This new breakthrough technology allows everyone to broadcast a live stream, such as a webcam feed, to thousands of people, using around the same amount of bandwidth you would use to stream to one or two people. With SwarmPlayer, the user can simply click on a “live” .torrent file and tune into any live BitTorrent channel. To make this possible, the P2P-Next research group created a new .tstream format which is a regular .torrent with live capability.
The BBC is one of the parties currently testing the new BitTorrent streaming format, which is part of the P2P-Next project. The scientific director of the project, Johan Pouwelse, told TorrentFreak that it’s not just the BBC interested in this new technology: “We are working with a lot of interested parties. Through the European Broadcasting Union we are getting a lot of feedback. We are expected to do more field trials in the near future.”
If the technology turns out to be a success, broadcasters can save millions of dollars each year on video streaming projects. ISPs on the other hand will be less excited, because they now pay for this bandwidth. Most importantly, however, is that this technology allows individuals to broadcast their streams to thousands of users, without having to invest in lots of bandwidth. YouTube 2.0, sort of.
Pouwelse further told TorrentFreak that, unlike services such as Joost, they are fully committed to open standard and Open Source. “As a research project we, by definition, need to make things that others don’t already have, without needing to worry about business models,” he said, going on to explain how they got live streaming via BitTorrent to work.
“To be relevant we remain BitTorrent compatible,” Pouwelse said. “However, traditional BitTorrent is not compatible with streaming. We solved this problem by dropping the tit-for-tat protocol and making something which is more generic, which we call Give-to-Get.”
“Give-to-Get tries to obtain video blocks just in time for displaying. Tit-for-tat rewards people that give bandwidth to you, which does not work in the streaming case. Instead, Give-to-Get gives bandwidth to people that are nice to others. This is more powerful, but proved to be quite tricky to get working.”
Indeed, streaming a webcam feed is totally different than downloading a huge video file. What the Swarmplayer does is download and buffer one minute’s worth of data, which is then traded with other people in the swarm. The users are actively trading the buffered data.
A key breakthrough was that Dr. Arno Bakker got the “UnDownload()” functionality working. This is needed, because the player has to drop data after a while, since you’re watching a continuous stream. This turned out to require momentous revamping of 7 year old code.”
For those who want to test the BitTorrent live streaming, there is a streaming test where you can tune in to a webcam in Amsterdam, or a 5 minute weather report (not live) from the BBC. You can provide feedback and check out some of the statistics here. More details about how to set up your own BitTorrent live stream are also available.
The Swarmplayer and the BitTorrent live streaming technology are still work in progress. “We hope that we can get this code solid and stable in a month,” Pouwelse said, “then we can focus on the next milestone of sharing ratio enforcement, where we give better video experience to those that upload more.” We will certainly keep an eye on these developments, as it may change the way we watch video online.