Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cheaper Internet TV

A while ago, I did some math to show how streaming TV through a US proxy on Amazon was cheaper than torrenting the show, and how it was even competitive with Sky TV if you watches less than 12 hours of TV a week.

That was if you used Amazon as your US proxy. With Amazon, you are paying for both traffic and time, which skews the price considerably. If you already have a US server (several of my friends do) then you already have your US proxy with a huge bundle of data. However, the rest of us need another, easier way.

Of course, the US being the US, and the Internet being the Internet, there is already several groups offering a range of methods, starting from free and getting more expensive from there.

First off, some math:

From last time, we saw the price for Amazon was:

Amazon Cost:
  Instance: US$0.1*(NZ$1/USD$0.67) = NZ$0.15
  Traffic (based on 1 episode of Eureka)
  (304MB/43min)*(60min/hr)*(1GB/1024MB)*(USD$0.27/1GB)*(NZD$1/USD$0.67) = NZ$0.17
  Total   : NZ$0.32/hr
NZ Bandwidth cost:
  (304MB/43min)*(60min/hr)*(1GB/1024MB)*(NZ$1.50/GB) = NZ$0.62/hr
Total cost per hour: NZ$0.94/hr

If we can reduce the Amazon cost, we can substantially reduce our total cost.

My goal is to get the "Amazon" portion of the charge down to 8c/day. That would make the price for a Hulu stream into:

NZ$0.62/hr + $0.08/day

So, the break even point against the Sky basic plan would become:

($11.74 - 0.08*7)/0.62 = 18 hours/week.

Not quite to the 3hrs/day that I have previously boasted about, but close. Within spitting distance, even. If you can get bandwidth for less than NZ$1.50/GB, the break even point will change dramatically. Given that the Southern Cross prices have just dropped by 50%, I hope to see some end-user price changes soon.

So, I went looking for a VPN provider. First I tried free, Hotspot Shield from AnchroFree. I quickly gave up on them. They don't have enough bandwidth, and they seem to be specifically targetted by Hulu.

I thought about using TOR, but quickly discarded that one. It would be just plain rude.

I looked at using the free proxy add-on for Firefox. However, they just aren't reliable enough for the next stage - a set top box.

So, I went looking at commercial offerings. I tried, and

VPN is still pretty new and arcane. There is a lot of magic, and many things that can go wrong. I found it very frustrating to get properly configured, and ultimately had to rely on the support teams at a couple of the providers to get configured. Thankfully, both and offered good support. HideMyNet (and others) were not so good. I had other issues too. Sometimes it felt odd giving these companies my credit card details. So, I only went with ones that used PayPal.


  1. Avoid PPTP. It's generally provided by the OS, and is flakey and hard to get configured properly. It may be cheaper, but it's not really worth it.
  2. Go with an OpenVPN based solution. This is available on Windows, OS X and Linux. The benefit is that it is it's own tool, separate from the network stack and therefore a lot easier to diagnose.
  3. CPU, CPU, CPU. My 2.4Ghz AMD single core Athlon 3800+ wasn't fast enough to stream more than 700kbps reliably. My 2.5Ghz Core2Duo is. offers points of presence all over the world. However, they are moderately expensive at US$85/yr, and charge money to change PoPs (Point of Presence). In other words, while they do have PoPs in the UK (for access to BBC iPlayer or Spotify), if you want to switch between UK/US PoPs, they charge money. It really sounds like they should fix their provisioning and access control systems to me. is the company that I've ultimately gone with. They offer instant switching between VPN PoPs, UK and US PoPs and a low annual fee of US$60. Even better, they have US PoPs close to the Southern Cross US interconnect points in LA and San Francisco.

Since I've gone with, Hulu came along and banned them from accessing their streams. However, a quick support message and I was on another PoP, which wasn't filtered (yet). However, I've also got access to BBC's iPlayer and Pandora, which kicks ass.

I just wish NetFlix was supported on Linux, then I would sign up for a NetFlix streaming account.

The final cost analysis works out as: Cost:
  Cost: NZ$80/yr
NZ Bandwidth cost:
  (304MB/43min)*(60min/hr)*(1GB/1024MB)*(NZ$1.50/GB) = NZ$0.62/hr

Break-Even point vs Sky: 
  ($11.74 - $80/365)/0.69 = 17 hours.

In other words, if you watch less than 17 hours of Sky specific TV per day (it isn't available on FreeView), you are better off paying for a proxy account and obtaining the content from the US or the UK.