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Here in Tampa, one of the biggest local stories of the football season has been the local TV blackout of Bucs games. Thanks to the magic of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) broadcasting, however, it’s now possible to sidestep these restrictions and watch just about any sporting event anywhere in the world (most of the time) on your computer. In this tutorial, I’ll run down some of the options available to you.
I should make clear from the start that there is no easy, frustration-free way to do this. Most likely, you will end up with a grainy, low quality video with commentary in Cantonese – and that’s if you’re lucky! Trying to watch sports in this way is really best left to the obsessed. If you count yourself one, let’s begin.
Option 1: The browser method
The most common method of delivering streaming video is from a single source that delivers the video directly to your browser. Sites like JustinTV and Ustream work in this manner. A lot of live sports are actually broadcast through these services, but if you try and do a normal search, you probably won’t find anything. Many of these streams are obfuscated in some way in order to avoid takedowns from copyright holders, so you’ll have to go through a website that aggregates these streams.
Some of the more reliable websites include firstrow, stream2watch, channelsurfing, and ATDHE. “Reliable” is a relative term, since nearly all of these sites have pop up ads and banner ads of an annoying or adult nature. These sites are sketchy by their very nature, so you should browse with caution.
There’s other drawbacks to watching video this way as well. If there’s a large number of people trying to access the same stream, there’s a good chance it’ll slow the connection down or lock you out entirely. As I said before, takedowns are a fairly common occurrence, and I’ve been frustrated on more than one occasion by a stream that went out during halftime.
Option 2: The P2P live method
Instead of sending video directly to your browser, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) video streaming software turns your computer into both a receiver of video and a broadcaster of video. This means that instead of getting the video from a single, centralized source, you’re actually getting little bits of the video from all of the other people who are watching that video at the same time that you’re uploading the little bits that you’ve downloaded. Confused? Wikipedia has more in-depth info on P2P networking, but all you really need to know is that it’s the opposite of Option 1 – the more people watch a stream, the better that stream is going to be. This means extremely popular sports leagues, like the English Premier League, tend to have the more reliable streams.
You’ll need to install a program on your computer that will be able to access these streams – interestingly, nearly all of them come out of China. There’s quite a few out there, but in my experience I have had very little luck with anything except Sopcast, which is a Windows program that you can download here.
Once you’ve got Sopcast installed, you can login anonymously (there’s no need to register), which will bring you to this screen. There’s no need to actually interact with the Sopcast interface, since you’re unlikely to find anything by browsing it’s offerings (unless you want to watch Chinese state television, which you can find in the “Live Channels” tab).
What you’ll be looking for on these sites are Sopcast links specifically, since each stream is specific to a piece of software. Clicking the link will open up the stream in Sopcast, and start to load.
…or not. There’s a good chance that you won’t find a working stream on the first try, and if it does work, it might be too jittery or laggy to be watchable. The key word here is patience, so you might have to try giving it some time (sometimes streams get better the closer it gets to the start of a game) or find another stream.
Option 3: The P2P download method
If you’re unable to find a decent stream, it’s possible you might be able to find a copy of the video the next day via BitTorrent. A BitTorrent is a P2P method of downloading a file, and it’s become infamous for being the protocol most used for pirating movies, music and software. It works just like P2P streaming, in that you’re downloading little bits of the file from multiple sources at the same time that you’re uploading little bits to other downloaders.
So instead of downloading the file itself, you’ll need to download a tracker file (which is a small file with a .torrent extension) for the file that you want. These can be found by searching one of the tracker sites, like btjunkie, mininova, or Pirate Bay for the game that you want.
You’ll need to open the tracker file in a BitTorrent client, like uTorrent, which is a free program that’s available on Windows, Mac and Linux.
Video files are big, so you’re probably in for a fairly long wait. On the plus side, the quality of downloaded video is far superior to anything you can get via streaming.
For more info on using BitTorrent, visit this handy guide by Adam Pash at Lifehacker.