BitTorrent's Live Streaming Service is Officially Actually Here

By Chris Mills on at

BitTorrent's already used to download shows just an hour or two after TV debut, but when we're talking about finding who's made the cut on X Factor, an hour without Simon Cowell's soothing voice is an hour too long. So, from the people who've brought you just about every TV show ever, comes the modestly'named "future of TV" -- BitTorrent Live.

The service has been released in beta, with a bunch of trial broadcasters that you can try out to ensure that yes, this is a video streaming service, and yes, it streams video.

For the end user, BitTorrent Live doesn't feel all that special. You have to download a browser plug-in -- just like Flash -- and then you can view a BitTorrent livestream in your browser, just like any other video stream. It's deceptively simple, and with the beta channels that are currently available, at least, it works pretty well.

Essentially, the initial transmission is straight from the 'broadcaster' to initial viewers; those initial viewers then re-broadcast the content around the web. Specifically, it uses a UDP multicast protocol to send the data. (UDP is an alternative to the commonly-used TCP protocol; UDP trades the accuracy of TCP for less hassle and extra speed.) If you're the sort who gets hot-and-heavy at transmission protocols and Python code, the full details are in this post on the BitTorrent blog.

Despite the yawn-inducing details about sockets and transmission protocols, though, BitTorrent Live is an interesting development. At the moment, big livestreams require a huge amount of bandwidth, and therefore expensive hardware, for the broadcaster -- even big firms like Samsung and Sony have struggled to serve up reliable livestreams of events, normally having to rely on the likes of YouTube to handle the heavy lifting.

In theory, BitTorrent Live should make it easier for broadcasters -- from broke TV channels to the next Psy -- to stream shows to the bedroom-bound masses. The founder of BitTorrent, Bram Cohen, reckons that the future of TV is on the internet, and BitTorrent Live will be the protocol that'll spark the revolution. If it can deliver on its promise -- cheap, robust and simple internet broadcasting -- then yes, it could be the thing that kills off over-the-air TV. [BitTorrent via The Register]