As we edge closer to our two year anniversary in Singapore, I can say that I have learned far more about making technology cross international borders than I ever expected to. While I’m hardly a clueless luddite, I generally leave “making the internets/phones/etc work” solidly in Ravi’s column of work; he’s the professional computer programmer, after all. But you can’t avoid learning things, nor should you. One of the areas I have learned a great deal about is television.
Not shown in SG
When we first moved here, my research indicated that cable would not be worth the money. Several of my favorite shows were showing here in earlier seasons. Other shows weren’t on here at all. Some shows were censored…for example, in the past two years I’ve learned that the male/male kiss on Glee was not shown, and that The Walking Dead is also edited for consumption in SG. So we wanted to find other options.
This is probably the most difficult way to get our tv from the US. Firstly, a slingbox had to be attached to our Tivos, which themselves were set up in my in-law’s home, connected to cable. We accessed them using the “slingplayer” application or the slingbox website. However, in a system with this many working parts, things often were just too much hassle to be worth the effort. Connection speeds would make the picture freeze or the playback choppy. A power outage would make the slingbox unreachable. Something would get unplugged, necessitating a phone call to the US at a mutually doable time…an email to check to see if it was working…sometimes taking 48-72 hours to fully fix an issue (and a great deal of patience/willingness to mess around with things on my in-laws side).
At this point we only really use it for things that we can’t otherwise get–the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for example, is on very late at night…if we want to make it part of our celebration, we need to tivo it and then play it back at a more civilized hour as it is not available on the broadcasting channel’s website.
I would only advise this method if you have really great connection speeds, and a person on the other end who is also fairly technologically savvy (or willing to follow directions) to keep it going.
However, the major benefit is that you have access to the full range of your cable package from back home.
As someone who is already enslaved to the cult of Jobs, I moved here with access to iTunes.
Keeping American iTunes is simple. Keep a credit card billing to your US address or the US address of a family member (which is handy for all manner of things like booking plane tickets with American carriers, ordering off US websites, etc) and leave your default address for billing/etc purposes with iTunes as the US. This leaves you with access to US iTunes.
I currently subscribe to Glee, Ringer, Smash, Amazing Race, The Walking Dead and a few other shows. After each show has had its original airdate in the US, I get an alert to download the new episodes. For example, when Glee shows on the US East Coast at 8pm on a Tuesday it is 7am here on Wednesday morning. Between 3-6pm Wednesday, I get my alert that the new episode is available for download.
Obviously, the two major issues with relying on iTunes are #1 cost–seasons vary in price and #2–that not every show is available on iTunes. A great example of a show I want to see that is not on iTunes is the Pioneer Woman’s cooking show from the Food Network–not avail on iTunes or the channel’s website (we’ll get to websites in a minute). For that, I either have to accept that I’m not going to see it, or go back to slingplayer. Also worth noting that if you’re running linux or a non windows/apple OS, iTunes is not available to you.
However, the thing I love about tv from iTunes is that once downloaded, the shows play cleanly. No weird breaks, no buffering, etc. And of course, I have it available to playback on my laptop or any other iDevice.
Netflix/Amazon Video/ Channel Websites—via VPN
Few things are more irritating than clicking on a link to a video or trying to log into netflix and getting an alert that “this service/video is not available outside the US.” Well, there is a solution to that–tell the website that you are in the US by logging on through a VPN.
Perhaps the most life altering and awesome thing I’ve learned about is the VPN, or virtual private network. VPN is software that lets you join a private network. Companies like GNB use them for security, for example. For an expat, they are handy to trick a website into thinking you’re in a specific country. You use one thusly…you are in country A and the server providing the VPN is in country B. Once you log on, it is easy to set it up such that to a third party (hulu, amazon, netflix etc) thinks you are in country B instead of country A, giving you access to stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise.
This does also cost money, but on the scale of the most basic webhosting–50-100 USD per year. In our case, I can log onto the VPN and then go watch netflix, or video that individual tv channels have made available (like the most recent episodes of Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother, for example).
I’m not comfortable linking individual companies, but if you google, you should be able to find one that works for you very easily.
If you’ve found another method that you like/want to talk up, please use the comments to do so!