Entertainment

Netflix vs. Popcorn Time: Piracy site a game-changer

By Sean Fitzgerald, 24 Hrs

I sat beside this guy on an airplane recently, and he convinced me to do it.

You see, after a few hours in the air, with minimal food selection and no movies to entertain us – in economy class on United Airlines, you have to pay extra for that kind of stuff – we decided to talk about our lives. And once he found out about my streaming column, he gave it to me straight.

“I deactivated my Netflix account a while ago,” he told me. “I only use Popcorn Time now.”

That was all I needed to know. I had heard a lot about Popcorn Time in the past little while, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently acknowledging it as a big competitor in a public letter to shareholders, where he called Popcorn Time’s rising usage in the Netherlands “sobering.” And Stream This readers have been telling me about Popcorn Time for a little while now. But it took a friendly stranger on a boring plane ride to finally persuade me to try it.

I have taken a trip to the dark side, and it is a glorious place indeed.

WHAT IS IT?

The tech community has christened Popcorn Time as “the Netflix for pirates,” and over the past year, the application’s easy-to-use, clean interface has earned it millions of users. Basically, it’s a pretty version of a torrent program – instead of annoying banner ads, mislabelled files and the possibility of picking up a virus, Popcorn Time gives users a simple way to watch the latest movies and TV shows. All you need to do is click on the box art for the particular title (just like Netflix, right?). When you watch something, you’re basically streaming the torrents live, and the movie gets stored in a temporary folder on your drive until you restart your computer – unless you choose to keep the file, which is also an option.

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM NETFLIX, SHOMI AND CRAVETV?

Well, first of all, it’s free. And it’s not completely legal. You’ll quickly notice that if you’re looking for a new title, such as a movie that is still in its theatrical run, you can probably find it here. While the more legal alternatives often feature a few A-list options mixed in among a sea of B-movies and older titles, Popcorn Time seems to offer a wider selection of quality movies and shows. And there’s a real sense of community here, as the developers of Popcorn Time rely on users to help them find bugs.

WHAT’S OFFERED ON IT?

Like I mentioned earlier, Popcorn Time’s interface looks really good. You navigate it by looking through thumbnails of movie posters, or by using the search function. You can create a favourites list, sort of like “My List” on Netflix, and once you select a title, you can see the IMDB rating, the running time, and options for subtitles and viewing quality. In terms of the actual content, you’ll likely be able to find a number of Academy Award-nominated movies on here – a recent search found five of the eight titles up for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. In comparison, Netflix Canada only offers one Best Picture nominee at the moment, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anime fans will find a comprehensive selection as well, and the TV options are pretty stellar – can you go wrong with a collection that includes Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and House of Cards?

IS IT SAFE?

Downloading the free Popcorn Time software will not get you arrested. But the truth is, once you click on a movie or TV title, you’ll be simultaneously downloading and seeding it – which means that you’re distributing copyrighted material to other people. The Popcorn Time interface looks so legit that some users will likely think that it’s completely legal, even though the developers have posted a pretty clear message on the application, which says, “Downloading copyrighted material may be illegal in your country. Use at your own risk.” While there are stories of Popcorn Time users receiving threatening e-mails from their Internet service providers, there are ways to protect your Popcorn Time usage – including signing up for a VPN to keep your viewing anonymous. While I’m not advocating that Stream This readers start breaking copyright laws, it’s important to know about technology like this –especially when pirate programs start offering better content and providing a better user experience than legal alternatives. In the end, Reed Hastings has reason to be a little nervous. Your move, Netflix.

Twitter: @SeanDFtizgerald

sean.fitzgerald@sunmedia.ca

 

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