The Rabalder Blog

Popcorn Time

The Popcorn Time mascot

Lately I’ve been trying out Popcorn Time. I know it’s hardly news anymore, but I’m one of those who like to pay for the movies I watch, so I’ve been looking a bit around for what alternatives I have. So far, given my prefered platforms and a requirement that the solution needs to be playable using Free and Open Source software, I’ve really only had one choice: Vimeo.

I like Vimeo, there’s a lot of really great independent film makers out there who make films that are both interesting and well made. Through Vimeo’s video-on-demand service they have a chance to screen their films for a price they set themselves – and you know that at least part of the money reach the film makers. The service is quite good, and I will definitely keep using it.

Pretty much everything else requires proprietary software that isn’t even available for my systems (read Microsoft Silverlight.) That’s a no go. I’m not going to install a closed source proprietary software from a vendor that is known to cooperate with the authorities of hostile nations just to watch movies. I’m not that stupid.

So I’ve read about Popcorn Time, but shrugged it off, as I would rather like a solution where I can give back to the film makers. Until one day, I decided to try…

It does have it’s problems. The search is not very good. I would like to search on films by country, by director, by actors etc, but it seems it only provides search by title. Also given their own claim that they have everything, I think the selection of movies is rather thin. They have the most mainstream stuff, but there’s quite a few of my favourite movies I have not been able to find there yet. Third, for less popular movies the download rate may be wildly varying, which gives a frustrating viewer experience when the move halts altogether for extended periods of time.

That said, when it works, damn how it works! Compared to the commercial offerings that have jerky playback with occationally severe coding artifacts, Popcorn Time provides really smooth playback, much better image quality and crisper sound. If you love movies, I really see no other alternatives coming even close to this.1

My question is: Why hasn’t the movie industry looked into this?

The code is licensed under GPLv3, which means the movie studio who first decides to try this model has a good and working codebase to start off with when they decides to make their own offering. The catch? Any software derived from Popcorn Time must also be free and open source.

But this is actually an advantage! You’ll get a community of people that would help you develop the software, you just need to provide the movies and a way to pay for them. Given that Popcorn Time is based on the BitTorrent protocol, it even means that everyone watching films is also helping you distribute it. So you’ll even save on bandwith costs compared to the traditional video-on-demand solutions of today. Popular movies will practically host themselves, less popular ones may have to be served more directly.

Give us a way to pay for the movies, provide enough server bandwith that we can watch even the less popular movies without trouble, and fix the crappy search and we should have a winner.



I’ve sometimes paid for movies on other services, just to end up watching them on Popcorn Time because the experience is so much better!