’ve given back to the community. I strive to keep a 1.5 – meaning at the very least I’ll upload what I downloaded, and then half-again.
If you’re on a private bittorent site or tracker there are minimums that you’ll have to meet or you can be banned. On a public site you won’t be banned but most likely ridiculed if you start commenting and calling attention to yourself.
Sometimes though the files will not upload no matter what. I haven’t determined if it’s my network or my program(s), but I get those files that download fine, yet when you try to let it seed, even after a couple of days it just doesn’t go anywhere. All you can do is give it the old college try, I guess. If you can keep it above 1.0 you’re doing good.
PLAYING MKV OM MY PS3
If you’ve downloaded the Otherworlds hi-def, or pretty much any hi-def torrent out there, you may find that it’s in the unfamiliar (to most) file format of MKV, or Matroska Video.
If you’re going to watch on your computer, all you’ll have to do is download VLC player and you’ll be good to go.
But as I mentioned, I don’t care for watching long videos on my computer, so I like to move them over to my PS3. The only problem is that the PS3 doesn’t actually play the MKV format. Curses.
I used to try converting them using Handbrake, MPEG Streamclip or similar programs, but those files are usually pretty large (at least 720 to 1080p) and converting them can take many hours depending on the speed of your computer.
I went searching for a solution, and a pretty great one popped up. It’s called MP4Tools, and it works quickly and reliably. This program is basically free. It will just pop up a message asking you to pay $5 every time you use it, but you can continue using it forever without paying.
MKV to MP4 format with no conversion.
MP4Tools will remove the MKV wrapper around your file and replace it with an MP4 wrapper and file extension -leaving the video untouched, so no worries about losing quality or lengthy conversion times.
All I do is open my MKV file, choose the tracks I want to re-wrap (sometimes there can be other language tracks in there so be careful which one you choose), choose my target device and I’m good to go.
You can see in the screenshot that I’ve chosen the “pass-thru” option for the audio and video. This means that MP4Tools won’t touch the audio or video at all, sparing you a long wait. The process can take up to a couple of minutes on my machine.
I have found that the PS3 has issues with AC3 5.1 sound (it either pops when fast-forwarding or sound is muted momentarily), so I tend to convert that into AAC 5.1 if I can. When I select that option, I’ve had files sometimes take up to 10 minutes to convert. It’s still better than waiting for hours.
On the rare occasion you get an MKV file made in non-standard way, the pass-thru options will be red, and you’ll have to convert it. Not much to be done at that point, so settle in for a long wait.
Anyway, MP4Tools works on the Mac, but not on Windows. I’ve never used this, but here’s one that apparently works in a similar fashion under Windows:
and here’s a list of more tools: http://www.videohelp.com/tools?convert=MKV%20to%20MP4
I had trouble finding something for my Linux friends out there, but maybe this thread will help:
Also see this list of Linux tools:
THE WRAP UP
All this stuff is just scratching the surface of what’s out there. There are many creative people out in the world trying to get their work seen by as many people as possible. These days it doesn’t necessarily mean getting it on the big screen in a theater. Yes, that’s where the money is, but you can still rack up quite a number of views by using some freely available technology and some “internet word of mouth.”
I’m usually on the lookout for something new, so I’ll keep posting the good stuff as I find it. If anyone finds anything cool out there either drop me a comment or shoot me an email to clue me in.
Just let me know if you have any trouble getting started and would like to give it a go. It can seem kind of intimidating at first, but when you remove all the legal obstacles and worries, it can be fun and definitely entertaining. I’ll see you guys next time, I’m outta here…