Since the release of NetFlix in the UK (for American readers – we know – we’re miles behind on this) I’ve been avidly catching up on movies I’ve missed and old TV shows. How? Well, Netflix is a streaming video service which not only has movies like LoveFilm but also has many hundreds of TV series – yes, not just shows but entire series..
Given half-decent bandwidth you can watch stuff in pretty high quality on your iPad, iPhone or Apple TV – even Android has "an App for that".
The first hurdle however comes when you try watch your favourite American shows on NetFlix – guess what – we don’t have them. Some of the best stuff is unavailable to a UK audience and worse, when you go on holiday, let’s say, for the sake of argument, SPAIN…
The same of course applies to the BBC iPlayer. Now, I understand copyright… we can’t have the Spanish watching stuff for which they don’t have an agreement. BUT.. HEY BUDDY – I PAID FOR THIS ALREADY. I paid my TV licence which means BBC content is as much mine as any other Brits… and I’m paying £6 for NetFlix – so why CAN’T I watch my shows?
Finally, ever been overseas and gotten yourself annoyed at foreign adverts on your browser, or perhaps Google comes up in the wrong version… same issue… read on.
Answer part ONE: There are solutions for these issues and more. All of these country checks rely on your IP address to figure out where you are in the world.. and if they spot that you are not where you should be – you get messages like the one above…. so what you need is something that gives you an IP address of the country you’re supposed to be in – so in the case of the iPlayer, the UK and ideally for NetFlix – the USA.
If you don’t know what an IP address is, it’s a number you’re given when you connect to the Internet. PCs don’t use names for addresses, they use numbers, the net naming system is just for our benefit.
VPNs (virtual Private Networks) can be used for the purpose of pretending you are somewhere else and, in fact, any broadband router worth a light (so that excludes BT routers) will have VPN capability built in – so in theory on holiday you could route back into your own home in the UK… but there’s a catch. Your home broadband would no doubt pull in the movies at high speed – but it’s SENDING (upload) capability is probably RUBBISH… typical UK upload speeds are less than 1 meg – not good enough.
So what you need is a package of high-speed VPNs in various countries – without breaking the bank. HIDEMYASS does this – and so now, sitting here in Spain I have access to VPNs all over the place, England, France, USA etc. All I have to do is connect my iPad to the Internet, run up the VPN for say America – and Bobs your uncle – I look like I’m in the USA so NetFlix puts up the right information.
And that’s wonderful, PC, iPad, Apple TV and…. erm, no. Over here the broadband speed is not that fast, it’s 1 MByte or so in each direction, being a WIMAX setup with an aerial on my window and a very LARGE aerial in the village below. Add to that the slight drop in using the VPN and the quality is awful.
Answer part TWO: While it is customary to knock old fashioned PCs and even more old-fashioned FLASH, the fact is that while newer formats such as that found on the iPad and Apple TV offer GREAT quality, they are not so clever on limited bandwidth.. The humble Windows 7 PC when running Netflix and the iPlayer uses FLASH and it’s actually quite reasonable on rubbish bandwidth.
Plugged into a large LCD TV we’re sitting here enjoying the best of American and British TV and movies without a Spanish advert in sight… the only thing that’s missing is a handy remote control. Ok you’re not going to get the latest Sky series but they’ll end up Netflix eventually – just a matter of time.
Fist thing I’m doing when I get back is looking for a half-decent second hand laptop to be the new media centre – with these new tools (and CatchupTV) it’s finally possible to manage without a satellite or aerial – not before time… and as broadband speeds increase, it can only get better.
Planning a trip abroad? Like your TV – now you know how to get what you want, where you want it.