Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Guide To Watching US Pay TV

_DSC4183Fellow users in Singapore, you already know that we only have two pay TV providers in Singapore. You either go with StarHub TV or SingTel Mio TV. Depending on what you want to watch, there might just be one sensible choice. How nice would it be if you could get access to all the pay TV services like people in the US do?

Two of the very popular US pay TV services are Neflix and Hulu Plus. They both offer a buffet style service plan at just US$7.99 a month (each). This means you can watch any title from their massive library, at any time you want, for as many times you want.

I have been meaning to blog on this topic, but it seems Digital Life beat me to it last week. There’s yet more to share on this topic, so I’ll still go on with it.

Most of these services require you to access their content from the US. In order words, you’ve got to appear to be using an IP address that is located in the US. There are a couple of ways to do that. As Digital Life’s article mentioned, one easy option is to go with My Republic or Viewqwest for your Internet broadband service. Just use your Internet at home like you normally do, and their Teleport and Freedom VPN services (respectively) will make you appear to be located in the US.

The problem with My Republic and Viewqwest services are that, well, you’ve got to be subscribed to them. If you’re not, and you don’t mind switching, and you think their offers are good, that’s fine, just switch to them. But what if you don’t want to switch, or cannot switch?

The good news is that there are plenty of other Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, and they let you do the same thing too. Your Internet access can appear to come from different countries of your choice, depending on which service you sign up with. Better yet, these are real VPN connections that protect your Internet access from snooping by local Internet broadband service providers.

So here’s the basic step-by-step guide on what you need to do.

  1. First, you need to choose a VPN service provider. I chose Astrill. They have a 7-day free trial. They have plenty of VPN servers to choose more, and many more will become available after you sign up for the paid service. They have VPN client software for just about any desktop or mobile gadget you need. They even have applets for DD-WRT and Tomato router firmware. Other popular VPN service providers include HideMyAss and boxpn. They too offer free trials. Check out their respective websites.
  2. Setup the VPN and login. This step, of course, invariably depends on which VPN service provider you go with.
  3. Hit the website of the pay TV service providers, such as Netflix or Hulu Plus. Netflix offers a one-month free trial, while Hulu Plus has a seven-day free trial.
  4. Enjoy TV and movie titles on your computer.

How about watching these programmes on your big screen television? Well, you need a set top box. Or, of course, you could simply hook up your desktop or notebook computer to it.

If you’re looking at using a set top box, there’s a little problem with the network setup. You see, while you can run a VPN client software in your desktop or notebook computer, you can’t do the same thing, usually, in a set top box. The VPN has to be handled by your home network, typically in a broadband router. This is a little bit beyond the scope of this post, but your best option is to go with a broadband router that has integrated support for the kind of VPN service that your VPN service provider has. For me, I’ve installed Tomato router in my Linksys E3200, for which Astrill provides a convenient applet for connecting to its services. Tomato, on its own, can already connect to Astrill, but the Astrill applet does provide some nice additional configuration options. Granted these are not the easiest things to do, but if you think you’re up for it, it may just be worth your while.

Let’s talk about the set top boxes. There are many streaming media players out there. I use Western Digital TV Live. It’s sold in Singapore, with local warranty. Netflix is available on the WD TV Live out-of-the-box in Singapore. But you’d need to perform a factory reset of the WD TV Live while you’re connected on the VPN before the set top box will offer the full suite of US services, including Hulu Plus.

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Another popular streaming media player, but which you’d have to buy online from US merchants like Amazon, is Roku. Their latest gadget is the Roku 3500R Streaming Stick, which is a dongle similar to Google’s Chromecast. You can also consider Apple TV, or Amazon’s new Amazon Fire TV. There’s quite lot to choose from.

Next question, what pay TV services should you sign? Well, I started out this post talking about Netflix and Hulu Plus. Although they are both buffet style TV and movie streaming services, their libraries are quite different. There’s some overlap, but plenty of exceptions, but I’ll summarise their services as follows:

  • Netflix has a far larger library of TV shows and movies. However their titles are “old”, and not very current.
  • Hulu’s library is smaller, but they offer TV shows that are still airing. For some of the TV series, they only carry a certain number of recent episodes. This is fine if you miss a couple of episodes here and there, you can still catch up. But don’t bet on catching, say, last season’s episodes.

There are certainly plenty of exceptions. You should explore their libraries and determine which service is better. There’s the free trial after all, although it’s for only just seven days with Hulu Plus. Incidentally, Hulu does offer some free videos. The paid titles come under Hulu Plus subscription.

Are these offers good value for money? Well, let’s consider the cost:

  • Astrill VPN: US$5.83 per month (1 year plan)
  • Netflix: US$7.99 per month – no contract
  • Hulu Plus: US$7.99 per month – no contract

You pay a total of US$21.81 per month for VPN and both pay TV services. It’s about S$28 per month. Compare that with StarHub, I’m paying S$31 for “Basic Tier 3” (the most basic you can get) for a non-promotional service plan, and that’s not including the S$14 I’ve to pay for the HubStation HD (set top box) rental.

Seriously, StarHub. SingTel Mio TV wouldn’t be much better.

Of course, you’ve got to consider if the content you find through these online streaming services meet your appetite for TV shows and movies. Don’t ask me where to find Korean dramas or Taiwanese serials. I’m sure there’s somewhere you can get them. I just haven’t gone looking for them.

You still get free-to-air channels if you abandon StarHub TV or SingTel Mio TV. So don’t worry about missing out on the occasional content you might want to catch from our local broadcasters.

Finally, about football. Yeah. I think the many football fans here in Singapore are being led by their noses. Well, get your football broadcast free, online. There are free FIFA World Cup 2014 streaming services. You’ve just got to have the right type of IP addresses. It’s not too difficult to find the information.

This is one of the great things about the Internet. It makes the world so small, and it makes everything so global.

5 thoughts on “Guide To Watching US Pay TV

  1. Astrill has been the most reliable so far when it comes to reliability. It works in most countries where censorship is strong.

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