Sunday, 27 March 2011

Home sweet Hulu -- watching US TV in the UK

One of the most frustrating things about living in the UK was missing out on American TV shows. Some of our favorites didn't air here or were years behind in the episodes. I finally figured out a way around this, and I'm going to share the secret -- use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

StrongVPN did the trick for me. It's not free, but the prices are reasonable and it works extremely well. I pay $7 a month for a lite package (you have to buy a minimum of three months at a time), but you can get it cheaper if you pay by the year. They have customer service reps in live chat that come on immediately and solve problems surprisingly quickly should you need help (which I have a couple of times over three months of use).

With StrongVPN, I can watch Hulu without a hitch. I listen to Pandora radio stations and watch PBS shows. All of those websites are free to anyone in the U.S. -- or to anyone that appears to be in the U.S. It's very easy to connect, just go online using your regular Internet account, then connect to StrongVPN and just like that, you're in the States (virtually speaking). You can select IPs in other countries, too, so if you're in the U.S. and longing to see UK shows on BBC iPlayer, you could sign up for an IP on my side of the pond.

The VPN service also lets me watch HBO's online content thanks to a relative in the States who subscribes to the network who lets us use her cable account login (she doesn't do computers, so wasn't making use of one of the perks that comes with her subscription -- we were happy to help her get her money's worth). This has been fabulous for us, because it allowed us to see the final season of Big Love -- something that is years behind in the UK and only came back to the airwaves here this year after several years of absence. If she subscribed to Showtime or other premium channels, we could access that online, too. I have no doubt we could sign up for Netflix as well using a relative's address as our "home" address in the States and our US credit card.

I'm no technical expert, but the basics of what StrongVPN does is it gives your computer an IP address in the U.S., which is what sites that restrict streaming video by country are looking for. We tried that earlier this year through a freebie IP hider called Hotspot Shield. It worked for a couple of months before Hulu and Netflix started denying us access to their sites. We had been paying for Hulu Prime and a Netflix account, so we were spending cash on things we couldn't even use at that point. The freebie software just can't offer as consistent cover as the paid service and the streaming websites are able to bust the false IPs.

What really got us started down the road of trying to find ways to watch US shows online was the purchase of my new Dell Studio laptop last year. We paid extra to get a laptop with an HDMI port, and that has revolutionized how we watch TV. We connect the computer to our 50-inch plasma via an HDMI cable, and just like that we're watching shows on the big screen in high quality (and often in HD quality from HBO). I bought a wireless mouse to use as a "remote control" to pause and select programs from my comfy couch (we put the laptop on a tray table next to the TV).

I know some people online say they keep up with shows by downloading them from bit torrent or other sites. I don't know what you open yourself up for by downloading that stuff, either legally or by way of whatever hidden malware could be in the files. I don't mess with that -- I'd rather pay a little bit and get something that works well and doesn't put me or the laptop at risk.

1 comment:

  1. There are VPN servers out there that offer you your own IP address. I got mine from This allows me to watch US shows when I am traveling from my laptop. Highly reccomended!


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