Wednesday, February 9, 2011
How To Legally Watch American TV From Abroad
Let's face the truth: we all love American TV shows and we all watch them (even if some of you might not admit it). Why? Because they're the best! Why? Well, they have the best actors, the most budget & the best writers! There is, however, a huge problem: only Americans can watch American TV. There is almost no legal way of watching American TV shows without waiting a long time for them to be available outside the US. This is absolutely nonsense in this day and age. Almost everyone has broadband and there are so many illegal ways to download content that it is just crazy of the TV industry not to make their content available to the world for a fee or at least targeted advertisement. So what happens? Well 90% of the people choose to download content illegally. It is easy, free and fast!
But what if, you wanted to go the legal way? Well, there are possibilities although one might argue that the're not entirely legal as almost all services mention in their T&C that watching outside the US is illegal. So here are your possibilities:
1) If you're located in Europe, you could subscribe to the excellent British satellite TV channels known as SKY. Although technically reserved to UK residents, it is possible to find companies on the web that will take out a subscription for you and send you a satellite receiver and viewing card for a fee. SKY TV is home to many American TV shows and movies that are aired with not too much delay compared to the US and you can receive it from almost everywhere in Central Europe (satellite dish size may vary depending on your location). You will get top notch HD quality and hundreds of channels!
2) Use a VPN service. As you might have realized, most American TV channels have the option on their website to watch the latest episodes of their shows on the web. If you hook up a computer to your widescreen TV, this can be a great option. The only problem is that the aforementioned websites check your location disclosed by your IP address and won't allow you to watch anything if you're not in the US. There is a way to circumvent this by using a VPN service. Technically such a service will channel all your Internet traffic to one of their servers in the US (or a different country depending on your choice). Then all traffic will be dispatched to its destination. The bottom line is that the website you reach will think you're located where the VPN server is! In this case, it will think you're in the US and hence grant you access!
The necessary software to use a VPN server can be installed on a computer or a router (such as the Linksys WRT54GL flashed with the Tomato firmware for instance). Bear in the mind that the Linksys WRT54GL has limited resources and a faster router such as the ASUS RT-N16 will give you better download speeds. The cool thing is that if you use a router, then any computer on your home network can use a US IP address. Even a Playstation 3 or Apple TV! Think Hulu Plus (available on PS3) or Netflix (available on the Apple TV). Both services will let you subscribe and pay with a prepaid credit card that can either be bought online or in supermarkets in the US (think about it on your next trip there). Netflix won't work on a PS3 although it is available on this platform as it will check for the region code of your videogame console. So if you didn't buy your PS3 in the US, you won't be able to access Netflix from it even if you use a US IP address and official subscription!
VPN services are relatively inexpensive: less than US$ 100 a year for unlimited bandwidth. Some of the most known VPN providers are Witopia, Ace VPN, 12vpn etc...
Hulu Plus and Netflix subscription price is US$ 7.99 per month each.
3) Use the US iTunes Store. As a matter of fact, the US iTunes store has loads of shows and movies to be watched from, either a computer, iDevice or Apple TV. The latest generation of the Apple TV will let you rent TV shows and movies whereas the first generation Apple TV won't allow for TV show rentals. But how can you access the US iTunes store? Well it is relatively easy: buy a US iTunes store gift certificate on eBay (a US$50 gift certificate can usually be had for US$55) or in an Apple store on your next trip to the US. You will then be able to create a US iTunes store account using any valid US address and Voilà! You will, from that point on, be able to buy US iTunes store apps for your iDevice or rent movies & TV shows from the US iTunes store for your computer or Apple TV. The great thing about the US iTunes store is that it does not check your IP address for your location so you can rent and download content using the full speed of your broadband Internet connection! Many shows and movies are available in 720p HD with Dolby Digital sound and this is just great!
4) Subscribe to Habu.TV or A2BTV. These services will subscribe to cable TV in the US for you and hook up your cable box to a broadband router in a datacenter in the US. You will then be able to access and control your cable box remotely from anywhere in the world using a SlingBox. This is, on the paper, the best solution as you will have live access to American TV. It however, requires, a very good broadband connection on both sides. In my limited experience using a demo account, I wasn't able to achieve HD video quality but barely VHS quality. The good think is that you can subscribe to absolutely any TV channel that you're interested in in the US.
If you use any of the solutions mentioned above you will pay the same price for content than any American resident and will therefore not "steal" content. If you use a VPN service, you will, however pay a little bit more for this part of the solution.