Who blocks websites?
There are thousands of websites blocked from being accessed by people around the world. Sometimes it's a country's government that censors websites and blocks it's citizens from accessing certain sites. Sometimes it's the sites themselves that block surfers outside a region from viewing their content and sometimes it's your company or school that blocks access to certain non-productive websites. I've discussed why sites get blocked here.
Over 25 countries worldwide block access to certain websites in their own country.
What do you mean blocked?
Let's clarify what it means to be blocked from these streaming video. In France Hulu is blocked to me because I am trying to view it from France or outside of the US. I will still see the Hulu website and I can surf around the site however the moment I try to actually play a video, the dreaded GEO-restriction popup message will appear. It usually says "Sorry, currently our video library can only be watched from within the United States. (see photo)
The first time I saw the restriction pop up for Hulu, I was stunned. I had no idea what was going on. I actually thought it was a mistake until I contacted Hulu customer service and they explained to me that Hulu was not available outside of the United States. I cancelled my membership right there and then and forgot about it because I thought there was nothing I could do about it.
A few months later, by accident, I discovered that there was something I could do to watch websites like Hulu which are normally blocked to me in France. More on that solution in a minute.
Another scenario you may run into is a US based site which serves you up a localized version of the website. It may even be an inferior version of that site simply because you are located in another region. Take Netflix for example.
Unlike Hulu, Netflix is available outside of the US in certain countries. As of 2016, it is available in over 190 countries worldwide. But the Netflix you see outside of the US doesn’t have nearly as many movies as the Netflix USA. Just ask Canadians who have half the amount of videos on Canada Netflix.
How do sites like Hulu know I am outside of the United States and block my access?
All your computers and devices that access the internet have an IP address. Your IP is kind of like your street address or GPS for your location.
In a matter of seconds, sites like Hulu, Pandora, HBO Now and Netflix are able to determine where you are located by using their sophisticated software to sniff out your IP address and your actual location.
There is a way to fool those sites into thinking your in the US so that you can view blocked websites.
Is it legal?
I'm not a lawyer and I can't tell you if the country you are trying to use your VPN or Smart DNS from allows use of anonymizers and proxies to access blocked sites.
Use a little common sense and research it. If I were in a country where the internet was censored by the government like Pakistan, North Korea or Mainland China, I would probably think twice about using a VPN especially since some countries might actually put you in jail if they catch you using a VPN.
On the other hand, I am pretty sure it's ok to use a VPN or Smart DNS in countries like France, the UK, Canada, the United States and many many more countries. In fact many universities and businesses use them. I used to use a VPN to access my companies servers from home.
So yes, it is legal in some countries. Just make sure you don't do anything illegal while using a VPN or Smart DNS.
Which one should you choose? Smart DNS or VPN?
As I mentioned before, Smart DNS and VPN are very similar in that they unlock region blocked websites however each one has advantages and disadvantages depending on what you want. The below comparison should help you decide.
CHOOSE SMART DNS if:
If you are not concerned about encryption or securing your connection like me because you will be connecting to wifi at home with a password protected internet box and you simply want the fastest connection possible to access blocked streaming websites like Hulu, BBC iplayer or HBO NOW than a Smart DNS is your best bet. It's also slightly less expensive than a VPN.
There is also nothing to install other than changing your DNS on your computer and devices. It's always on so you can set it and forget it unlike a VPN which is slower, needs to be connected and disconnected each time you use it. The Smart DNS which I currently use is called Overplay and I love it.
CHOOSE VPN IF:
If security is more important to you and you want to add a layer of security, identity & privacy protection or encryption security against the prying eye of the government and hackers than you should choose a VPN. Keep in mind that VPN's usually slow down your connection and you have to download software or an app which you need to turn on and off each time you use want to access a blocked website. OverPlay has a VPN which is extremely easy to install and use.
Below is a the same information as above only summarized in a chart showing you the pros and cons between a smart DNS and VPN.
- No security online in public WIFI connectors and unsecured hotspots.
- Surf is not private or incognito.
- Not all blocked websites for a country are available only specified websites. (usually this is enough, at least for me it is because I only access a few blocked streaming websites like Amazon, Hulu, crackle etc).
- Can see content from multiple channels/countries at the same time or switch instantly.
- Much faster, no loss of download speed which is great for video streaming.
- Works on all your devices unlike VPN.
- Nothing to download
- Easier to setup than a VPN. No technical knowledge necessary. Simply follow directions to change your DNS settings on your devices. set it and forget it. Takes 5 minutes to get going.
- Unlimited devices: Use on multiple devices as long as they have same external IP. Which you will have at home if you are all using the same wifi connection.
SMART DNS CONS
- Usually cheaper than a VPN
Unblock websites: Access your favourite sites from anywhere.
- Enjoy security online even on public WIFI connections and unsecured hotspots
- Surf Privately incognito with no trace.
- Unlock all every website for a country not just a specific streaming website channel. Good if you want to use VPN to get cheaper airline tickets on different country sites because it does matter where you are buying from price wise.
- Need to dissconnect and reconnect each time you use VPN and you have to switch from viewing one country content to another. Cannot have US Netflix and French Google for example.
- DOES NOT work with all devices. Will not work with Apple TV, Smart TV, Roku and other boxes without a VPN router. (if you are technically savvy enough than it won't matter)
- VPN's are slower than Smart DNS which might make videos choppy or laggy.
- Can only see content from one country at a time. You must dissconnect from from one country and reconnect to a different country to view different content. i.e. US hulu to Dr Who on UK BBC iPlayer. Not so with Smart DNS.
- More complicated to get running. Need to download and install software to get it running. Can be technically challenging to get it up and running on a smart phone or tablet. Not so for smartDNS
- Usually More expensive than Smart DNS
If you are heading abroad and want to watch your US based streaming video shows or listent to your streaming music on Pandora than YOU NEED to get a VPN or Smart DNS installed and running on your devices before you go. The last thing you want to be doing while on vacation is fiddling with your settings to get things up and running. You need to decide whether you want full encrypted protection (VPN) or just a faster connection to stream video (Smart DNS). Both of which will unblock region restricted websites.
Nothing is full proof. Results can vary based on your location, your connection the weather? I had to go through several services to find the ones that worked for me. I will list other services which I have tested and know work by linking to them here. (coming soon, I'm currently testing out a few dozen services. )
Overplay.net as I mentioned above, is the service I use at home and am extremely happy with. If you can't decide between a VPN or DNS of if you would like to have the option of switching between Smart DNS for a faster connection for streaming video at home and a VPN when connecting to an unsecured and or public hot-spot in hotels and airports, you can get both as a bundle package over at Overplay for less than $10 USD per month.