Tuesday, March 4, 2014

English Language and American TV in Switzerland

Despite our best intentions (or no good intentions at all...), Matt and I are TV addicts. We have a sadly long list of shows we watch religiously from the comfort of our couch each evening, and we rely heavily on our DVR to ensure we catch them. Our favorites include (among many others) the Amazing Race, Modern Family, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and, of course, Downton Abbey.

We are eternally grateful to 21st century technology that allows us to feed our addiction to American TV, despite being far, far away. Here's how we ensure we never miss a beat.... er, episode.

Slingbox Magic
This is the Slingbox projected on our TV screen. The cable remote
shows up on the computer screen (controlled with the mouse). American
commercials are torture. Here's all the cool stuff YOU CAN'T HAVE.
A Slingbox is a fancy device that connects to a cable box and sends the cable signal through the internet. The user/owner of the Slingbox can then access the cable signal remotely through and app or the Slingbox website and watch the same cable signal on a smart phone, tablet or computer. We bought a Slingbox before moving and connected it to an extra cable box at my parents' house.  Now, when we want to watch American cable television, we connect our laptop to our TV and pull up the Slingbox website. Once we're logged in, we control the American cable just as if we were in the same room as the cable box. Through Slingbox, we can access live television, DVR and On Demand programming. 

While the Slingbox is a pretty cool invention, there are some serious down sides. Slingbox relies on internet connections and speeds at both ends of the process. Despite have fairly high speed internet at both my parents' house and our Swiss flat, the video quality with our Slingbox is poor. It reminds me of watching a vintage box TV from waaaay back in the 1990. Ha! There's no point in attempting to watch anything in HD. The video stream occasionally freezes. It's not prohibitive, but it can be annoying. Also, no one else can watch the cable box when we're controlling it through the Slingbox, so an extra cable box is necessary. 

Some internet and cable providers, including the one my parents use, are placing limits on bandwidth usage, which could make it difficult to use without my parents being charged for the extra bandwidth (depending on how many hours a day we use the Slingbox). Also, cable companies, understandably, hate this product. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they find additional ways to restrict access. Until then, we're enjoying every minute of DVR glory.

Fooling Netflix
We've maintained our US Netflix account since moving. This hausfrau needs trashy movies and vintage TV shows keeping her company throughout the long, boring weekdays.  Netflix is not available in Switzerland.

To get around the problem, we use a Virtual Privacy Network, or VPN, to trick Netflix (and other American TV streaming websites) into thinking we are still in the states. This allows us to participate in the all-American binge watching of House of Cards. Thank you very much.

We use Private Internet Access (PIA) as our VPN. A little internet research and user reviews on trusted sights led me to them and it works fairly well. Occasionally the internet slows when we're using it. PIA allows us to choose what part of the US our VPN comes from, so if we notice slowing, we switch geographic locations and the internet usually speeds up. 

Streaming Online
If we're really annoyed with the quality of our Slingbox, we always have the option of streaming shows available elsewhere online. Many of the major networks and premium channels offer access to full episodes online for free. Again, the VPN tricks the networks into believing we are watching form the US. For premium/paid content, we use my parents' cable log in (thanks for the hipster cable, Mom and Dad!).

We do have Swiss cable, which comes with a dozen English language channels including BBC, iTV, CNN Int'l and, our favorite Russian Television (RT). I have the best intentions to practive my German by watch the German language channels, but it hasn't happened yet. We shall see...

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