Recently missed the season finale of a favorite TV show due to a Tivo screw-up. None of my friends had a copy of the show, so decided it was time to figure out what most 17-year-olds already know: Everything is on BitTorrent. Unsurprisingly, found that the BitTorrent world is somewhat biased towards Windows users, and that usage instructions don’t come with downloads. With a bit of research and experimentation, I was able to pull all the pieces together to download, decode, and burn the show to disc from the Mac. Decided to post notes here to save other 40-somethings the pain of figuring all of this stuff out.
The first part is a no-brainer: You’ll need a copy of the BitTorrent download client for the Mac. Next you’ll need to find a .torrent file for the show you want to watch. These aren’t hard to find with a bit of Googling — I found what I needed on torrentspy.com. The downloaded BitTorrent file will launch in the BitTorrent client, find peers on the network, and make you a peer as well.
Once completed, the torrent archive will decompress. The contents of the archive may or may not be usable on the Mac. I found that my TV show download decompressed into 48 separate 15MB untyped files that the Mac had no idea what to do with. There was no readme in the archive, and no clues as to what to do with them. A bit more research… ah, this is a .rar archive, something I remembered from the old pre-Web BBS days. Had no idea .rar was still in use. So the next step was to find a .rar handler for the Mac – UnRarX did the trick.
Launched UnRarX and dragged the first of the sequentially numbered files from the decompressed torrent archive onto it. UnRarX then concatenated the 48 included files into a single AVI file, which it deposited in the same folder. Back in the BBS days, this method made sense because so much was floppy-based — we used to spread a download among dozens of .rar files to get around the 1.44MB floppy limit. But in this massive-single-download environment, the logic of using .rar eludes me — lingering vestiges of the cracker mindset, probably. There’s no reason I can think of why a simple tarball or .zip wouldn’t work just as well.
Because I had been scanning the .torrent boards, I knew in advance that the final AVI was probably going to need the XviD codec in order to be playable (“XviD is an open-source ISO MPEG-4 compliant video codec”). I found an XviD “delegate” plugin for QuickTime here, which passes the job of decoding XviD streams to the DivX decoder. So in order to use it, you first need to install the DivX plugin for QuickTime, then XviD. Yeesh. The DivX codec is packaged as an installer. Installation instructions for XviD are on its website.
Amazingly, the downloaded, un-rar’d, concatenated, delegated, plugged-in AVI file came up neatly in QuickTime, played smoothly, and had surprisingly good quality. Now all that remained was to get the sucker onto DVD so I could take it to the living room for viewing (I’m not the “watch a whole movie on the computer” type). iDVD created a beautiful DVD, which played flawlessly. But iDVD’s process of re-encoding the two-hour show to MPEG-2 (which is what DVDs use) took around 4.5 hours of 75% CPU usage on a G5 iMac. You’ll probably want to do this overnight. Because the re-encoding took so long, I re-evaluated the couch potato philosophy. Next time I’ll dim the lights in the office, bring in a hassock, and just watch it from the captain’s chair, skipping the DVD step.
Don’t know if this is true of most BitTorrent streams, but was jazzed to find that whoever posted the show had already edited out the commercials, so I didn’t even have to FF through them manually. Modern luxury.