When I moved from the U.S. to Canada 11 years ago, Internet content restrictions weren’t an issue. The Internet wasn’t the multimedia experience it is today, so most sites didn’t even bother geo-blocking. But now everything seems to have to be re-licensed for each country it airs in (don’t even get me started on the stupidity of the process), and it’s become a huge nightmare for services to try keep content the same across the board (say, what happened to NAFTA?).
So, as a result, content in other countries compared to content in the United States is lacking. So what is an expat supposed to do to get the sweet, sweet, rich content offered in the good ol’ USA? Unblock Us is a service that charges $5 a month to give you all the content you want for stateside.
What Is Unblock Us?
While they don’t exactly spell out how their service works, Unblock Us redirects your domain name request to a transparent proxy. The proxy goes off to the real website on your behalf, and then forwards you the content. The site claims faster speeds than VPN because it’s not a true proxy, and you are no longer tied to your location as you can use different DNS servers for different countries. Other than that, they are based in Canada, and they offer support through forums.
How Do You Set It Up?
Basically you manually configure your router or individual devices to talk to Unblock Us’ official DNS servers (188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206) instead of your ISP’s default DNS servers. The rest of the technical details aren’t explained on their website (a trade secret, I suspect), but my guess is that your traffic along with any replies to your traffic are sent to their U.S.-based DNS servers. Those replies are then sent back to you all while websites like Netflix and Hulu think you’re a U.S. visitor.
Basically, with their service, you point your device to theirs, and that’s it. You are good to go. Check out their instructions to set up almost any device on their site.
How Good Is It?
While I have heard of VPN servers before, they tend to be a bit slow due to traffic encryption, and for streaming HD this could be a problem. Unblock Us offers a one week trial that allowed me to see how fast their service really is. Basically I couldn’t tell a difference. I set up my Apple TV and my Xbox 360, and using my Canadian subscription to Netflix I was then seen as roaming in the US with my Canadian subscription. I compared that experience to my computer which is not using the DNS changes, and streaming similar shows didn’t seem any different.
So only after a few days, I actually subscribed to their service. They state on their site that you will not get the full U.S. Netflix content on Apple TV compared to the Xbox 360 or desktop version, but I think that was before the new version because I get all the US content on both the Xbox 360 and the Apple TV. I did have issues when I tried to just set up my router. While it did work and gave the whole house the ability, I had issue with my network drive, so I just manually set the DNS changes to the devices I use. I think I can fix the issue, but why bother?
Also, if your IP address changes, you will have to go to their site and hit the check services button to establish the new IP to your account, but that’s all you do (Editor’s note: you can also set up a free DynDNS account to automatically update your dynamic IP address. More info from Unblock Us here). Is it worth it? Oh yes! There is so much content that in the last two weeks I have streamed 50 GBs worth of shows. I had to slow down because my ISP sets a 95 GB limit.
To our non-U.S. readers, what DNS or VPN services do you use to get around geographical content blocking? How does Unblock Us stack up? Let us know in the comments below.