We first heard of BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer video streaming protocol two years ago, when creator Bram Cohen demoed it. The protocol was supposed to be finished in the summer of 2011 and, well, that didn’t happen. Now dubbed BitTorrent Live, the streaming tech appears to be in the final stretch. An open beta kicked off earlier this month, and a patent application has been filed for the protocol.
Don’t be too worried about the patent, by the way. Cohen told TorrentFreak that BitTorrent Live will be free to use whether you’re broadcasting or watching content. It seems the BitTorrent folks will be discouraging third-party clients, though. “Poorly behaved peers can impact everyone,” Cohen says, and the protocol is “tricky to implement.”
Although peer-to-peer live streaming was a tough nut to crack, Cohen claims BitTorrent Live is capable of broadcasting content to “millions of people with just a few seconds of latency.” Because it’s a peer-to-peer protocol, the bandwidth costs for the broadcaster should be minimal.
A few seconds of latency sounds like a lot, but it’s not a big deal for live broadcasts that often include delays to catch wardrobe malfunctions and those seven words you can never say on television. As Cohen points out, live broadcasting is one thing that traditional cable providers have always done better than Internet alternatives. BitTorrent Live aims to change that, and it sounds like Cohen is particularly keen on recruiting independent broadcasters in addition to more traditional content producers.
Only a small number of BitTorrent Live channels are broadcasting right now, and the quality of the content varies widely. That said, I’m getting less than a second of latency streaming an insane-looking Russian game show in which two-on-two MMA matches go down on a stage that looks like it’s been ripped out of a video game. Live sports seem particularly well suited to BitTorrent Live, and I’ll be watching closely to see whether the protocol gains popularity. Sporting events are really the only thing I get from my cable provider that I can’t view easily elsewhere.