Popcorn Time is a popular streaming-focused BitTorrent client. It features an integrated media player and curated content library that makes it easy to find and stream films and TV series.
Popcorn Time also has its share of controversy, because it doesn’t identify or takedown copyrighted works, meaning a significant portion of the library may included pirated content.
Disclaimer: This guide is for educational purposes. The legality of Popcorn Time depends on your location and the type of content you stream. In many areas, the streaming of copyrighted works is a legal gray-area, compared to downloading or sharing the file. We do not condone piracy; please use this information responsibly.
The app itself is completely open-source, and is distributed free on GitHub. Anyone can fork or modify the code, and there are, in-fact, multiple forks of Popcorn Time available. Different forks may have unique features or different UI.
And the biggest benefit of being open-source is that it’s censorship-resistant. If one version of the software closes down, a new one can be launched almost instantly.
Popcorn is officially available for: Windows (PC), Mac, Android & Linux. The Android .apk can also be sideloaded onto FireTV devices like the Firestick for a true Netflix-like experience on your TV.
It can also be installed on Jailbroken iPhones (or standard iPhones with a special Windows tool).
Who should use Popcorn Time:
- Best Uses: It’s great if you mostly torrent movies and tv shows. There’s no need for a separate player or downloading the torrent file at all. Just stream it directly.
- Worst Uses: Popcorn Time is no good for downloading software, books, or other non-video media. And since it’s streaming-only, don’t use popcorn time if you stockpile movies on a NAS drive or your hard drive.
Why use a VPN with Popcorn Time?
Popcorn Time is a torrent client just like uTorrent or QBittorrent, and our same privacy rules apply to all of them.
In fact, a VPN is arguably more important for Popcorn time, because many its featured videos are among the largest torrent swarms in the world. But these are also the most monitored swarms too!
Reasons to use a VPN:
The Best VPNs for Popcorn Time
Believe it or not, it really does matter which VPN you choose. Virtual Private Network services are not interchangeable, and they vary greatly in terms of key features like:
- Privacy & Logging policy
- Encryption strength and leak protection
- whether torrents are actually allowed
I’ve personally tested over 40 VPN services, and these are the handful of providers that really stand out in terms of the specific privacy requirements for using Popcorn Time securely.
- Private Internet Access
What these VPNs have in common:
Every single one of these services has a true zero-log policy. They don’t record or store any metadata about your VPN activity or connection history. Furthermore, they have excellent security, and app for all major platforms (including FireTV) and all explicitly allow BitTorrent traffic on their networks. And best of all, they’re fast enough to stream in 4k.
#1 NordVPN (Best Overall VPN for Popcorn Time)
NordVPN has become the go-to VPN for streaming and BitTorrent uses. Since Popcorn time is a blend of both, Nord is the perfect fit.
NordVPN isn’t necessarily the best at any one thing, but they are great at everything. They have fast speeds, intuitive software, and loads of streaming-friendly features.
And with p2p-optimized servers, you’ll find more peers, faster torrents, and torrent-safe server locations.
Even better, Nord recently upgraded their server network, adding more bandwidth capacity. They also integrated the new Wireguard VPN protocol, which outperformed 256-bit OpenVPN tunnels on nearly every streaming test we ran.
The VPN Kill-Switch is an absolutely essential security feature for popcorn time. And NordVPN has not one, but two unique variations. You can either kill all internet access if the VPN drops, or you can close specific apps (such as popcorn time).
NordVPN’s month-to-month pricing is on the expensive side, but their longer term plans are available at a deep discount. A 1-year subscription is less than $5/month and a 2-year subscription is a currently $3.99/month.
And you can feel safe buying a long-term plan, because they back every purchase with a 100% refund guarantee for 30 days.
Bonus: extra streaming capability
NordVPN isn’t great for just torrents. It’s also got integrated SmartDNS technology, capable of unblocking the most popular streaming services from anywhere in the world. You can watch the US catalog of Netflix, HBOMax, Hulu and more (subscription required) whether you’re travelling or living abroad.
Learn More: Read our complete NordVPN Review
30-day 100% refund policy
#2 – Private Internet Access (best value)
OS: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, FireTV | Logs kept: none. | Torrents: Allowed
Private Internet Access was the first mainstream VPN to embrace torrenting, and it’s still one of my personal favorites (I’m a subscriber). They can match NordVPN almost feature-for-feature, including being Netflix-compatible.
Even better, PIA allows p2p on all server locations, whereas NordVPN restricts it to certain p2p-optimized locations.
- No logs (proven in court)
- Excellent software
- OpenVPN, IKEv2, Wireguard protocols
- Adjustable encryption strength
- ShadowSOCKS ‘stealth’ protocol
- Legendary privacy for torrent users.
Their software is (in my opinion) the best in the business. The UI is sexy as hell, and you get full control over the choice of VPN protocol and encryption strength (to optimize performance).
There’s also a robust ‘obfuscated’ protocol for slipping through firewalls undetected. This is useful if you’re using Popcorn Time on a university or school network for example.
In fact, the only area where NordVPN edges Private Internet Access is on speed. PIA is incredibly popular, and some server locations can get crowded. Even so, it’s still capable of 4k streaming on most servers, so you won’t be missing much real-world performance.
And with plans starting under $3/month, it’s an amazing deal.
Related: Private Internet Access Review (in-depth)
30-day 100% refund policy
#3 – Cyberghost (fastest)
OS: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, FireTV | Logs: none | Torrents: Allowed
Cyberghost is a Romania-based VPN provider owned by the same company as Private Internet Access. The features are almost identical, and the main difference comes down to the software interface.
Where PIA gives users better control over granular details of the connection, Cyberghost is simpler UI. There are powerful options if you want to dig, but out of the box it’s meant to be as intuitive as possible.
Cyberghost allows p2p, and has a ‘zero-log’ guarantee like PIA and Nord. It also uses the same integrated SmartDNS technology as PIA to unblock popular paid streaming services like Netflix, which is the most popular mainstream alternative to Popcorn Time.
Note: Cyberghost has specific p2p-enabled servers. Torrents (including Popcorn Time) may be blocked in other locations.
Where Cyberghost stands out is speed. In my testing, it beat both PIA and Nord when comparing p2p-safe servers. It easily broke 100Mbps as tested by Speedtest.net.
45-day 100% refund policy
Free VPNs for Cyberghost
As a general rule, you should be suspicious of any ‘free’ VPN service. Servers and developers are expensive, so it has to be monetized somehow. Ads alone can’t pay for a streaming-capable VPN. Many so-called ‘free’ services have been outed as malware or vaporware in recent years, or even selling customers to botnets.
That said, there are two quality VPN services that have a completely free plan.
- Hide.me: Free, up to 10GB a month. No payment required.
- Windscribe: 2GB per month without email, 10GB with email address
The reason these free VPNs are more trustworthy than most is because the free plan is part of an onboarding strategy to attract customers, which can then be up-sold to the paid service for faster speeds and more features.
10GB per month won’t get you far with 4k streams, but it could easily get you 10-15 movies at 720p resolution if you’re willing to sacrifice quality to save some scratch.
I’d recommend Hide.me: I tested their service recently, and it’s gone through a massive upgrade in terms of software and performance. Learn more about using Hide.me for torrenting.
10 GB Free Data per month
Tips to use Popcorn Time Safely
In this section, we’ll cover the most important steps you should follow to maximize your privacy while streaming torrents with Popcorn Time.
- Spoofed IP address: Anyone can monitor a torrent swarm and harvest IP addresses. In fact, this is how most torrenters are tracked. You’ll use a VPN to get a new ‘virtual’ IP and hide your real identity from public view.
- Encrypted Downloads: Encrypt your traffic (again with the VPN) so that your internet provider doesn’t know you’re streaming torrents.
- Failsafe-protection: Enable your VPN’s kill-switch to make sure you don’t leak identifying data if the connection drops.
- Data Privacy: Clean up torrent data after your stream
Step 1 — Enable the Kill-Switch
This is usually a one-time setting that you change, and it will apply to all future VPN sessions. The kill-switch will immediately stop internet access to your device if the VPN disconnects.
In most VPN software, you can find it under the connection settings.
Step 2 — Pick a VPN protocol
We recommend going with the fastest secure protocol that your VPN offers (not PPTP). It may be worth testing different configurations to see which one gives you the best performance.
Rules of thumb:
- 128-bit encryption is faster than 256-bit
- IKEv2 is faster than OpenVPN
- Wireguard may be the fastest (if available)
And don’t worry, 128-bit encryption is plenty secure. Don’t obsess over using the highest-strength cipher. It would take millions of dollars in computing power to break a single 128-bit AES key (if possible at all).
Step 3 — Connect to a server
When choosing a server, make sure to check if your provider limits torrenting to specific locations. If so, there will usually be a p2p-enabled flag on the server, or a special section where all the p2p-safe servers are organized.
Typically, you’ll want to choose the closest (distance) server that is p2p-safe.
Step 4 — Verify your connection
The first few times you use the VPN, it’s always a good idea to check your connection and make sure it’s properly disguising your IP address. Sometimes OS glitches (Windows mostly) will tell you the VPN is connected, but it’s not routing your traffic properly.
To check, go to iplocation.com and verify that your IP address (and location) has changed.
Tip: Don’t worry if your Geolocation doesn’t exactly match the city (or even country) of the VPN server. IP geo-location is inexact at best. What matters is it’s different than your real IP and location.
Step 5 — It’s Popcorn Time!
That’s it, you’re all set to stream. Enjoy the show!
Popcorn Time VPN settings for Android
If you’ve sideloaded the PT .apk on your android device, you’ll still want to use a VPN. This is especially true if you’ll be streaming using your mobile network rather than wifi.
The steps are basically the same as desktop OS’s:
- Enable the kill-switch
- Choose a fast protocol
- Connect to a p2p-enabled server
- 🍿 Open the Popcorn Time App and start streaming.
An additional step to consider – Split Tunneling: Android has a built-in split routing feature for VPN connections, and it’s supported by many Android VPN apps. This allows you to route specific apps through the VPN tunnel. It may be worth routing only popcorn time through the VPN. This keeps your other apps fast, won’t change their location, and keeps your torrent traffic on a separate IP address.
Other security concerns
If you’re extra paranoid (ok, just cautious) there are a few additional steps you can take to clean up any trace of torrent activity. This is especially valuable if you’re using popcorn time in locations you probably shouldn’t (like work).
Here’s why you might care:
Seeding is sharing
It’s worth remembering, that Popcorn Time is just like any other torrent client. It uploads (seeds) and downloads (leeches) simultaneously. In fact, there’s no way to disable the seeding functionality. In some jurisdictions, seeding a torrent counts as ‘distributing’ a file, the same as if you ripped a Blu-Ray yourself.
There’s a Cache
Streaming is a legal gray area in many countries, but Popcorn time does actually download part of the file to your hard drive. This is called Caching and it helps eliminate buffering and stalled streams.
Caching is a widespread practice for everything from Netflix to your web browser (which cache’s copyrighted images all the time). Caching generally does not equal stealing, even if the work is copyrighted. But those laws are imperfect and open to interpretation in many jurisdictions. This is not legal advice.
Additional Techniques for Added Security
A common question we get, is how do I clean up the data left after streaming a film on Popcorn Time?
There are a couple options. Each is slightly more complicated than the next, but could offer even better data deletion as well.
Option 1: Delete the file within Popcorn Time
You can manually delete your cached files one-at-a-time.
You can also clear the entire database, which will delete all your cached files and settings.
Option 2: Use Windows Sandbox
This is a somewhat inconvenient option for the highly cautious individual. It requires Windows 10 Pro, with virtualization enabled.
The advantage of this method is that all cached files will be contained within the virtual sandbox volume. When you close the sandbox, all traces will be deleted (no worrying about manual cleanup or leftover files).
- Connect to the VPN (in your main OS)
- Open Windows Sandbox
- Download and install popcorn time (yes, you need to do this each time)
- Stream your videos
- Close the sandbox when you’re ready to delete everything
Note: This level of caution is well beyond what most users will need. But it’s an interesting and effective strategy if your want to be very certain that there are no traces of your streaming session.
Should you use a VPN with Popcorn Time
Yes, most users should use a VPN with Popcorn Time. This will help prevent throttling (buffering) and protect your identity in the torrent swarm.
Does Popcorn Time support SOCKS Proxy?
There is limited proxy support in the official software. Currently it doesn’t support authentication, so it’s not very useful. It also doesn’t proxy peer connections, so your real IP address will still be visible.
How to stop Popcorn Time from Buffering
To prevent buffering, there are a couple things to try: Cache more of the file before streaming, choose a lower resolution (bitrate), use a closer VPN server or faster protocol.
Does Popcorn Time download torrent data?
Yes, the app does download complete copies of the file as you stream. This is used as a cache to decrease buffering, but also can be used to store the file locally or re-play without streaming.
Can you get a virus from Popcorn Time?
It’s unlikely (but theoretically possible). Popcorn time only streams video files, so it can’t download executable files like standard torrent clients. This makes it hard to accidentally install a virus or Trojan.
It’s quite to use Popcorn Time anonymously if you take some basic, common-sense steps to protect your privacy.
- Always use a VPN
- Zero-Log services are preferable
- Make sure your VPN actually allows p2p
- Turn on the kill-switch
- Choose a fast protocol (128-bit encryption is good enough)
- Delete the cached/downloaded files when you’re done
That’s pretty much it. Do you have any additional popcorn time questions or tips? Let us know in the comments!