Update (6 Jan 2016):
Netflix has now officially launched in South Africa. All rejoice!
But as expected, and as I wrote below 2 years ago, the content is much more limited than other regions like the US. So with the launch of Netflix in SA, it doesn’t really change much. For the full catalog of shows, everything below is still valid.
Since the rumor a few days ago about Telkom being in talks with Netflix, some people have started realizing that you can already get Netflix in SA. It’s incredibly easy, and a number of sites have guides on how to do it but either have affiliate links to the services or have adverts attacking your eyes from every corner. I don’t know which I hate more. So here is my completely advert and affiliate-link free guide 😛
Telkom and Netflix
So, if Telkom is in talks with Netflix, why should you care about everything below? Well, Netflix is available in a lot of countries (not South Africa currently though), however the content is different per region. Basically, if Netflix does actually launch in SA there is a VERY high chance that it will only be a small subset of the content of the US version. Then there is also the chance that it could be more expensive than the US version.
On the flip side, it would be pretty awesome if Telkom bundled Netflix free with doUncapped, and maybe even added local shows like Braai Masters etc.
You’re probably with DStv at the moment (or pirating stuff). Here are the DStv prices from their website:
There are other packages but they are terrible. Even extra and compact can pretty much be excluded if you want any decent entertainment.
Although Hulu and Netflix serve a similar purpose, they have pretty different content. So if you want a good selection of most shows then it’s really worth having both.
Hulu: $7.99 / R79
Netflix: $7.99 / R79
Location trickery: $4.99 / R49
It isn’t all about price though. While DStv may have some content that isn’t on either Netflix or Hulu (and definitely vice versa), the biggest thing for me about having these streaming services is being able to watch any episode at any time. You don’t need to wait until it airs on TV, or cancel your life once a week at 7PM because your favorite show is on. You can also watch episodes from years ago that might never be aired on DStv again (like Firefly). And of course, if you want to spend a week bingeing on Breaking Bad (which you really should), that’s fine too.
Netflix has no adverts and Hulu occasionally has one at the beginning of an episode. The Hulu advert is usually mildly interesting or at the very least, funny.
DStv on the other hand is riddled with the absolutely TERRIBLE advertising that South Africans put up with. Every now and then I go on holiday and watch it on the room TV, and it never ceases to amaze me how many adverts they manage to stuff into a 20 minute show, and how crap they are. And I don’t want to get started on how many repeats there are of the same movie…
How to get them
The only thing stopping South Africans signing up with these services is regional blocking. Netflix and Hulu can detect that you are from SA and will show an error. So you just need something that will trick them into thinking you are a US-grown specimen.
There are tons of services that do this for you.
Some browser plugins exist which have a button to turn your US-heritage on and off. So before going to Netflix you just turn it on. This is a decent solution but pretty much limits you to watching stuff on your computer. Meh. http://hola.org/. On the bright side, Hola is free.
EDIT: Recently it was discovered that Hola may have been routing dodgy stuff through your connection: http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/29/8685251/hola-vpn-botnet-selling-users-bandwidth
The most popular solution is to get a VPN service which basically directs all your traffic via a server in a different country so that by the time it gets to Netflix it looks like you are actually wherever that server is. The biggest problem here is that all your traffic is routed through one more place which slows it down. Our South African internet is slow enough, no need to make it even worse. Another problem is that bandwidth is usually on a pay-per-use basis, so you can incur quite a bit of costs if you stream a lot. Finally, not every device supports connecting to a VPN so you might end up having to watch only on your PC.
This is definitely the best solution (in my opinion), and I’ve been using it for most of this year. All you do here is you change the DNS that your router uses to resolve addresses. This manages to trick Netflix/Hulu into thinking you are from the US, but none of your traffic is actually rerouted. So there is no speed decrease, and no bandwidth limits. I use http://www.unotelly.com/unodns/,
but there is a free version called http://tunlr.net/. Just note that Tunlr says they add artificial latency to help keep the service free, and you should not use it as your main DNS all the time (rather just turn it on when streaming – which is a mission). Tunlr has shutdown – another reason why it is worth using a paid-for service like UnoTelly.
The great thing about UnoTelly is how easy it is to set up. After signing up you will get shown a map of all their servers and you just pick the one closest to you (ours is Cape Town). Once you have the IP of that server, log into your routers admin interface and set it as the main DNS for your whole network. My router looks like this:
This website links to a bunch of guides for different makes of routers to show you how to change the DNS.
Leaving your whole network using the DNS is absolutely fine, and everything should work as usual. I play Xbox games online with it fine too.
You can also just set this on each device that will be streaming stuff, but that requires effort. Setting it in your router means that you just need to set it once and everything from your TV to your phone will magically tell websites that it is from the US.
Every time your IP address changes you will need to visit the “Update IP” page on UnoTelly. This takes 2 seconds and will only happen when you restart your router (probably almost never).
A feature that UnoTelly has over its competitors is called Dynamo. It basically allows you to switch Netflix region on-the-fly. So if you are in the mood for some British humor, just flick the switch. Something to note is that your recommendations and history are not carried across between regions, but they are saved for when you go back to the US/UK.
If you are switching from DStv then you probably want to still watch on your TV. There are a number of ways to do this.
Smart TV: If you have a smart TV, look in the app store for the Netflix and Hulu apps. This is what I use and they are very good (the Samsung ones). Note that on some TV’s you need to first change the region. Find your TV here.
Consoles: All the major consoles have apps for these services. Just check the app stores.
Update: As of January 2016, you should be able to get the apps even with SA region.
On Xbox you will need a
US Xbox live account to download them . If your current region is set to South Africa, just create a new account (set to US) to download it. After that you can open the app with your regular SA account. Another requirement for Xbox streaming is that your Xbox Live account is a Gold membership. It seems silly to have Gold just for Netflix/Hulu, but if you have an Xbox and ADSL you probably already play online with Gold. You do not need a Gold membership to use Netflix/Hulu/etc on Xbox anymore.
On PS3 you will also need to sign up for a
US PSN account. It’s totally free, and you don’t need to have a premium subscription like Xbox Live Gold.
Devices: Much like how your DStv decoder used to sit under your TV, you can get other devices that do the same but for Netflix/Hulu/tons of other stuff.
The nicer ones are:
But there are a lot of cheaper Chinese ones like this little stick.
You can also buy a Samsung Bluray player (mine came with my home-theatre system), which also runs the Smart TV apps.
Tablets/Phones: You can also use your Windows Tablet, Windows Phone, iPad, iPhone, Android Tablet, or Android Phone for when you are in bed or away from home. If you are away from home you will need to set the DNS up on the actual device. This is not possible on Windows Phone currently. On iOS it is possible on WiFi, but on 3G you will need to have a jail-broken device, and use an app called GuizmoDNS.
Of course, for all of this you need ADSL. Most people who are reading this probably already have ADSL at home so it shouldn’t factor into the costs near the top.
I’ve heard from people that it’s possible to stream Netflix and Hulu with a 1Mbps line which is R486 (including everything), but I would suggest 2Mbps+. Luckily, Telkom is bumping up all 1Mbps customers to 2Mbps next month for free.
I have a 10Mbps connection and can download stuff at around 800KB/s while Netflix is streaming, which shows that it’s only using ~20% of the line.
Some people have mentioned (including UnoTelly themselves) that you cannot use Telkom as an ISP with UnoTelly. That is completely false. My line and data is with Telkom (doUncapped) and the $4.99 UnoDNS package from UnoTelly works perfectly.
If you are a video-phile and don’t accept anything less than HD then you may be out of luck. Most of these services seem to struggle to use the full line speed, so quality isn’t as good as it could be. On PS3 Amazon Prime apparently will stream a max of 480p even on a 10Mbps line.If you are using Netflix on a PC, you can force the higher quality by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S.
Update (6 Jan 2016): You can now use your real South African address for Netflix.
All you need is a credit card or cheque card (with a CVV on the back) for
Netflix, Hulu, and UnoTelly. They will ask for an address and ZIP code, so just make up the address (or find a random business) and pick a random ZIP code from here. Your local South African credit card will work just fine. Another great way to generate fake details about your American persona is this website.
You can also sign up for a US Paypal account and add your South African credit card or cheque card to it, and then pay with that. I have not tried this myself, but I’ve heard it works.
Of course there are WAY more services that this unlocks than just Netflix and Hulu. Some examples are the BBC iPlayer, UFC Live, Amazon Instant, and Spotify.
[Or maybe you just want to test out if your internet is fast enough]
Try out Tunlr (mentioned above) which is the free DNS service, and sign up for a trial of Netflix or Hulu. Both have trials long enough to see what content is on offer and see if streaming will work for you. And it won’t cost you a cent. Note: For using Netflix with Tunlr you will need to “whitelist” your IP by going to this Tunlr page.
Have fun, and feel free to ask me stuff in the comments below, or on Twitter.