Expat Tech: Downloading Content Overseas

As expats, we may be away from our home countries, but it’s always nice to have a taste of home from time to time.  That’s probably why so many of us actually buy the crappy Skippy peanut butter for $27 pesos from the imported foods section of Jumbo.  In addition to food, it’s also nice to be able to watch some of our favorite TV shows, listen to new music, and watch recent DVD releases while away.

Luckily, there are a number of Internet sites and services that make this process much easier and are even legal!  Some of these sites include:

  • YouTube – the biggest video site offers streaming clips, news, movies, etc.
  • Hulu – this streaming site offers a large selection of television shows and movies
  • Pandora – a streaming music site that is great for discovering new music based on artists you already like
  • iTunes – the legal way to download music, TV shows and movies

YouTube Not Available in Your Country?Lots of options, so what’s the problem? Well, almost all of these services (and many of the others) do no allow you to download content from outside of the United States due to outdated licensing restrictions.  So, when you go to Pandora, you get this message:

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.

And, on Hulu:

We’re sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed within the United States.

iTunes currently allows you to buy music, TV and video from outside the US if you are registered on the US version of the site, but this clearly violates their terms of service which state:

Purchases or rentals (as applicable) from the iTunes Store are available to you only in the United States and are not available in any other location. You agree not to use or attempt to use the iTunes Store from outside of the available territory. Apple may use technologies to verify such compliance.

And while they are not currently using any blocking technologies, this could easily change in the future.

YouTube on the other hand will let you stream most user submitted content, but many commercial videos or videos with licensed music tracks may restrict those videos by country, giving you the message:

This video is not available in your country.

Great, so all the legal options do not work well in Argentina.  Of course, with technology, there are several possible solutions:

Proxy Servers and Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
You can choose to use a free or paid proxy server or VPN based in the US.  In simple terms, with a proxy server or VPN, you basically route all your Internet traffic through that server rather than directly to the site you are trying to reach. Since the proxy server is in the US, the site you are accessing thinks that you are also in the US and all the content is now unrestricted.

You can find a list of free proxy servers at the Public Proxy Servers web site and The Tor Project is a free anonymous browsing service that will also hide your actual location.

The issue with a free proxy server is that it may be unreliable or slow.  You may be better off going with a paid service like: WiTopia ($39.99/year) or GoTrusted ($5.99/month). WiTopia is currently offering a free PPTP VPN with every purchase of their personal VPN service. This is useful because it is easier to setup, can be run on a iPhone and other devices, and in many cases can even be configured on your router so that each computer in your house would have access. (For example, Linksys router with the DD-WRT firmware.)

There are many ways to set these up and a lot of useful tools to make this easier.  The Lifehacker site does a good job of explaining a lot of the ways you can use these tools. Head over to their site and do a search for proxy. They also have a number of other more technical examples including using a SSH connection for proxying.

Performance Issues
The issue with a proxy server or VPN can be speed.  Since you are now routing all your traffic through another server, your speed may be affected.  VPNs also encrypt traffic, which can further reduce speed and performance.  You may have to experiment with several services and see how the performance is.

The other problem that many of us have is that Internet connections in Argentina are just not as speedy as the ones available in the US.  We have had countless problems watching our Slingbox and have pretty much just given up on it. When streaming movies, we often start the video and then hit pause for30 minutes before going back to it and playing it.  That time allows it to buffer on your computer so that it will play more seamlessly.

BitTorrent To The Rescue
Miro - TiVo for the InternetSo, even with all these new legal options for content, we still end up coming back to our old standby – Miro and TvRSS.  This solution allows you to download television shows in full before watching them.  The benefit of this is that you can now watch full HD versions of the shows without any interruptions or pauses, they download in the background (so even if you have a slow connection, all you need is some patience), and it”s pretty easy to set up.  The new version of Miro was just recently released and is even easier to use, plus it adds support for Hulu (will require the proxy server hack outside of the US), allows video pop-outs and adds more programming options.  Plus, it can also be used as your BitTorrent client for downloading from The Pirate Bay. (Not that we recommend that.)  If you’re using BitTorrent already, we’d recommend checking out the lightweight uTorrent client and these tips from Lifehacker on tweaking uTorrent to speed up downloads.

Music Streaming
While Pandora is an amazing service, there are other options that work in Argentina.  Last.fm seems to allow you to stream music if you have an account registered in the US.  Also, MySpace Music works in Argentina and is becoming more and more popular. (See this C|Net post – What I Love About MySpace Music)

So, I hope these tips help.  There are a lot of options that I probably missed, so feel free to share any other ideas in the comments.

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