Are you missing out on your favorite US TV programs while in Japan? I was too, and it was a pain to miss the latest shows.
I am a great fan of Hulu and theWB. Even when I was in the States, I used those websites to time-shift my favorite shows to a more convenient watching time. I rarely missed House, Castle, Smallville, or Supernatural. Call me shallow, but American programs can’t be beaten.
After my move to Tokyo, I was disappointed to find that, even though I had blazing fast Internet, streaming video sites were unwatchable. I found that my favorite sites had access blocked for anyone outside the US.
Or is that true? As an engineer, I can’t look at a problem without also looking for a solution. My research showed that there were several ways around the blockage.
The first option I considered was to have a TiVo set up in the US, connected to a cable box. I could program it to record the shows I liked, and later transfer the files from the TiVo hard drive to my computer in Tokyo.
The pros – very flexible set up, could skim or fast forward through programs, can be remotely controlled for scheduling.
The cons – Expensive ($299.00 plus service fees), lots of extra expenses (TiVo Desktop Plus software) for transferring files, still need to pay for cable service, and finally, there is this note on the TiVo website:
“Not all programs may be transferred using the Multi-Room Viewing or TiVoToGo features due to the use of copy protection mechanisms permitted under the FCC's encoding rules. Some shows cannot be transferred due to the copy protection assigned them by the program provider. These shows usually are marked with a red circle-slash icon. (47 C.F.R. 76.1904)”
It looks like copy protection might be a pain. Although the TiVo option is interesting, I put it on the back burner.
Next, I considered using a Slingbox. This will take the video feed from a US cable box and stream it to your computer anywhere in the world. The Slingbox website indicates that it is easy to set up and use. I also noted that it is set up to provide only one data stream, so that the video is not copied, but sent directly to your computer. This seems to avoid the copyright problems associated with the TiVo option.
I know that the Slingbox will work overseas as I have friends who use this option. They are very happy with their purchase.
The pros – Easy setup, wide channel choice, good support, HD version available. It also advertises as being able to allow you to “Watch Your TV Anywhere,” including Android phones. Although I doubt that option would work in Japan.
The cons – Less flexible than the TiVo option, as it only handles one channel at a time. No recording, so Internet connectivity problems can cause you to miss your favorite shows. Requires a cable setup in the US to use for forwarding programs to your Slingbox location. Although I have a US cable setup, it will be several months before I get back on vacation to set up the service. Price, the Pro-HD version is $299.00, plus the ongoing cable and internet fees at your cable box location.
The next option was to use a proxy server service to simulate being in the US to the US-based video streaming sites.
My research showed several contenders, but the company with the best reputation was StrongVPN, which is owned by ReliableHosting. The StrongVPN option will do everything I currently need and more. While it doesn’t have the flexibility of the US-based cable box options shown above, it also eliminates the expense of maintaining cable service in the US, along with a permanent internet connection.
The pros for StrongVPN – fast setup; ease of use, online chat assistance to answer setup questions, and low price. The current pricing is about $15.00 per month.
Also, the VPN service is a help for other uses, it provides an extra layer of security for online banking, my credit card purchases are no longer flagged as coming from outside the US, and US websites now load correctly.
The cons – requires a setup that can be complicated for some, can only view shows on streaming video sites like Hulu or the WB (no HBO like the cable options), no recording. Also no ability to Fast Forward through commercials (damn).
So I think the best option for now is the StrongVPN service. It lets me watch Hulu without a US based cable box. I might go with the Slingbox option later this year. But for now, I can get my TV fix here in the land of the Rising Sun.