BitTorrent Begins a Major Metamorphosis

At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BitTorrent began unveiling a major change to the file-sharing platform. Dubbed Project Chrysalis, it will transform the platform from a handy and inexpensive way to distribute and access files into a full-fledged home entertainment platform.

BitTorrent offers two clients for downloading torrent files: the standard BitTorrent client (called BitTorrent Mainline), which is a lab for new features, and µTorrent (called micro-torrent or u-torrent), which is slim and streamlined. The BitTorrent team has already been experimenting with offering apps in the BitTorrent client, which help users quickly access promoted content or applications, so far for free.

Project Chrysalis radically changes the BitTorrent interface, simplifying or removing the more techie elements and focusing instead on presenting a simple app-based approach. Users can tap apps to discover a catalog of promoted content, or use a standard torrent search to find other available files. Once content is downloaded, users will be able to play it within the application.

This will be version 8 of the BitTorrent client, and it will debut publicly at the end of the first quarter, 2011. It will also offer a rating feature and integration with social networks such as Twitter and FaceBook. For content owners, it will deliver opportunities for selling content, a BitTorrent first.

(For those techies who like the current look, the BitTorrent team says there will always be a classic version or the application.)

But that’s only one part of BitTorrent’s plans. It’s also creating a home ecosystem, where content downloaded on BitTorrent can easily be sent to a compatible television or mobile device.

To accomplish this, the company is partnering with the Information and Communications Research Laboratories at Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, which is creating BitTorrent-certified chips for use in Blu-Ray players, DVD players, TVs, tablets, mobile devices, and more. BitTorrent’s executives expect those chips to be in production with three to five manufacturers by the holiday season, 2011. Once they’re in the home, users will be able to download BitTorrent content on the computer, send it to another device with one click, and be assured that it will always play without a problem. A BitTorrent-certified label will let buyers know which devices are compatible. To demonstrate how the system works, the Taiwan team built a media server into a model Ming vase, one of the most attractive living room devices we’ve ever seen.

Attendees at the South by Southwest conference in March will get a better look a the BitTorrent evolution.

For content providers, Project Chrysalis represents the best way yet to harness the power of BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer streaming. With home networking and the ability to sell content, it could make a huge splash when it’s finally released.

Just as exciting, Bram Cohen, creator of the BitTorrent platform and chief scientist of the company, gave the first press previews of the live P2P streaming solutions that he’s been working on. Called Project Pheon, it showed only a six-second latency in our demo. When its released, likely this summer, this Flash-based solution will let content creators stream live with few infrastructure requirements. All that’s needed is the BitTorrent software and a camera. The controls are Web-based.

Cohen has been testing the live solution using emulation software to assure scaling, and is now doing real-world testing with volunteers. We’re looking forward to its release, as it could make streaming live video easier and cheaper than ever before.


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