Note: This article is comparing the performance of Unblock-US versus a traditional VPN to watch Netflix outside of the US. If you are looking for a tutorial to set up Unblock-US on your device, check this page.
A while ago we suggested that people who live outside of the US should get a VPN, in particular for Netflix. Many of you have suggested DNS redirection systems such as Unblock-US as an efficient replacement of the VPN, for the specific purpose of watching Netflix outside of the US.
We tried it, and we loved it so much that this is now the setup we recommend to watch Netflix outside of the US.
First of all, it is worth mentioning that Unblock US is a paid service, although they do have a 7 days free trial. There exist alternatives to Unblock US, some of them such as MediaHint are free but do not necessarily work on Android, or on your specific device. We’ve found that the availability of free services, just as for VPNs, is not so great. (That being said, MediaHint worked out of the box on our windows machine running Firefox. If you’re on a compatible service, give it a try!)
On a related note, our links to Unblock-US are affiliate links, but I want to emphasize that I fell in love with the service and am currently one of their customers. And I do hope that this article will convince you as well. If you just need one thing to convince you, check the video at the bottom of the article. It speaks for itself
Most people buy a smart TV dongle such as the MK802 III in order to watch internet movie streaming services on their TV, such as Netflix. Netflix and many other streaming services have location-based restrictions, and in particular for people outside of the US, Netflix is either not accessible, or fairly limited in their offer.
Several ways exist to bypass these restrictions. One that I have been recommending for a while is to subscribe to a VPN. Another option is called DNS Redirection, and this is what Unblock-US provides.
The fundamental difference between a VPN and Unblock-US
Unblock-US advertise themselves as an “advanced” VPN system, but this is a white marketing lie. When you connect to a VPN, all your internet traffic goes to a third party machine before it reaches the services you try to access, and vice versa. So, when you try to access Netflix through a VPN, Netflix sees the VPN and sends its data to the VPN. Netflix therefore believes your IP address is the one of the VPN, so if the VPN is in the US, Netflix will believe you are connecting from the US.
What systems like UnblockUS do is a bit more “clever”, as they will only intercept the communication between you and Netflix (or other services) when it really matters, that is, when Netflix checks your geolocation. But once Netflix has confirmed you are connecting from the US at your initial login step, it does not check this constantly while you are streaming movies, so at that point Unblock US does not get involved anymore, and lets Netflix send its traffic directly to your machine.
This difference is the root of all pros and cons of both systems. They are not made for the same purpose, and this is why I am going to try and describe here.
Pros and Cons
A VPN is a multi purpose Virtual Network. Since all your traffic goes through it, it works not only for Netflix, but for any other system that does IP restrictions. Unblock-US, on the other hand, needs to reverse engineer the communication protocols of every single application/website they want to support, in order to understand at what point they need to interfere with your communications. Bottom line is, a VPN will be, by nature, compatible with much more ip-restriction based services.
On the other hand, there are downsides to having all your traffic going through a VPN. First of all, your privacy could be at risk as you are trusting an external company with all your internet traffic. In general this isn’t too much of a concern (after all, you trust your Internet Provider with the same information… this is why https is here anyway). But, more importantly in this case, since all your traffic goes through an additional machine, this reduces your bandwidth, increases the latency of your internet traffic, and overall can have a huge impact on the experience. Things can get very slow if you are using a bad provider (check the video below which compares netflix on a VPN and Netflic through Unblock-US, I think that video speaks more than a 1000 words 🙂 )
It needs however to be emphasized that VPN communications are encrypted, and this adds an additional layer of security/anonymity that Unblock-US does not provide. Do not use Unblock-US if your goal is to bypass your internet provider’s P2P restrictions for example. For that type of use case, a VPN is probably a better approach.
As a Summary, here are a list of pros and cons for a VPN VS Unblock US
- Very versatile and resilient technique. Will work in many more situations than Netflix.
- Helps you protect your anonymity a bit better than other techniques (remember, there is no guarantee to stay fully anonymous on any system, just ways to make things a bit less transparent!). a VPN would for example help you bypass your ISP’s P2P restrictions
- Basically recommended if you plan on doing more than Netflix in relation to IP restrictions and anonymity
- Much slower than DNS redierection services such as Unblock-US (see Netflix video comparison below)
- Much faster than a VPN for the services it supports, in particular Netflix
- Much easier to use (on Android devices) than a VPN. Setup once, then forget about it. Extremely convenient if some non tech-savvy people in your family also want to use Netflix.
- Will not work for the services that are not explicitly supported.
- Will break (at least temporarily) every time the supported services such as Netflix decide to change their IP geolocation process.
- The Price ($4.99) feels a bit expensive knowing that it only supports a few services, and that a VPN (which will support everything) can be acquired for the same monthly fee…
Comparison Video of Unblock-US versus a VPN
As I wrote in the pros and cons above, basically if you do not have more uses than Netflix for your VPN, Unblock-US is the way to go. I do hope this comparison video is the one that will convince you. I myself have other uses for a VPN, and was so impressed by the speed difference and the convenience offered by Unblock-US that I decide to subscribe to it even though I still need the VPN.
In the video below, I am showing the speed at which loading a video happens through Unblock-US, versus the same video loading through a paid VPN (which, ironically, costs the same monthly price as Unblock-US, that is $4.99). The difference is unreal, but I swear I did not cheat. Note that the network conditions might vary with time, but overall we’ve found that for Netflix, Unblock-US is significantly faster than a VPN solution. And by “significantly”… well, just see the video, we’re talking 10 times faster. This also has an impact on the overall quality of the video. We’ve watched HD movies without a problem on Unblock-US from Japan, while using a VPN would regularly switch between SD and HD.