Smart TVs are getting smarter, that’s for certain, the days when your TV would simply display a few channels received from a television aerial are long gone. Today’s Smart TV are multimedia powerhouses which can access and display all sorts of content from a variety of different sources.
For example a standard Smart TV will be able to use applications to access internet based sites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ITV player, Netflix, Youtube and a host of others. Just plug your TV into your network and you can access all sorts of resources that previously were only accessible from your home computers.
However with this new power comes the annoying restrictions too, geo-locking technology that blocks access to different sites on computers has the same effect on our TV sets too. Our Netflix is locked to the crappy version we normally get and millions won’t be able to access things like BBC iPlayer or HBO online unless we start shipping or TV with us internationally. The blocks work in the same way as they do on computers, your IP address is checked and location noted then you’re allowed access or blocked depending on where you are.
BUT WAIT – IP Address on my TV, it’s not a computer?
Well a Smart TV is pretty much the same as a computer at least if it wants to access the internet, any network enabled device needs an IP address to function online. Which also means it needs a host of network settings to allow it to talk to your router or access point and ultimately use internet based resources.
So does that mean you can also use USA proxies and VPNs (see here) to bypass these blocks like millions already use on their computers? Well it’s possible but usually a little tricky simply because you’ll only have access to basic functionality on a Smart TV – it’s much easier to use a system called Smart DNS.
Here’s the one I use, after testing about 10 of them earlier last year.
They are called Overplay and to use on your Smart TV is actually quite simple, all you need is the cheapest service – Smart DNS. Once you’ve enabled your account, by visiting their registration page from any computer, phone or tablet on your network then you just need to enable it on your Smart TV. This process will vary depending on your TV but you’re basically looking for the Network Settings page.
Which is where, all you need to do is to input your new Smart DNS server in the DNS server settings. This turns your Smart TV into an international traveller able to adopt a disguise whenever needed. When you click through to the Netflix Application you’ll be able to access the US version, play BBC iPlayer from anywhere in the world or in fact any UK Television stations. The Smart DNS server will apply a little disguise to your connection wherever you need it to. No software, no VPN, the SMart DNS server will do it all for you without rerouting your connection.
Years ago, I had a very exciting job installing a VPN client from IBM on thousands of laptops in a Pharmaceutical company. They took security very seriously, the stakes are high with regards drug and research – many of these laptops had direct access to all sorts of confidential data. All the laptops were secure, all had full disk encryption multiple authentication requirements and if they were lost they could be remotely locked too.
For many years, the company refused to allow access to the internet using company laptops citing the security issues. However over the years the pressure became greater, people got fed up of carting two laptops every where and the tablet wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as they are now. Eventually they gave in and allowed people to use both the internet for personal reasons, but also remote access into the corporate network. There was much expense involved and the laptops were about as secure as they could possibly be in those circumstances using the technology available.
One important concepts was the VPN, first it allowed access to the corporate network and secondly it allowed another level of protection for communication online. The IBM client software I installed would look for the nearest company VPN server and connect through to that, all the individuals were supposed to use this method every time they went online. It all looked great in theory although many in security still maintained there ‘no net is safer’ stance.
The problem was, the super secure VPN service was very slow, despite supposedly trying to connect to the nearest VPN server – sometimes this didn’t work very well and the client software would pick some remote server on the other side of the world. Also some of the servers just ran very slowly across certain connections, in many cases this was due to routing and hardware issues not related to the servers themselves. For the people who used these laptops, the decision was quite simple – fire up the VPN and suffer tedious waits, buffering and delays or forget to start the VPN and surf normally at super fast speeds that are often available in hotels and remote locations. The reality was very few people ended up using this expensive, global network of VPN servers unless they really had to.
Speed is Important in a VPN
Although it’s primary purpose is arguably security, a fast VPN service is something that is essential if it’s going to be used. As we can see from this video:
A VPN server will always have some impact on speed simply because it’s adding an extra hop on any route. However a fast, well configured VPN service can minimize this extra lag – in fact there are compression technologies that can severely reduce the effect and sometimes they can even speed up a connection slightly.
When you are looking at choosing a VPN service make sure that you test relative speed carefully especially before taking up a long subscription. There are a variety of speed tests sites available online and what you should do is baseline your connection without the VPN enabled and then check the impact of using the tunnel. Make sure you check the specific countries you need, for example if you use a VPN to access UK TV sites and media – then ensure that you test the UK servers. Often popular countries are overloaded with requests whilst other servers may run much more quickly because they’re underutilized.
Do you remember the early days of the internet? Sure it was sometimes difficult to navigate and often you’d find yourself on weird websites, but it was very unlikely you’d ever get blocked or redirected while you surfed. However those times have changed and now your surfing is increasingly controlled not by you but the websites you visit and the search engines you use.
Ever tried to order from the French site of Amazon to buy something cheaper, watch ‘The Simpsons’ on Hulu or perhaps access the American version of Netflix because they’ve got loads more films than the UK or Canadian version? It’s not so simple anymore, you’ll find yourself blocked at every turn and redirected to the version that the site want’s you to visit.
If you travel abroad it will get even more annoying, because you’ll find yourself getting blocked from sites or services that you normally use at home simply because of your location. Many people even find themselves unable to access their online banking because they happen to be in a different country! It’s getting pretty bad, and it’s only going to get worse as the best web sites try and maximize their profits and limit broadcasting rights.
Here’s a very small selection of sites which currently restrict access based on location –
- BBC iPlayer
- HBO GO
- Amazon Prime
- Al Jazeera
There’s literally thousands more, and worse they tend to be the very best sites particularly if you’re looking for movies, TV, music and video.
How to Get an American IP Address
Each one looks up your location based on your IP address when you connect initially, they then decide whether you can access or not. Fortunately there is a solution, it is possible to fool these sites and hide your real location. Although it is not actually possible to change your real IP address (apart from your local internal address which doesn’t matter anyway), it is possible to hide it and present a different IP address instead.
It is done by routing your connection through a server based in the country you need, these are commonly called proxy or VPN servers. So if you want to access a US site from outside the USA, you could connect via a US based server to give you an American IP address.
The video demonstrates how you can switch locations at will, simply by clicking on the appropriate country, hey you can even have a Russian IP address if you want. Remember your real IP address isn’t really changing,that is assigned by the device your connecting through – it’s merely being hidden from the web site you’re visiting. This also has additional benefits, such as keeping your connection and privacy secure when you’re online. People all over the world now routinely use these programs to bypass all sorts of blocks and filters.
It is possible to access some of the blocked sites by using free proxy servers that you can find online, however these should be used with some caution. Many are hacked or compromised servers which have been left open accidentally, whilst others install adware on your computer to cover the costs.