There has been a lot of hullabaloo over the last couple of months surrounding Netflix caving in to licence holders of television shows and movies, by clamping down on geo-unblocking services like UnoTelly and UnBlock Me.
UnoTelly on the other hand, vowed to live up to its service level agreement, and quickly announced soon afterwards that it will thwart any effort by Netflix.
The service’s ability to keep viewers from seeing the dreaded “You appear to be using a proxy or VPN service” has been shoddy at best, and after numerous region changes and IP blocking, it seems to have fallen flat for most people.
Luckily another service has come to my rescue, and I can happily report that I’m blissfully watching all the Hulu I can consume and power-bingeing through reruns of Orange is the New Black. Yes, I can just watch the local version of Netflix, but who wants to do that?
The service in question? NordVPN. And when something has the letters ‘VPN’ in its name, you know it means business.
Unlike geo-unblocking services, a VPN fools the entire internet as to your location, not just the service that you are trying to access. As an example, when I did an internet speed test, the most trusted source in connectivity speeds told me I was in California – when my feet were firmly planted in Johannesburg.
There are many reasons why you would use a VPN; it provides excellent online privacy, and of course (as a bit of a by-product) serves as a great alternative to getting around those pesky region-locked pieces of content.
“NordVPN gives you a private and fast path through the public Internet. All your data is protected every step of the way using revolutionary 2048-bit SSL encryption even a supercomputer can’t crack,” NordVPN explains on its website.
The service can be used in two ways: a small desktop application, or straight through your VPN-enabled router.
The desktop application is super easy to set up. All you have to do is download the 18MB app and enter your credentials. From there, you will be able to select a country you want to connect to, or a specific server. Hit ‘Connect’ and Bob’s your uncle.
It is really one of the simplest setups that I have ever used to watch Netflix and Hulu on a desktop, and the only thing that you need to make sure of when selecting a server (or a country) is that it caters for the service you want to access.
NordVPN works differently to other VPNs, in the sense that it has hundreds of servers scattered across the world. One US server might only give you access to Netflix, where another will also add Hulu. This is done to spread the load, to make sure that everything is also up-and-running. Each server’s load is also shown, so you can select one that is not too busy.
It should go without saying then, that it will give you access to all the location-locked content from a host of countries – like Zattoo and Zdf in Germany, Brazil MTV in Brazil, Plus7 in Australia and BBC and Sky in the UK (to name a few).
It also has a number of settings that you don’t really need to tinker with, but it does feature DNS Leak Protection (preventing DNS servers from sending unencrypted queries outside VPN tunnels), and Smart-Play, which is actually pretty cool.
It re-routes your traffic through a country where the content you want to watch is available. As an example, if you have set your server as US but want to watch BBC in the UK, by default it won’t allow you. Flip Smart-Play on, and it will re-route our desktop traffic through the US to the UK.
For the most part, the desktop application works perfectly in accessing the content that others don’t want you to watch.
This setup enable users to watch through a desktop, but if you want to beam all the glorious content throughout your house over WiFi, it’s a bit trickier. Well, not really, but you might want to watch NordVPN’s video tutorials.
In short, if you have a VPN-enabled router (one that allows for a VPN connection), all you have to do is go into your router’s admin page, find the VPN option, and add the details as per the detailed tutorial. The service is compatible with DD-WRT, Tomato, Synology, Asus WRT and Raspberry Pi routers.
Besides for the VPN setup, things can get tricky here, as you will need to have a look at the NordVPN server list (the same one that was accessed through the desktop app) and input the correct server number for the channels that you want to access.
But once that is done, you are fully set up and ready to go. The issue here is that you will have to manually activate and deactivate servers as needed, as most routers can only connect through one server at a time.
As an example, you won’t be able to have a Netflix/Hulu server active in your router setup, as well as a dedicated server for peer2peer connections. (Yes, it has dedicated servers for those). It’s slightly a hassle, but if you only want to watch Netflix and Hulu, select a server that does both, and you wouldn’t need to change it at all.
And that is all you need to do. There is no updating of IP addresses when the router restarts, and there is no clunky app to navigate.
Just a quick note on the dedicated servers: NordVPN has servers for specific needs and boasts a number of Anti-DDOS, Ultra-Fast TV, Double VPN, Tor Over VPN and Dedicated IP servers in addition to standard VPN servers. The servers also support PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN TCP, OpenVPN, UDP, Proxy, and/or Socks5 connections.
Limitations and issues
There are some limitations to a router setup though, and the biggest that I have seen so far is that only the US servers support Netflix. So if you want to watch season 2 of Better Call Saul on Netflix in the UK through your router’s connection, you are out of luck.
I have also noticed on a few occasions that Hulu will sporadically throw out a proxy warning while the VPN is active, which can cause a bit of panic in the house. Assuming that everything is set up correctly, a frantic dig through the router settings could ensue. But that shouldn’t be anything to worry about, as I have experienced that it usually corrects itself after a couple of minutes, or I just swap to a different server.
I have also discovered, going through the router setup, that mobile devices connected to the network would play Hulu or Netflix content, but gaming systems like PlayStation 3 and the Xbox One wouldn’t. That too, usually corrects itself after some tinkering.
Its not a big deal, but it can be somewhat frustrating if you are in the middle of a really riveting series. At least now I know how to fix it, and I understand that no system is fool-proof, so I just brush it off as par-for-the-course.
Another oddity that I have encountered, is that my home network gets pulled completely flat if I activate a peer-2-peer on my desktop without switching to a dedicated P2P connection. It is almost as if all available bandwidth is being pushed into that connection, killing every other connection – except my P2P shows a data download rate of about 5 kb/s.
It’s a product I’d quite gladly re-subscribe to once my month winds down. The setup time was literally a couple of minutes, and it provides access to the channels/shows that I want to watch. Yes, there are a number of technical issues, but from a South African stand point, we can’t be too picky when it comes to services that actually want to help us out.
I’m not a huge fan of having to swap servers when I want to change content, but I’m sure I will be able to live with it as Hulu and Netflix is predominantly what we use it for – and I suspect that is what most South African would also use.
With that said, I don’t think that I would ever go back to any other VPN service. Besides the minor issues mentioned above, I have been pretty content with my streaming connections so far. The big thing for me here is that I don’t need to update my IP address every 30 minutes, which was usually the case with UnoTelly. There is also something about NordVPN that just looks more professional than other operations.
There is one small caveat though, especially if you are coming from UnoTelly – it is double the price of a standard UnoTelly subscription ($4) that is needed for Hulu and Netflix, but it is the same price as UnoTelly’s VPN option at $8.
*Oh, and an interesting side note: the company is registered in Panama, where most of the world’s online privacy laws don’t apply.
[Image – CC by 2.0/Steph]