Tuesday 18 March 2014

PopCorn Time

Curious to see whether PopCorn Time is as easy to use as Netflix and consequently potentially ridiculously disruptive for the movie industry, I gave it a trial run. At no point did I view more than 5 seconds of any film: I just wanted to know whether it works well. I deleted the programme immediately on completion of the trial. I pay for my content.

Here is my entire experience.

I read about the programme at Music Industry Blog [HT: Duncan, who reports a satisfactory OSX experience]. I then searched around for the install files, and found only the stories from a few days ago of the programmer having pulled the programme. As it's open source and was up at GitHub, a pile of alternatives remain available. Had I simply followed the link from Music Industry Blog to the writeup at TechCrunch, I'd have found it more easily. Downloading and installing from there was simple: extract the .zips to a folder, run the .exe.

The programme has a very slick interface. I decided to run a few 5-second samples from the middle of a few films to check:

  • Does the film work?
  • Is the viewing quality reasonable, or is it some shaky camera from inside a movie theatre?
  • Sound quality, including language.
Here is my entire experience.

I started Popcorn Time. Browsed through some content. Hit the following:
  • Princess Mononoke: Was in Japanese, no English subtitles, not advertised as being the Japanese version, though non-English subtitles were advertised.
  • A set of films then failed to load: they went from the buffering notice to only a spinning circle of failure. I then restarted the programme. On second go-round, I retried some of those films. And:
  • Frozen: Buffering took twice as long as typical Netflix start. But excellent quality. Choice of 720P or 1080P.
  • Wolf of Wall Street: Buffering took four times as long as typical Netflix start. But decent quality. Worse resolution than typical Netflix, playback stopped briefly during play.
Then, I tried the search bar instead of just hitting things in the browse window. 
  • My Neighbour Totoro: no results
  • Strange Brew: no results
  • Goodbye, Pork Pie: no results
  • Rambo: the search window started hanging, had to restart the programme. Restarting it took a rather long time; was about to force-close when it came up. It came up with First Blood, which worked in 720P. 
  • Amelie: Worked fine. All in French (as it should be, but not advertised as such), no subtitles. 480p.
  • Transformers: pulled up the three new movies, didn't find the old 80s cartoon. I didn't hit the links.
I've now deleted the programme, as I pay for content and was only interested in seeing how well this works. It does seem a reasonable alternative to paid content. Compared to Netflix, it has much more new content, but also more surprises - as you'd expect from a torrent server. There are reasonable odds you'll come up with foreign-language versions of foreign-language films, you're likely to have to restart the programme a few times as you go, but I didn't catch any Russian-dubbed versions of English movies (though I didn't sample many movies at all). 

It isn't good enough, in my view, to dominate a paid version where folks wouldn't get these minor surprises and necessary re-starts, but I have a fairly high willingness to pay. The glitches were irritating rather than experience-destroying. It's dead-simple to install and run. In the absence of a paid version offering similar functionality, a lot of folks will find Popcorn Time awfully tempting.

I do not encourage you to install and run Popcorn Time. It is still stealing content. Netflix with geounblocking - at least I'm still paying for it. If you do decide to install and run it, play careful: I suspect the programme could well attract folks who wouldn't think to mask their torrenting appropriately. You'll have to do your own searches to find out how to do that.

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