Frankly put, using a VPN (or virtual private network) has become a perfect tool for watching geo-restricted content, like BBC iPlayer and Netflix, when you're away from the UK. But did you know that you can also do that on your smart TV or streaming box at home, too.
So that means the opportunity to watch shows that you just know are available abroad on your chosen streaming service. Or even taking your Amazon Fire TV Stick, Chromecast or Roku with you on holiday or away on a work trip, and still being able to catch your favourite shows.
And because VPNs also give an extra layer of security, turning one on while you watch also means you can keep your viewing habits secret and secure.
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How can a VPN let me watch geo-restricted content?
A VPN is a clever little tool. Normally you're given an IP address when you go online, showing where you are logging in from and who you are. Using a VPN your data is encrypted and tunneled through an intermediary server from a location of your choice. This means that you're not only hidden online but can also appear to be somewhere you're not. You're only limited by the number of server locations the VPN you decide to use can offer you.
That means that technically you can watch Netflix from any location, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and more. You can appear to be in the US while you're in the UK, to access US content or watch US-only Hulu in Europe. Of course we're not saying that this is legal in all cases and don't condone anything illegal. But if you're a UK TV licence payer on holiday in the US, then accessing the BBC iPlayer via a VPN is perfectly legal, for example.
How does a VPN work on a smart TV or steaming box?
While you can access a VPN using its client, aka app, on things like phones and computers, there are very few made for smart TVs specifically. Some do work on the likes of Amazon Fire TV but there aren't many other options. This is where router level VPN setup is useful.
Many VPNs will allow you to setup the service on your router. This means that anything connecting to that router will appear to be coming from the VPN server location that you've selected. This is a great way to get more than one device behind the security of a VPN without using the client on lots of gadgets.
How to setup a VPN on your smart TV
Some TVs will let you change DNS settings. If the VPN offers a smart DNS proxy, then you could setup your TV directly this way. It won't take long and leaves you online, protected and appearing elsewhere.
If you have an Android smart TV, or use an Android box, there are many VPN apps which you can download and setup right there on the TV. Once you've picked a VPN it's as easy as downloading the app on the TV, installing, signing in and you're up and running.
Another option is to setup a VPN on your laptop and run an HDMI cable out of it to the TV and watch via the VPN that way. It's less elegant but offers you laptop-level controls and the ability to watch anything you can stream via a browser.
Which is the best VPN for smart TVs?
One of the best VPNs overall is ExpressVPN, which offers lots of international servers, high-speed connections and great 24/7 live chat customer support. The wide variety of locations is great for accessing geo restricted content all over the planet.
The customer service is a big draw here as it means you can get help setting up a router or smart TV DNS with a live chat, so you're guided every step of the way.
Another big appeal of ExpressVPN is that its clients work really well. They're minimally designed and easy to use meaning you can change location and reconnect in just two clicks when using a computer, for example. So for Android TVs this is a really useful feature to have from the service.
Will a free VPN do?
There are also free VPN options out there but expect slower connections, fewer location options and limited data access in most cases. The data limited options aren't ideal for streaming video and the ones with more free data are limited on locations, so pick wisely if you're trying to get it for free.