12 March, 2007

TV Show Torrents thru RSS: A Piracy Primer for Purloined Programming, Part 1

A few people have asked me how and why I download TV shows off of BitTorrent so reliably and (seemingly) effortlessly, so I figured I would post about it here on the 'Sleekness for future reference. This first post outlines my reasons for pirating TV Shows, since the 'easy way out' would seem to be simply getting a cable subscription.

I think it's fair to say that there are legal alternatives out there for those that want to enjoy TV programming on-demand, but these solutions are not entirely adequate, for various reasons. Let's look at the usual suspects:

#1- Regular cable hook up: In this day and age, this is an untenable proposition to the educated media consumer. I cannot possibly justify paying upwards of $80 a month on a cable bill, just for the 'privilege' of channel surfing. I watch particular shows based on genuine interest and / or recommendations- I don't need to have 500 channels of crap at my disposal, 24 hours a day, so that I can waste a whole afternoon of my weekend surfing through sub-par content, just because I have nothing better to do. There are other reasons why cable doesn't cut it: some people aren't home when a show airs; some people follow two shows that air at the same time, and inevitably have to choose to watch one over the other; some people hate commercials with a visceral passion (that would be me). And then some people are just subversive, cantankerous, anti-capitalistic assholes (um... me again).

#2- TiVo, and similar PVR (Personal Video Recorder) devices: I don't have $300 to spend on a TiVo box, and the device is dependent on your being subscribed to a cable provider anyway (see #1).

#3- The iTunes Store sells TV shows. But as much as I love Apple, iTunes has some very serious limitations:

First and foremost, the quality of videos bought off iTunes sucks. Big time. Due to bandwidth issues, TV shows from the iTunes Store are encoded at a resolution that is more or less adequate for viewing on an iPod, on your computer, or on a regular standard definition tube television set, but if you watch your shows on a 60-inch, high-definition (HD) plasma display (like I do), this just won't cut it, at all. Granted, quality is bound to go up as high-bandwidth internet connections become more common, but this is still a few years away, and it will be a gradual thing. I want my HD now, dammit.

Secondly, DRM (Digital Rights Management) sucks. If I buy a show for $1.99, I should be able to do what I want with that file, the same way I could with a store-bought DVD: play it on my computer connected to my HD set in the living room, play it on my other computer in my room, play it on my laptop in the back yard, even *gasp* give it to a friend who I want to get hooked on a show- whatever. I bought it, fair and square. Hands off my stash.

Third, iTunes takes its sweet, sweet time in posting a new show after it airs sometimes, even though iTunes says that they post shows on the day after the original air date (for some reason, Battlestar Galactica particularly suffers from this quite a bit). This is not acceptable.

Fourth, while the selection of shows on iTunes is good, and getting better all the time, not everything I want to watch is on there. For example, the second season of Weeds never showed up on the iTMS, even though they have the first season available.

So, in essence, if you buy a show on iTunes, you're paying $2 a pop for a low-quality video file that you can only play under certain conditions, at sub-standard quality, and is only made available whenever iTunes decides it wants to post it. Now, most of these things aren't necessarily Apple's fault, but they are the reality nonetheless.

In the next installment (edit: you can read it here), I'll detail my method for automating TV show downloads using a BitTorrent client, and the steps I take to re-encode and properly tag video content for adding to your iTunes library. Stay tuned!

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