Over the last couple week's TiVo let slip that they're going to start adding banner ads when we try to fast-forward commercials (and to make things even more annoying, Congress is considering a bill that might make fast-forwarding through the commercials on DVDs illegal). So we've pretty much decided we're not going to use a TiVo anymore and that instead we'll go with other solutions (for now) like a Media Center PC, as well as rolling some of our own ways to download TV shows. For this week's How-To we're going to show you how you can use RSS and BitTorrent to find and download your favorite shows, automatically, using free software. There are a lot of ways to do this, we cover one example that worked well for us, and there are a couple great tutorials we spotted that are basically the same but offer other ways of downloading, other plugins and more information. You can check them out here and here. If you're already a pro, be sure to post up your set up and experiences in the comments area.
RSS and BitTorrent
Before we get started, it might be a good idea to introduce a few topics if you're not familiar with them. We'll be using RSS and BitTorrent to look for and download TV shows. RSS also known as "Really Simple Syndication" is a way to publish information so other computers can read it in a simple and standard way. In the context of this How-To there are RSS feeds that will tell another application where and when a new TV show is available. BitTorrent is a way to transfer files over the web, instead of download the same file over and over from a central server, which will become slow or busy with high demand, BitTorrent uses the bandwidth of all the people downloading the file and sends parts to everyone as it downloads, so the more people who are downloading the better, and the more you upload, the faster you get your files (it definitely ends the free rider problem of other p2p applications). For downloading TV shows, this of course is a perfect match, the more popular a show is, the easier it is to get.
Make sure you check with your local, state and country's laws—In some cases you may be downloading (and uploading) copyrighted material. So far, there hasn't been a legal case that we know of where broadcast TV networks have stopped or wanted to stop BitTorrent downloads of their shows, but we have heard that pay networks like Showtime, HBO, etc. have sent letters to some individuals for sharing recorded TV. This is all new territory for the most part, and it will be interesting to see what happens and if the TV networks realize that this could be their future distribution chain.
The future of TV?
While your average TV watcher is probably not going to set up RSS feeds and BitTorrent clients, many people are, and there is a lot of interest in using these technologies solely for the purpose of downloading and watching TV shows.
(Mr. Quirk reminding us of a possible future recently. If you remember the old Max Headroom shows TV companies were locked in a ratings war fought in real-time, changes in viewer numbers affected the stock price and net worth. Stopping channel hopping was vital. One company invented "blipverts" that fed the adverts at high speed. Trouble was: fat viewers [couch potatoes] were exploding and the TV company wanted to keep that quiet.)
The future of TV isn't certain, perhaps we'll have set top boxes that do what we're about to describe, i.e. look for shows you like, download them in a decentralized way over high speed networks, delivering high-definition picture and sound. All the parts are here, it just needs to get simpler.
This How-To is fairly straight forward, we're going to download a Java engine to run a BitTorrent client, along with a RSS plugin which will look for the TV shows we tell it to look for. For our example we're going to use a PC (Windows XP) but all of this work on Mac OS as well and possibly Linux, but we didn't have a chance to test that out on the Linux box here.
Installing the Java Run Time Engine
The first thing we need to do is install a Java Run Time Engine, this allows you to run Java based applications on your specific operating system, for our example, we're using Windows XP.
You may or may not have a JRE already installed, even if you do, it's a good idea to get the latest one, Java 2 Platform Standard Edition 5.0 which you can download here. Once downloaded and installed (a reboot may be required) we need to install the BitTorrent client, Azureus.
Installing Azureus, the BiTorrent client
Azureus a full featured bittorrent with multiple download options, queuing and priority, pause/resume seeding as well as detailed information about your uploadind and downloading status.
Download and install Azureus from here. Run Azureus and click through the settings wizard, this will walk you through any configuration needed. For the most part, clicking through next with all the defaults will work on most systems.
Installing the RSS Plugin for Azureus
Once Azureus is installed and running, we'll now need to install a RSS plugin. The RSS plugin will watch sites and allow you so search as well as download for specific shows you're looking for.
There are a couple RSS plugins, for our example we're going to use RSS Import, which can be downloaded here.
Another one to try out is RSS import Feed Scanner, there's a link to a tutorial for using this one at the end of the How-To.
Unzip the file and place the "RSSImport" folder in the plugin directory of Azureus, it's most likely located here, where you installed Azureus.
Now start Azureus. If Azureus is running, then close the application and start it again.
In the top menu, choose Tools > Option. On the left side expand the + box next to Plugins
Click "Activate RSS Import Plugin".
Under RSS Channels to import, type in a RSS feed, for our example we're going to use:
You may also want to try:
If you add more than one use a ; to seperate them (no spaces).
The "Filter for channel entries" field is where you add the names of the shows you're looking for, basically you type the name of the show and subsitute spaces in the name with periods, like this...
These are "regular expressions" you can add other filters, such as SVCD oe HDTV versions. Many torrents come in different flavors of encoding, HDTV quality, DiVx, mpeg, etc...
For our example, we're on the prowl for some good ole' Cylons action in Battlestar Galactica. So we're going to use...
If we only wanted the SVCD version, we'd use this
Another option might be to download the HDTV PDTV or DSRip versions, to do this, use (thanks Rick).
For more on this, make sure to check out the RSS Feed Scanner forums here.
And, if you want to learn more about regular expressions, here is a list of handy resources to get started. RSS Import uses this type of filter called regex (regular expressions).
As you learn these, you can test out your filters here.
Once the TV shows your specify are discovered, they will automatically start to download.
You can check out the status as well as all the other information available as you download.
It can take hours for some to download, so many users have a computer on all the time that just downloads in the background with TV shows eagerly waiting to be seen at the end of each day.
As more portable video players hit the market, we expect to see a lot of people then transferring their TV shows to these devices, right now converting is a little tricky, but if there's enough interest, we'll do a How-To on that as well.
And there you go, please don't watch Desperate Housewives, that's all we ask, thanks.
Phillip Torrone can be reach via his personal site: http://www.flashenabled.com