Missing some of your favorite shows back in your home country? We’re not huge TV fanatics (we didn’t get cable or DirecTV hooked up the moment we landed in Uruguay, but I sprung for rabbit ears at the grocery store US$3) however we like to watch a few things like 30 Rock, House and an occasional sporting event in the States and elsewhere. The best access to these shows and many others is video stream via your computer. To access most video streams you have to be in the country where the program airs. Hulu, NBC.com, Fancast, CBS.com, and NFL.com all require that you live in the US to watch their broadcasts. Shows are typically available within 24 hours of their original air date. The problem is their websites know where you live; they will pick up your computer's IP address and say “Hey, wait a second, you don’t live in America. You don’t help pay the bills through buying from our advertisers.” I argue the contrary, but it will deny you access. What you need is a solution to convince Hulu and others that you are in the US or UK, Canada, even if you're in South America, Europe, Asia or Timbuktu.
The solution is StrongVPN. Love it! I can establish a virtual connection to the States, in our case. Currently, we’re "in" Washington D.C. I’ve found that it has the best/fastest connection for the best video streams. After following a quick step by step tutorial from StrongVPN you will automatically be able to connect with one click any time you want to stream video. It will slow down your connection a little bit but generally it's fantastic.
The plan I recommend for most users is the 3 City Special PPTP US$55/year plan. It gives you access to San Francisco, New York & UK. I use the Lite Open and PPTP plan. It’s US$90 per year. It just gives me access to more cities and connection options. If you have a connection that’s not particularly fast one day to can switch to another. You’re allowed to change cities/servers 3 to 5 times per month without charge. You can also upgrade and downgrade without extra setup fees.
I have watched: various TV shows, NFL games (just caught the Giants/Dallas game) US Open Golf (it was a perfect Live stream in near Hi Def quality) The British and US Tennis Opens and many more.
Connect to StrongVPN and go to Hulu.com, NBC.com or where ever your program is available. Most of the video sites look like Tivo or YouTube. Use Firefox 3 as your browser. I’ve tried with Google’s Chrome and Internet Explorer 8, but Firefox is the best. Once you queue up your show, let it buffer for a little bit. Definition: Give the “Internets” a little time to load the show into the viewer. For Hulu, you will see a buffer gauge of one to five bars just like your mobile phone. The more bars the better. Once it gets to about 3 or 4 bars you’re usually safe to hit play. Sometimes you need to wait to 5 bars to get a good uninterrupted quality video stream. Hulu, Fancast, etc. usually run a 15-30 second ad every 10 minutes or so--a lot fewer commercials than you find on TV. The commercials are almost worth watching, since the advertisers don't have the FCC breathing down their neck on the Internet. The ads might screw up the buffer, so you may need to pause the show for a minute. Once you’re buffered up again, you're ready for your TV enjoying experience.
Quick Recap of what you need:
- A computer with XP, Vista or Mac (Sorry don’t know about Linux)
- Good internet connection. (i.e. not dial-up)
- A web browser. Firefox 3 has worked best for me.
- StrongVPN, Pick your plan.
- Hulu, Fancast, or other site that is otherwise blocked for foreign users.
StrongVPN: Other Cool Stuff
Get Your Music Fix. Another little bonus is streaming music from Pandora.com. It's closed outside the US, but thanks to my US IP address; I'm able to listen to 30 hours free per month. There is an alternative, Last.fm. It's US$3/month to stream music without a US IP address. Although very much like Pandora--Pandora has a better mix of songs in my opinion. There are also some radio stations for both talk and music that are only available to US listeners. The stream quality of music is excellent and there is no notable difference compared to my experience in the States.
US Website Access
The reason I first looked into StrongVPN was to convince regular websites that I’m in the States. Since I operate a travel company, I need to shop the competition. I can’t have Expedia or Priceline thinking that I’m in Uruguay when I want them to believe I’m in the US. The sites are different abroad and you can’t always select a US version. I’ve also heard reports from Expats of rejected transactions by Amazon, PayPal , etc. even though their billing address is in the US provided through Earth Class Mail, family, or other residence. By using StrongVPN these sites always assume I’m in the US. It’s been great and is a small cost of doing business.
My email messages are less likely to go to spam folders when sent from a US IP address. It's kind of important that my clients receive my emails. ¿No?
Poor man's solution:
I do have a workaround, which is particularly helpful for live events that are not available online. I like to watch the Vikings. I can't find a free stream online, so I've had my Dad fix his webcam on a TV in his office where we usually Skype. We start a Skype Video call and I am able to watch the whole game. The quality isn’t perfect, but last week I was able to watch Brett Favre rip his old team the Packers on Monday Night Football. It was glorious.
I’ve tried several solutions and StrongVPN has been the best and serves the purpose of both business and pleasure. I’d love to hear any other solutions people have for watching their favorite shows while living or traveling abroad. Please add your comments.