I love being from Canada — but due to licensing issues and the imaginary line I live on the wrong side of, I’m blocked from or limited in using streaming media services that my global neighbours rave about. Fortunately for those of us so geographically challenged (or those of you travelling outside the US or UK and missing your favourite music and video streams), there are services out there that try to solve this problem.
The best one I’ve come across so far, in terms of ease of use and quality of delivery, is UnoDNS.
What You Need to Know
First off, UnoDNS — created by UnoTelly — is not a VPN service in the typical sense. You don’t have to turn it on every time you want to use it, and you don’t have to do any major configuring. It’s easy to get it working on your mobile devices, game systems (PS3, Wii, Xbox), and TV boxes (Apple TV, Roku, Boxee Box, etc.), and it won’t force you to use the service for every internet action you do, potentially slowing down your web browsing. The other side of that coin, of course, is that it doesn’t provide you with extra security or anonymity like a virtual private network — but that’s not its purpose. UnoDNS is meant for entertainment, and it only works on the specific streaming services and websites that are in their Channels list.
And what a list! Pretty much every major television network and app you can think of is in there, ranging from Netflix to Hulu Plus, Pandora, Spotify, Vudu, and BBC iPlayer (no HBO Go listed, however). In fact, the UnoDNS Gold package gives you access to 71 different providers! I was lucky enough to get a reviewers account for the purposes of my research, but a gold account only costs $7.95/month. The Premium plan is $4.95/month and has 47 channels (most everything you could need or want) — and the Free plan has 14 channels. No Netflix in the free plan, but you do get Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, and Pandora, which is pretty amazing. Even better: there’s no contract for any of the UnoDNS plans, and you can try the whole set for free for 8 days. If that’s not enough for you to give it a shot, they also have a money-back guarantee.
How it Works
UnoDNS isn’t the only way to access online content outside of its geographically restricted area. The problem is, getting set up and finding a reliable, inexpensive service can be a bit complicated. UnoDNS tries to make accessing your favourite blocked content as painless to set up and maintain as possible. To do this, it uses your Domain Name System, or DNS — which is basically the online equivalent of a phone book or speed dial for URLs; the URL being like a person’s name and the actual IP address being the phone number. UnoDNS registers your IP address(es) in its system, and swaps out your DNS with its own. Basically, this allows the service to know when you are connected to it and trying to access sites or services that are covered by their channels, and then run your computer through its location spoofing proxy system. The end result is that the service you want to access thinks your are actually in the country you are allowed to use it in.
The genius here is that UnoDNS doesn’t affect sites that are not a part of its system. If you need to access a site that requires you to be in your local country or area, UnoDNS will not need to be deactivated for you to do so, or reactivated when you, say, want to listen to music on Pandora or Spotify, or watch your favourite US-access-only shows on Netflix or Hulu (or Britain-access-only shows on BBC iPlayer).
Still, this is a proxy, and the classic problems with proxies are speed and reliability. I’ve been testing UnoDNS for over a month now, and have had barely a hiccup. Load time is quick enough, and I have had only very rare occurrences of waiting for a stream to rebuffer — no more than when streaming without UnoDNS. UnoTelly guarantees that the service will be fast enough to do what you need it to — guarantees as in you get your money back, if it doesn’t. There’s also no bandwidth cap, or price adjustments for usage, which is a problem with most VPN services — especially if you like to stream movies in HD.
If you are worried about the security of using UnoDNS proxies, your worry should be minimal. It uses Comodo SSL, which is one of the more recognizable names in the online security business.
Setup varies depending on device, but if you are using UnoDNS on a PC it is only a matter of downloading and installing UnoHelper, and following the prompts. It will do all of the DNS changes for you, and even update your IP address when you take your laptop to different locations. I can listen to Spotify at work or watch US Netflix at my sister-in-law’s house just as well as I can at home, and without having to do anything other than turn on my computer. I’ve even managed to get it working at a few coffee shops and book stores, which are public wifi and unsupported by UnoDNS. If you need to, UnoHelper is easily deactivated, reverting your DNS back to its standard.
Setting up on mobile devices requires a tiny bit more work. It’s still fairly simple, however, and there are detailed instructions that walk you through it. UnoDNS provides you with the DNS information you need from a variety of servers (http://currentdns.unotelly.com) and shows you how to change the DNS on devices like iPhone, iPad, Android, XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, PS3, etc. Basically, if you can find where to change your DNS settings, you can use the service — this includes doing it right on your router. If you only plan to use UnoDNS in your own home, you don’t need to install anything. Just change the DNS settings on your router and your entire house and every device in it is instantly connected to UnoDNS, all at the same time.
The only real issue I found is that some services, such as Spotify, require you to be in a specific location to download their software. Spotify is covered by UnoDNS, but when I tried it, the download server wasn’t. As a result, I had to turn on a VPN to download the Spotify software, but didn’t need the VPN once everything was installed and my account set up. A related issue is that some services require the use of an American credit card to even sign up to them, but you can always use something like Entropay to get a prepaid virtual US credit card number, and then you’re good to go.
For mobile devices, you may need to use a US and/or UK iTunes account or Google your way to the appropriate Android APK to install the apps you need.
The great thing, for the purposes of this review, is that none of these issues are directly related to the UnoDNS service. These are side effects of getting signed up to streaming services outside of their specified country. The UnoDNS service worked flawlessly for me, and I have no complaints whatsoever. I do wish that it worked on mobile internet, though – it isn’t directly supported, because mucking about with your provider’s DNS is not a fun idea.
I would recommend UnoDNS to anyone willing to listen. It’s easy to set up — pretty much set it and forget it — and opens you up to all kinds of content without having to get your hands dirty. There are no bandwidth caps, so you can stream away until you start looking like a Smurf. Most importantly, it works — and it works well. It’s fast, there are no lag issues that I’ve come across, nor complaints that I’ve seen from others.
To top it off, the cost is near to nothing. In fact, if you were to purchase a Netflix subscription, as well as Hulu Plus, Spotify, BBC iPlayer, and maybe even one or two others — as well as UnoDNS Gold — you will still probably spend less than or close to what you pay for cable, and get more content that you are actually interested in. If you live in the US, you should check it out for travel, or just for the use of iPlayer. Those BBC shows are insane! Give it a shot!