How-To: Broadcatching Part 1: History

Part 1: History

For people not living in the United States or temporarily traveling away, new domestic TV episodes are not broadcast regularly which makes it difficult for fans to keep up. The age old solution for those temporarily traveling away was to leave a VCR running at home to time-shift episodes on to low-quality VHS. The problem with this approach was that VHS tapes had very limited recording capacities and a single-tuner VCR could only record one show at a time. There had to be a solution short of having multiple VCRs and tapes. For many years, it has been possible to view and record television on computers via a host of add-in cards. It was only a matter of time until savvy computer users figured out how to record TV shows onto their computers through kludgy interfaces which littered the early TV tuner landscape. Quality wasn’t always great because MPEG encoding had to happen in software run over processors (i.e. Pentium 2 450Mhz in my case) choking on 720×480 streams which made it necessary to keep resolutions low. Although bigger hard drives solved the problem of limited storage, consumers were usually stuck with the ability to record only one show at a time due to a majority of the cards only being equipped with a single tuner. Then came the consumer TV tuners with hardware MPEG encoding and multiple tuners which allowed a bump in resolution, a loss of random pauses while recording, and allowed recording of more than one program at a time. These developments spurred the underground world of computer-based TV recording.

As most things in the digital world, people wanted to share their recordings with over fans but limited bandwidth outside of ISDN lines to the home or ethernet connections in college dorms still prevented widespread sharing. For the general public, P2P applications coupled with high-speed cable and DSL broadband internet connections finally made widespread sharing possible. Many iterations of P2P came about and legal pressure from various industry groups forced newer generations of P2P protocols to cope. BitTorrent ultimately was released which provided a revolutionary way of removing all the burden from a server (in a client-server relationship) to that of one where clients would share chunks of data with other clients. In other words, the single server bandwidth burden was now less crucial. Unfortunately, lazy users still had to specifically search for shows through a non-automated process. BitTorrent made this even harder because files called torrents had to be located which contained the necessary information to download the file in question. Finally, suggestions started flying around the internet that the subsciption capabilities of RSS could allow users to subscribe to trusted feeds of specific shows. The feeds would imbed a torrent file which would be automatically downloaded at a set interval and a BitTorrent client would then automatically queue the file for transfer. This marriage of RSS + BitTorrent was termed broadcatching. All of this meant that finally a distribution model existed akin to Tivo’s Season Pass functionality where users could watch television shows without manual intervention. Although there are many legal uses of RSS + BitTorrent, sharing of TV show content is generally considered to be copyright infringement in the United States but not necessarily in other countries around the world.

In the next few parts, I will outline how to use various pieces of software to acquire content from a variety of sources.

Note: If there are any errors, shoot me an email.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer so I’m going to forego the legal doubletalk and say this all directly. All the information provided is for educational and entertainment purposes. It is the responsibility of the reader of this information contained in this entry to verify that they are in compliance with all applicable laws. I cannot be held responsible for any damage or illegal usage of the information provided. I cannot and will not condone copyright infringement.