Beginners Guide To...Downloading TV Shows

Wednesday 2nd November, 2005
In this Beginner's Guide, we're going to cover downloading TV shows from the internet.

Much of the time downloading copyrighted material is illegal; but there are a number of grey areas. Downloading movies and music is nearly always illegal, and rightfully so, if you want an CD album or DVD...go to the shops and buy it. But what if you just want to download a TV show you missed?

If I was home last night, I could easily have switched to BBC1 at 1930 and watched Eastenders...but I wasn't. If I set my VCR or PVR or DVDR (too much technology these days) I could have a "legal" copy of this show recorded to the media of my choice. This I would be allowed to replay at will. But what if I forgot to record it or, for some reason, my time recording failed? What if I'm out of the country for a while and simply cannot tune in? This is where the internet is really helping out. Legality is questionable but, if you could have legally watched it or recorded it from TV at the time, I fail to see the problem.


For UK TV viewers, sites like The Box allow you do download these missed shows in xvid or divx format .avi files. These can be played back on any PC with the appropriate codec installed or even through a TV connected digital media player. In summary, some kind hearted soul records the live broadcast digitally using their home equipment and then encodes it into a size-optimised avi file using MPEG compression. They then package this up into what's called a Bit Torrent download for other users to share.

Bit Torrent, for newbies, is a file sharing tool which is used to optimise the copying of files from one to many users. To simplify the theory, imagine 10 users each wanted to download a 10MB file from a single user. Using old methods, this would require 100MB of traffic on the source. Using BitTorrent, they all download a piece each of say 1MB in size. Once each has a 1MB piece, only 10MB has been transferred from the source. There are now 2 whole copies of the file in the network....2 people have a copy of each piece. If they all then download a second piece, not only is the connection speed significantly quicker as they are downloading from the original source and one of there peers, it will result in 3 distributed copies of the original 10MB file. Download speeds then increase proportionally. As more peers have more of the file, throughput becomes very quick, even though the individual speed of each connected machine isn't all that quick.

So, in case you hadn't guessed already, the TV shows are distributed by BitTorrent to other users using this efficient peer-2-peer network. It works well, especially when a handful of users have all downloaded the complete show and you can download from all of them concurrently.

There are a number of file sharing networks out there, some good...some not so good. My favourites, The Box,  UKNOVA, TVTorrents and Demonoid all require users to be registered to download and it counts the amount they download. As BitTorrent is a file sharing system, these sites encourage people to share. If you don't upload as much as you download, or at least reasonably comparible, then your account may be suspended or you may just lose download rights until you catch up. Uploading is simple, a downloaded file automatically switches to uploading (known as seeding) when completed. Only if you manually kill it will the upload stop. Seeding maintains the speed of the torrent and well seeded files rapidly download from peers.

To download Torrents, you need a BitTorrent client...software that is installed on your PC. I've used several and they vary a lot in simplicity. For the geeks out there, look out for Azureus. It's fully featured, highly configurable and works well. If you want something a bit simpler try Bitlord, which is easier to use but does contain some dodgy advertising links...you were warned.

Whichever client or download site you use you'll find that your downloads may start a little slow and then get quicker, slowing down again towards the end. This is normal..just wait for it to complete. When complete, keed the file seeding until you have a good 1.0 (or 1:1) ratio. Some sites even prefer a 2:1 ratio. I do recommend you stick to registered sites though as the downloads are more reliable and more likely to complete without a problem.

Any questions or comments, post away below.

PLEASE DON'T DOWNLOAD ANY MOVIES...ELSE I WON'T LIKE YOU!

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