BitTorrent isn’t integrated with Windows Media Center and the service doesn’t offer a 10-foot user interface of its own, so it’s best experienced on a desktop PC.
Most readers will be familiar with the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, which earned a somewhat notorious reputation as the tool of choice for people sharing large copyrighted files—particularly Hollywood movies—over the Internet. Bram Cohen, the programmer who originally created the protocol, has since founded BitTorrent, Inc. to exploit legal applications for his product. Movie downloads are one.
The beauty of the BitTorrent protocol is that no one person needs to bear the entire cost of hosting huge files, such as movies; instead, each existing recipient of the file supplies chunks of the data to newer recipients. That model works exceedingly well for those who need to host the file, but we’re not quite sure how consumers paying for downloadable content benefit.
BitTorrent offers a broad mix of movies, TV shows, and other content for rent or purchase; it also offers some advertising-supported content. Purchased titles can be viewed on up to two computers, but rented titles can be viewed only on the PC they were originally downloaded to. Purchased movies can be burned to disc, but the disc can be played only on PCs that you’ve “activated” by signing into your BitTorrent account. BitTorrent does not permit purchased files to be transferred to portable devices, which we view as a major shortcoming.
What’s worse is that the BitTorrent user interface is not integrated into either version of Windows Media Center, which makes it nearly impossible to browse the site’s content from the comfort of your couch. In fact, the only way to search the service’s library is to use the primitive tools on its website. This matters little if you’re watching movies on your desktop PC, but it’s a real pain if you’re using a home-theater PC or streaming content to a Media Center Extender.
BitTorrent offers downloadable videos in both SD and HD and in WMV, H.264, and MPEG-4 formats, but the Hollywood offerings we sampled were all SD WMV files (with all the image-quality issues inherent to that format). We also found BitTorrent’s prime movie library to be thinner than average, with only eight of our 25 new-release searches available for rent and nine available for sale. We found only two of our favorite cult films in the library: Office Space (for rent and for sale) and Reservoir Dogs (for sale only), but we did encounter some great horror films offered for free, which can be moved and burned to disc without restrictions.
It’s definitely worth searching BitTorrent’s library for unusual and free content, but the service has nothing to offer over the other services reviewed here.
Movie rentals: $3 to $4 Movie purchases: $10 to $20 TV episodes: $2