For those who are healthy-yet-stuck-inside due to the coronavirus restrictions, it’s sort of like the universe gave us an excuse to binge-watch our favourite movies and TV shows (or catch up on our gaming backlogs). Most of us will probably fire up one of the many paid streaming services to get our content fix, but there are also plenty of free options, too, including Popcorn Time—a popular (and notoriously not-so-legal) free streaming app that uses BitTorrent technology to find and watch videos.
Unlike other BitTorrent apps, Popcorn Time allows for near-instant playback of whatever you want to watch—you don’t have to wait for any downloads to finish. That said, since the app’s primary purpose is to access copyrighted content, let’s be clear: we don’t condone piracy and, just as Popcorn Time’s official terms of service states, you’re breaking the law if you download copyrighted material. There are several places with legally available content via BitTorrent if you’re at a loss.
Piracy issues aside, the word “BitTorrent” has a lot of other baggage associated with it, too, and some may be turned off by the idea of using a BitTorrent client due to other reasons like user experience or data privacy concerns,
Popcorn Time is easy to set up and navigate. The media player uses a graphical interface somewhat like Netflix’s, letting you search for content by keyword. It features playback controls and setting for changing subtitles, stream quality, and more, and there are plenty of advanced network settings available for those who want them.
As for the data-security concerns, Popcorn Time’s default trackers should ensure you’re downloading the right files from safe locations, and you can even add your own to increase the number of titles you can watch. Just remember that BitTorrent activity is visible to your ISP and other companies who keep tabs on your browsing history.
If that concerns you, download a reliable VPN service (the app has a paid VPN built-in, too) and use a browser that keeps you private when looking for other stuff to watch—just not Tor, since it wasn’t built with BitTorrent in mind and can actually be less secure than other browsers for torrent-related activity. It’s also worth reading our beginner’s guide to BitTorrent if you’re new to all this.
If you’re cool with all those caveats, Popcorn Time is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and Android TV. Just, y’know, don’t download anything illegally.
Oh, and be mindful of your internet bandwidth and data plans if you share the same network with family, friends, roommates, or other building tenants. Torrent clients can easily clog up a network, and with folks relying on their home wifi more than usual right now, it’d be rude to hog it all with morally-questionable content acquisition.