As regular readers of these pages will know, I am something of a fan of Popcorn Time, a funky app that allows your stream torrents directly to your desktop PC or mobile device. A new desktop app from the developers of the WebTorrent platform aims to achieve a similar end, leveraging both the traditional BitTorrent network, and the newer WebRTC technology built into modern browsers such as Firefox and Chrome.
WebTorrent (BitTorrent over WebRTC)
WebTorrent is an open source BitTorrent Client for the web that can be easily implemented on almost any web page, and which allows you to download torrents directly in your browser window. As its developer and Stanford University graduate, Feross Aboukhadijeh, explains,
At present, the only website to implement the code is Instant.io, which was setup to test the WebTorrent protocol.
The Instant.io interface is very basic, and downloads require a magnet link rather than a simple torrent file. Everything works well, however, and the site serves as great proof of concept
One problem with using WebRTC to facilitate downloads within your browser is that VPN users really should disable WebRTC, as it can leak your real IP address to websites. I did, however, find that downloading via Instant.io worked fine in Chrome with the WebRTC Leak Prevent add-on installed (as this prevents IP leaks, but only partially disables WebRTC).
A desktop app (also open source) is now also available that uses WebTorrent protocol. Unlike traditional BitTorrent clients, WebTorrent Desktop allows you to stream torrents almost instantly.
The interface is attractive and offers some open source content to download. Alternatively, you can drop a torrent file or paste a magnet link in the box at the bottom of the app. If this is a movie, music, or audiobook file, it should be almost instantly available for streaming.
When it works, streaming works very well, although the interface is a little on the basic side
I found that movies became available to stream within seconds of starting the download, and that playback was smooth. Not all moves play game however, as some simply refuse to stream, while others would playback but without sound.
These issues are probably due to lack of support for the myriad of codecs used to encode torrent files, and is something I hope will improved upon (after all, this is just a beta version, albeit one that is already showing considerable accomplishment.)
In theory, WebTorrent Desktop features AirPlay, Chromecast and DLNA support (enabled by going to View -> Developer), but the app was unable to detect my Chromecast.
All files (including media files that do stream, and non-media files) are downloaded locally as per a regular BitTorrent client.
Note that the WebRTC IP leak issue should not affect the Desktop client, as it accesses torrent files directly (but do ensure that your browser is protected while visiting torrent websites to get the required .torrent files or Magnet links).
WebTorrent Desktop implements some neat ideas and shows a great deal of promise (if the MPAA don’t shut it down before it reaches full release stage!).
It is not, however, ready for showtime yet, so I suggest sticking to Popcorn Time and your favorite BitTorrent client for the time being. I shall be watching developments with interest, though…