Arjen van Kol . com

Webhuttenier en liedvertaler.

 
 

Live P2P-TV

Global free television. Sharing television channels in real time, peer-to-peer

(This page used to be about a specific P2P-TV software package called Cybersky-TV. As Cybersky-TV still seems to be going nowhere, this page now consists of an overview of all sorts p2p-tv software and other internet tv solutions and the channels that can be viewed with it for free.)

What to expect from free P2P-TV?

First the good news: CBS, Discovery*, National Geographic Channel*, BBC World, Animal Planet*, Nickelodeon. All these channels and a lot more can be watched live for free in some variant, from any place in the world, using free software and broadband internet. You can find channel and reception details further below.

You can watch live Champions League and Premier League on ESPN Asia, with the original Sky Sports commentary in English. You can watch other mayor sports leagues live as well. Peer-to-peer television is big in Asia and is getting more and more popular in Europe and the US as well. There are a lot of channels in Chinese, Korean, English and pretty much any other language in the world.

Now the bad news: not everything is as good as it seems. Services are not always reliable; what channels are on offer changes by the day; picture quality is sometimes mediocre; channel switching takes minutes not seconds; some channels are in Asian variants (those with asterisks) with English audio and Chinese subtitles with prime time at 2 pm in the afternoon in Europe and in the middle of the night in the Americas.

Technique and economics of internet broadcasting

Let us first have a look at how internet television works, or should I say: how it did not work until the peer-to-peer concept came into play. It was not so much that the technique didn't work, though there were some problems as well, but more importantly the economics of it didn't work. Internet television has been around for quite a few years. All sorts of parties are offering it. It could be a paid service in combination with your internet/cable subscription, for example. It could be a service by the TV station, either free of paid for.

Almost without exception getting the signal to the viewer involves a traditional client/server architecture: the client computer asks for a signal and the server computer sends a data stream containing the signal to the client. The signal provider needs to send every user an individual stream. When broadcasting live over the internet providers are literally sending thousands of times identical streams from their servers to the viewers' computers.

Broadcasting TV in this way is an obvious waste of bandwidth (and therefore money; we're talking LOTS of money here) for the provider's server in particular, and for the internet infrastructure as a whole. Have you ever tried watching a popular live video stream only to find out that the server was experiencing an overload? Now you know why. Keeping these streams up is taking a lot of expensive server capacity and guess who would be paying for all that in the end? Exactly. You, the viewer.

With peer-to-peer (P2P) technology live video streams can be distributed in a far more cost-effective manner. To accomplish this several P2P-TV protocols have been created. Similar to existing P2P file sharing protocols such a eDonkey, BitTorrent, Gnutella and Kazaa, they are sharing data delivery workloads across connected client systems as well as the distributor's own server infrastructure. This way it drastically decreases the operational costs for a stream provider.

When you are watching peer-to-peer television you are at the same time uploading the stream to other users. Users don't need a connection to the original server to get the signal so the server is far less likely to overload when the demand is growing. The more popular the channel, the better the signal. This means that P2P streams scale far more smoothly than traditional streaming, which requires extra hardware and paying up for extra bandwidth and there's a good chance that things don't work for anyone in the meantime.

Is this bad news for TV stations?

On the contrary. It's TV as it has always been, just distributed differently. What is mostly forgotten by broadcasters is that they themselves have quite a lot to win by using/tolerating P2P-TV. If all live TV would only be distributed via P2P, it would leave TV stations huge sums of money to be spend on better content and a massive audience to feed commercials. Making TV has always been a costly affair, particularly the distribution of it to the viewers. This now changes thanks to P2P-TV. Whether this is bad news for any particular TV station, depends on their own perspective. Fact is that peer-to-peer technology is going to change the way live TV content arrives to the viewers. This means risks as well as opportunities for everyone.

Yes, but is it legal?

Don't ask me, I'm not a lawyer and I don't know. It's pretty likely that particularly you uploading the stream containing copyrighted material to others while you're watching yourself is illegal by the letter in some countries.

Software, channels and tv guides

Dozens of P2P-TV programs exist, and still more are being introduced every month. Most of these however are completely in Chinese, which is good for you if understand Chinese, but for the other 83% of the world population it isn't particularly helpful. Only a couple of them are in English and together with some Chinese ones for which English manuals are available online there remain only a few programs: PPLive, TVUPlayer, TVAnts, SopCast. Others do probably exist, but these cover most channels available.

Technically they are all pretty much the same. All offer hundreds of channels and most of the channels available in one program are also available in other programs. As TVUPlayer no longer offers the mayor US Networks there is no longer a reason to use it alongside any of the others, because that was the only unique content it offered. On the whole TVUPlayer offers far less channels than the others do.

For reasons unclear to me, PPLive appears to be the most popular. I myself however don't like it. I prefer TVAnts, because it also offers a lot of traditionally streamed channels that are redistributed as P2P streams. The channels below mentioned in the TVants column are also available on PPLive and others.

Now without much further ado, some of the most interesting channels on offer for English speakers (you need to install TVUPlayer for these links to work):

softwarechannelgenreschedule
TVUPlayerNickelodeonKids-8 UTC
TVAntsCBS (WLTX)US Network-8 UTC
TVAntsDiscovery AsiaInformative+8 UTC
 National Geographic Channel AsiaInformative+8 UTC
 Animal Planet AsiaInformative+8 UTC
 BBC WorldNewsany zone
 ESPN AsiaSports+8 UTC
 CinemaxMovies+8 UTC
 HollywoodMovies+8 UTC
 Star WorldUS shows/series+8 UTC

The current time for -8 UTC is: 05:05 am.
The current time for +8 UTC is: 05:05 pm.

Recording German TV for free

If you're not in Germany (or you're in Europe but don't have a satellite dish) and you want to watch German TV, then you've got a problem. Most German channels are not available online (notable exception is the news channel N-TV). You can however record from any of the mayor German stations online for free (42 channels on offer!). After finishing the recordings you can download and watch them. Go to onlinetvrecorder.com for more information. The channels currently on offer are: ARD, ZDF, 3sat, Phoenix, Bayerisches, BR-Alpha, HR, Arte, RTL, ProSieben, Sat1, KabelEins, RTL2, SuperRTL, Vox, Tele5.

Then there are 24 channels more that are recorded using a pooling system. This means that if you schedule your recording the day before, the system calculates the most efficient way to record as much as possible with the 8 systems (each recording two channels on the same transponder) at hand. In practice this means that more than 90% of all scheduled recordings can be performed for these channels, including of course the most popular ones. The channels using the pooling system are: ARD EinsExtra, ARD EinsFestival, ARD EinsPlus, ZDF Dokukanal, ZDF Theaterkanal, MDR, NDR, RBB, SWR, WDR, Ki.Ka, CNN, Euronews, N-TV, N24, DMAX, Terranova, Viva, Eurosport, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Das4, 9live and Giga.


Last update: 23rd March 2012.