Unlock Hulu and BBC iPlayer in a click with Hola
Rather than mess around with VPNs and proxy servers, Hola makes it easier than ever to watch foreign Catch Up TV services.
US Catch Up TV service Hulu is the holy grail for some people when it comes to online entertainment, particularly because you're not supposed to be able to watch it in Australia. Of course there are plenty workarounds to mask your location, such as proxy servers and US-based Virtual Private Networks. They've long been in a cat-and-mouse game with Hulu, but every time Hulu closes one loophole another seems to open.
Hola is a free service which aims to simplify the practice of geo-dodging by simply adding an on/off button to Chrome or Firefox. You'll also find standalone apps for Windows and Android. Hola has been around since late last year but is now expanding the number of sites it covers and you can probably expect it to lock horns with Hulu's lawyers soon.
Hola is primarily designed as a "web accelerator", speeding up your web access for all websites by downloading the content from other users' computers rather than directly from the original website. It also uses compression techniques to save on bandwidth, along with "patented DNS acceleration". It's a bit like P2P software, with each user sharing their cached content with everyone else. The more people using it, the faster it becomes. Content should also load faster because it's coming from someone near you rather than across the world.
The idea of web accelerators seems a bit old-fashioned as we've all moved to broadband, but Hola's big appeal is that it also lets you bypass the geo-blocking restrictions on sites such as Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Pandora, CBS, Fox and ITV. Hola's designers are open to adding extra sites and plan to introduce the ability to customise your own list. Personally I'd like to add YouTube US, where you'll find a wide range of extra movies and TV shows which aren't available to Australian YouTube users.
At the moment the Hola Windows application offers both web acceleration and geo-dodging, while the browser plugins only offer geo-dodging and the Android app only offers web acceleration. I have to admit that talk of web acceleration makes me suspicious and there was a time when such a phrase screamed spyware, but it all seems above board.
Hola doesn't rely on a Virtual Private Network or a full proxy server. Instead it relies on a selective proxy server system which only targets specific domains. When you try to visit a page on Hulu, that request is redirected to the Hola network (not that you notice anything different on the front end). For all other internet traffic it's business as usual.
The beauty of Hola is that your other internet traffic isn't impeded in any way, nor does Hola impact on other applications. You don't need to change your IP address or DNS server, nor do you need to worry about Australian servers suddenly treating you as a foreigner. Of course if you want to geo-dodge on devices which won't run the Hola plugin, such as a media player or games console, then a DNS-based service such as Unblock Us might still be your best bet.
Hola's P2P-style design means, like BitTorrent, it can't be shut down because there's no central server to attack. The trade-off is that you're uploading content to other users, which could count towards your monthly limit, but Hola's designers claim that the bandwidth you save due to compression techniques should offset this. Using the browser plug-in to geo-dodge doesn't seem to involve sharing content with other users, so many people might not see the need to install the full desktop application. Often you only need to enable geo-dodging to start a video streaming, once it's playing you've already passed the geo-check so it will happily keep playing.
Is it legal to use Hola? That's a grey area. Some people would argue that it's more legal than using BitTorrent, although BitTorrent will still offer better picture quality and less advertising than Catch Up TV services.
Have you tried Hola? What's your preferred method of bypassing geo-blocking?