LAS VEGAS--The grandpappy of the torrenting world, BitTorrent, announced yesterday at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show that it will bolster its torrent-managing software later this year with search and playback features. Similar to competitors such as Vuze and Miro, the ecosystem comes as part of the development of Project Chrysalis, an effort to give BitTorrent a more robust feature set and give consumers a seamless workflow from finding content to playing it back. BitTorrent recently announced that it had reached more than 100 million active monthly users.
The new version of BitTorrent is due in a public beta near the end of the first quarter, according to BitTorrent Chief Strategist Shahi Ghanem. The impetus for the redesign, he said, is that BitTorrent is not easy for the average person to use. "The capabilities of the client are limiting. It's not great at finding content, playing content, or shifting content," Ghanem said. He defined "shifting" content as the ability to easily move it from one device or format to another.
Through the addition of "channels" such as TED, Make, and contracts with musicians and filmmakers, users will be able to browse for new content more easily. You'll be able to rate torrents on the fly using a star system that will appear next to the torrent as it downloads.
You'll also be able to automatically transcode the torrented files from their original format into something that can be easily burned to disc or played back from within BitTorrent. To ensure that users know which devices support BitTorrent, Ghanem said that the company is working on two open standards for hardware. One will encompass what Ghanem described as "connected," and includes processor, storage, and network support. The other is what he called a "disconnected" standard for burning.
To further that end, the company has partnered with Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a leading high-tech research and development organization. Chips, designs, and devices that comply with these standards will be sold with green stickers bearing the BitTorrent logo and designated as BitTorrent Certified. Ghanem said that the goal is to enable people to transfer content seamlessly and effortlessly between their home computers, tablets, phones, and televisions.
The company is also working on two Android apps, expected in public beta at the same time as the new version of the desktop program. In a brief demo at CES, Ghanem showed working alpha versions of them and the new version of BitTorrent downloading a torrent on a desktop, then streaming it to an Android phone, a tablet, and on to a television.
Changes to BitTorrent have not always been received well by the torrenting cognoscenti, and so the company has promised that the uTorrent client will remain unaffected by the alterations made to the mainline BitTorrent.
BitTorrent protocol originator Bram Cohen demonstrated for me a project he's been working on for the past two years, currently called Project Pheon but eventually to be known as BitTorrent Live. The concept is simple: improve streaming live video, the way that BitTorrent improved the ability to share files. Cohen has reduced the latency of live streaming down to 3 to 5 seconds, and tested it against hundreds of thousands of simulated computers in a test environment. In the real world, he said that Project Pheon has worked with dozens of simultaneous connections.
The project faces serious hurdles, such as not being able to use TCP because the upload queue gets filled, or using timeouts because timeouts effectively kill the live stream. "There's no reason this hasn't been done yet, but there aren't many people working in this space," he said. Project Pheon is based on UDP, the same basis for uTorrent's uTP, and is expected late in the second half of 2011.