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These days, anybody can just log on to their P2P network of choice and start downloading the newest Britney Spears album. But not every MP3 is the same, or not as easily available as Miss Spears' "efforts". Continuing the legacy of (shameless plug) "How to use Napster Effectively" this node deals with the most effect ways of getting what you want on today's modern Peer-to-Peer networks.

DISCLAIMER: I will not be held responsible for any users' actions that may result from the information contained in this document. It is your responsibility to know your country's law and copyright regulations. Use this at your own risk.

Recommended Networks/Clients

Note about BT: The Bit Torrent network is different from the others in that for the moment you can't really 'search' the BT network, or at least not very effectively. The architecture of BT is somewhat different than 'classic' P2P networks, though one can't deny it has a lot of potential.

Note about Slsk: The Soulseek network started as a effort to bring rare, obscure and/or uncopyrighted material to people, and set itself apart from standard P2P networks. The fact that the Slsk network is run off a centralized server makes it vulnerable to attacks by the RIAA/MPAA. Therefore it has been requested of me that I stress NOT to use Slsk for purposes of distributing copyrighted material (not that you were going to do that anyway, right?) to preserve its integrity.

Links at bottom of page

Search tactics

One of the most interesting things about SoulSeek is that you can share ANY sort of file. Most P2P clients only let you search for specific filetypes or, like KaZaA, certain groups of filetypes such as "Audio" which usually means MP3, WAV or WMA. With Soulseek you can search for anything, which is especially useful in finding rarer audio formats such as Ogg Vorbis (OGG), Musepack (MPC) or lossless audio formats such as Monkey's Audio (APE) or FLAC. The same goes for video with Ogg Media (OGM) and Matroska (MKV).

"Lost" that PC/XBOX/PS2 game of yours and need a "backup"? It is also relatively easy to find complete CD images of many games. Many a user has an ISO, BIN or IMG file of what you're looking for. Don't forget to download the accompanying CUE file with track position information if you want to burn or mount images (CCD, plus in some cases SUB for subchannel data, in the case of CloneCD).

When searching for files, you may sometimes want to search for a specific format, for example Ogg Vorbis. Just add "ogg" (or the appropriate file ending) to your search string. SoulSeek searches by file and foldername. EMule can be searched by filename. This way, you can search for a whole combination of criteria. In a lot of cases, such as if you prefer a certain release group, like "PMS" or "DEViANCE" for example, you can also add that as a search string if the group includes their acronym in the filename, which most do.

Music: An MP3 ain't just an MP3

A common misconception is still that MP3s at 128kbps are CD-quality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Not many of you will be audiophiles who care about the encoder, ripper or decent psychoacoustic model coupled with an efficient Joint Stereo mode used (i do, but i'm just a geek). Still, you might want to steer clear of bitrates under 192. Luckily SoulSeek, EMule and Kazaa let you see the bitrate of an MP3 before you download. Some files may have odd bitrates, followed by a "VBR", meaning Variable Bit Rate. This means a file was most likely encoded with LAME (almost unanimously voted best encoder among aforementioned audiophiles). There are VBR MP3s floating around that were encoded with the Xing encoder, but these can only be described as the digital media equivalent of a "lemon".

LAME-encoded MP3s are some of the best you can get, so let these always be your first choice! Rarely you will stumble across a Xing but you can only tell these two apart if you are using an MP3 analysing program such as EncSpot (i think the best way to get this program is to search a P2P network, since the author has discontinued development). In most cases though, VBR MP3s above 200kbps are the créme de la créme. In general, MP3s above and beyond 192 are recognizably better than anything with lower kbps.

Movies: The larger the better

Be aware that some of the info in this section is slightly speculative

Sadly, there is no way to find out with which codec a movie was encoded before you download. Only EMule has a function that lets you determine which codec was involved, but I believe the code is still somewhat buggy, and you must have downloaded a piece of the file before it can determine anything. It is much easier to see the differences between good and bad video encodes than it is with music, though. For example, there are still quite a few DivX 3.11 encodes floating around, even though the codec has long been surpassed by newer DivX versions and others such as XVID. The reason for the lasting proliferation of Divx3 lies mainly in most people's apathy. Many people can't recognize higher quality content or quite frankly don't care. In any case there are much better quality encodes to be had.

To figure what version of a movie is best requires some speculation on who encoded it. Did the person who ripped and encoded the file know what he was doing? When did s/he do it? What kind of codecs were available at the time? Many of these question can be answered by looking at both the filesize and container format (AVI, OGM, MKV, MPG). Most movies are encoded with the thought in mind that someone will be burning it to CD. These days, the standard size of a CD-R is 80 minutes or 700 megabytes (702 in most cases). Back in the day, 650 MB CD-Rs were the standard. Logically, if you come across a DVD-rip of a movie that is only approximately 650 MB, you have a DVD that was encoded quite a few years ago, with a nowadays inferior codec. Your best bet is to find movies around that 700MB range, or 738,000,000 bytes. Anything over that cannot be guaranteed to fit on a 80 min CD-R. There are larger CD-Rs, but you never know if your burner will support them. If of course you have no intention of burning said movies to CD, you can go for even larger movies around and above 1GB. For that matter, if size is not an issue, why the hell not get a cheap DVD drive and just rip your local rental place's stash? Also, don't forget that many movies have 2 or more parts to them! They should both be approximately the same size and named something like Fight Club - CD1".

A movie with the right filesize also tells you the person had at least an inkling of what s/he was doing. If you're lucky, you will also come across movies in different container formats than AVI. OGM, or Ogg Media files usually consist of a DivX/XVID video stream and an Ogg Vorbis audio stream. Ogg Vorbis performs exceptionally well at low bitrates, which leaves many more bits for the video stream (that is, if you're aiming for a certain filesize). Also, OGMs have better error correction (if the file is corrupt in some way) and are significantly faster and more efficient while seeking. MKV, or Matroska files are an even newer format that has yet to catch on. They offer the same benefits as OGMs do, plus added chapter and subtitle capabilities. It also seems as if Matroska is being more regularly maintained than OGM. It is a rare occasion that you would find an MKV on SoulSeek, but if you do, you can't go all that wrong. Just don't forget that you need either a media player that supports these formats out of the box, or DirectShow filters if you use Windows and would like to play them in the standard media player.

Games: Easiest of all

Games are perhaps the most easiest form of media to find, and the differences are minimal. In most cases release groups take care of the ripping and distribution of games. They release them in a variety of formats, accompanied by NFO files. Usually you will find CD-images around 650-700mb large, from 1 CD to 4 (or more). There are several programs available that rip games from the original CDs, and most have their own formats. MDS/MDF belongs to Alcohol 120%, one of the more advanced rippers. The files contain information about the physical structure of the data on the CD, which in most cases (if done correctly) will let you burn or mount the CD image without having to install a No-CD crack. There are also CloneCD (CCD/IMG/SUB) and Blindwrite (BWI, BWT, BWA) files. Both are of higher quality than your standard ISO or Nero Image. Make sure you have ALL files of a distribution, they are all equally important. Even the NFO file will sometimes contain codes and instructions.

Happy downloading and remember: You didn't hear it from me.

Links

For Audio information: http://www.hydrogenaudio.org
For Video information: http://www.doom9.net
KaZaA: http://www.kazaa.com
EMule: http://emule.sourceforge.net
SoulSeek: http://www.slsknet.org
BitTorrent: http://bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/

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