Saturday, June 28, 2014

Popcorn Time, free movies?

A new an interesting bit of software has become available, and is causing a bit of a stir.

Popcorn Time is a media player that streams movies to your computer, for free.

New movies.

That's right, you can watch the newest Transformer movie without plunking down $12.50 to watch it.

The issue is the legality. Technically, this is not illegal, at least not for Popcorn Time developers.

That's because Popcorn Time is NOT a torrent download software.

It's a streaming portal.

It may be illegal for you to watch the movie though.

The issue is with the technology being used. It's all running on torrents.

Torrents are not illegal themselves. Torrents are just a technology that allows users to "serve" files to others. As a group, getting a file from 50 or 60 people is way faster than getting it from one file server.

But what gets torrented to you can be illegal.

If you are an old torrent pro, then you know that websites like The Pirate Bay are well known as a great place to get illegally free files.

Everything from music, to movies, to video games, and on and on.

Most of those files are illegal because the people downloading them have not paid for them.

Torrents are used for many good purposes as well.

I personally use torrents all the time to download different versions of Linux.
Which is totally legal.

So because of all of this shaded area, and the fact that Popcorn Time viewers never really totally download the movie, there are some gray areas about legality.

I know that movie houses like Paramount would tell you this is absolutely illegal.

Some lawyers might disagree with them.

I think I have covered that end of Popcorn Time rather well, now for more about the software.

Here's a screenshot of Popcorn Time: (Thanks to Softpedia)


Popcorn Time comes as an archive and users just have to extract it and run the binary file. It doesn't need to be installed and there are no dependencies that have to be met. As far as I know, it hasn't been integrated in any repositories, probably for legal reasons.

I tested the application on a number of different systems and it looks like it's running flawlessly on pretty much everything. The only problem for users would be a slow Internet connection, but that has nothing to do with the software itself.


The developers of Popcorn Time have said from the start that one of their goals was to expose just how wrong the current online distribution platforms are. They did this by making the software very easy to use, as it requires almost no input from the user.

The main interface of the application shows two major categories in the upper left corner, Movies and TV Shows. All the entries in the list have thumbnails, and all are showing a short synopsis and a trailer before playing the actual movie.

The list is ordered by default with the help of a few filters like genre, popularity, recent additions, and so on. These are all the things that have to be decided by the regular user, although there are some settings if you really want to tweak the software.

The settings can be accessed by clicking on the small gear icon in the upper right corner, and from there users can choose the default quality of the video (720p or 1080p), the language of the default subtitle and the size, access the account for scrobbling purposes, and set a few options for Internet connection.

Now, how does the application actually work? When a user hits the play button, Popcorn Time actually starts to download the video in a temporary folder by using the P2P network. The beauty of this software is that you don't have to download the entire file, just a few seconds from the beginning and the movie starts playing. Skipping is also supported, so you can click forward and the application will quickly catch up.

The Bad

You have to remember that this is still a Beta release. It's far from stable, although I had no technical problems with it. Some users have reported that their CPUs worked overtime when playing movies, but it seems to be affecting very few people.

The only important issue I found with the application is the sorting order, which sometimes defies logic. Moreover, you can't sort the shows and movies ascending or descending, but I’m sure that it's going to get fixed in the upcoming versions.

I also had problems updating the software from 0.3.1 to 0.3.2. It seems impossible on Linux, even when I started the app with sudo. In the end, I just downloaded the new version from the official website.

The Good

The speed of Popcorn Time is probably the most impressive feature. It's playing the movies almost instantaneously, but you will need a fast Internet connection and that particular movie must have enough seeders.

Also impressive is the fact that, most of the time, the subtitles are spot-on and that the quality of the video streaming is usually flawless.


Using Popcorn Time is no different from downloading a movie and it's all a matter of convenience. If you take the application as is, then Popcorn Time is simply the best at what it does, although it remains to be seen if this kind of apps actually have a future." -Softpedia

So what do you think? Is it legal? Is it moral? Or do you feel as the Popcorn Time developers do, that all information in any form should be 100% free to the world to absorb?


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