I can remember when OpenHulu launched thinking that the name was nearly false advertising; essentially it provided access to Hulu content away from Hulu, but only to those in the United States. Veoh and MSN have since followed suit and provide Fox and NBC content from Hulu on their sites, but like OpenHulu it still remains IP blocked to those outside of the United States (and possibly Canada).
Web based proxies have been around for a long time, but most don’t work with video, and even those that do don’t provide decent enough bandwidth from which to view content from sites such as Hulu.
One alternative service that has been in use for business for a long time now are Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). VPN’s offer a secure pipe from where you can access the web, and in turn disguise the location of the user on the end connection.
There’s quite a few paid VPN services available, many at reasonable cost ($5-$20/ mth were a few I found on Google) but one service doing the rounds at the moment offers a VPN connection for free.
HotSpot Shield is a plugin for Windows or OS X that offers a free VPN service. There is a catch, it rather annoyingly adds a banner ad to the top of every page you visit, but at the ultimate price point of $0 most people will be able to live with it…well, at least whilst getting access to sites that were currently blocked, and the ads can be switched off on each page, but only after they have appeared.
Does it work? From Western Australia I’m currently listening to Pandora for the first time since May (still a great service.) Earlier this weekend I caught up with a new Simpsons episode, complete with ads from Hulu, then watched archival footage of the Nixon Resignation just for good measure. The only thing it didn’t work on was Joost which told me I should stop using a proxy…no matter, the blocked stuff is mostly on CBS.com anyway, and yes CBS.com works as well.
The speed wasn’t always great, but it was enough to watch video, varying between 600kbps and 1.3mbps on my 2mbps Cable connection.
I hesitated in writing this post because the more people who use services such as HotSpot Shield, the more chances we might end up killing them, or worse still Hulu and others might get smart and find ways of blocking it. Even if we lose HotSpot Shield today I’m betting given the strong demand services like this will have that others will offer VPN services as well, and hopefully free ones at that. At least I hope so, now I have Pandora again I’m really going to struggle if I’m forced to give it up again :-)