Charlie Sorrel Cult of Mac
Don’t use a computer any more? Hate “pirating” TV shows and movies? Wish that your country had something as awesome as Netflix so you could pay and stream everything to your iPad mini? Read on, because you can do just that, and it is dead easy – all you need is a credit card and maybe a half hour to get things set up.
I use BitTorrent. I admit it. I pay for music, and I watch movies in the cinema, but here in Spain the TV show offering is terrible. ITunes will sell me the latest U.S movies, but they’re dubbed into Spanish, and there still aren’t any TV shows in Apple’s store. I could wait for the DVDs, but I don’t have a DVD player. I guess I could get a pre-paid U.S credit card and buy shows from the U.S iTunes Store but…
I’m cheap. I’m not going to make any kind of political or ideological excuses here. I just don’t want to pay $2 or whatever iTunes charges for a single episode of a TV show, when – for my entire life – I have watched those shows free on a TV set. So I torrent them.
However, with my (almost) iPad-only lifestyle, I don’t really want to keep big media files on my iPad’s 64GB drive. Which led me to NetFlix.
Netflix is amazing. You can watch zillions of movies and (non-current season) TV shows on demand, instantly, and for like $7 per month. If you live in the U.S (or in place like the UK which have their own Netflix outposts). Anywhere else and you’re stuck with a crappy local offering or – more likely – nothing at all. This is because Netflix checks where you are, and only serves you if you are geographically inside the United States. Or rather, if your IP address is inside the United States. And here’s the crack in the system.
It’s possible to use VPNs and tunnel your way through to a stateside IP address, but this usually results in slow, low-bandwidth streams, and it also affects all your internet traffic.
UnoDNS is a clever paid service which uses DNS to spoof your location. But the clever part is that it only diverts the packets needed to make Netflix believe you’re a local customer.
All the heavy lifting – the actual movies streams and so on – come over your regular pipes. So if you have a fast 100MB fiber-to-the-bedroom connection like me, then you’re golden. Shiny, sparkly golden, to be precise.
What You’ll Need
- A U.S iTunes Store account (free)
- A NetFlix account ($8 per month)
- A valid credit card
- An UnoDNS account (from $5 per month)
What is DNS?
DNS is the internet’s phone book. When you type www.cultofmac.com into your browser, a DNS server (usually at your ISP) will translate that URL into the actual hard numbers that point to our site. UnoDNS replaces your ISP’s server with its own, allowing it to redirect some packets. The key is that it only redirects the packets needed to get your Netflix (or another streaming service) and routes all the rest through Google’s DNS servers.
To use the service, it’s best to follow the device-specific instructions on the site. There is an eight-day trial available so you can see if you like it, and you can combine this with a Netflix trial to test everything out.
UnoDNS needs some configuration to be done on setup (mostly telling the service what your home router’s IP address is), but after that you need to do just one thing: change the DNS server on your device. You can do this for individual devices, or for your whole home by changing the DNS server used by your router.
I have a TextExpander snippet containing the UnoDNS’ DNS server address, so I can quickly add it in whenever I need it. To swap back to my ISP’s server, I just delete the number and my ISP’s numbers are automatically repopulated.
Why? Security. I have no reason whatsoever to think that Uno is doing anything but provide a great service. But I’m paranoid. And I’m also speed-hungry – Uno’s nearest DNS server is in Italy, but my ISP’s nearest server is presumably in Barcelona (where I live) or at least in Spain. In the world of millisecond pings, that distance can make a difference. So I only use Uno’s DNS when I’m actually watching things. It takes just a second to switch over.
Netflix signup is easy. You just give the site your details and a credit card, and your trial will commence (you’ll only be billed once the trial ends). You’ll need to set up the UnoDNS before Netflix will actually let you into its site, but once that’s done you can use a credit card from anywhere to sign up – not just a U.S credit card (I thought I needed a U.S card to do this, which is why I have left it so long).
Now, you’re almost done. In fact, if you watch Netflix using a computer then you’re done. Enjoy your new-found TV channel (complete with subtitles!). If you’re on an iPad, there’s on more step.
You’re going to need a U.S iTunes Store account to get the Netflix app. This is pretty simple, as the app is free, and Apple provides instructions on setting up an account without a credit card on its support pages.
The short form is that you sign out of your own account, head to the U.S store, tap on a free app to download it and then follow the prompts to make a new account. You can do this on a computer or an iDevice, making this entire project iPad-only if you want it to be.
Once you have the Netflix app installed, just make sure you’re on the UnoDNS before launching it. Sign in and you’re off. I totally love using this on my iPad mini, and I’m not losing anything over using the Retina iPad (apart from sheer screen size) as Netflix doesn’tyet stream in hi-def to iOS devices.
One tip: if your Netflix app tells you that you’re outside of its home territories even though your UnoDNS is on, try force-quitting it and launching: It seems it only checks on a cold launch, not a relaunch.
Now I’m a happy Netflix user, for just $13 per month. I still can’t get TV shows as they air (BitTorrent can take care of that), but I do have a catalog of gazillions of TV shows and movies in my back pocket, including all the shows I should have watched the first time around (hello Firefly!).
Now, if some smart company would make a subscription service that would show me first-run TV shows, on the day of airing, for a flat monthly fee, I’d be in. I’m totally willing to pay a fair rate (and not a few dollars per episode, dammit). Until then, I’ll have to keep this Mac around running Transmission.