If you haven't subscribed to Netflix yet, you're missing out on a brilliant on-demand video service. It'll set you back £5.99 a month, and that gets you unlimited streaming access to thousands of movies and TV shows, the majority of which are in HD.
That said, there's a little secret that makes Netflix even better, and that's the ability to view the much larger American library instead of the impressive but still growing UK library. What's more, it's relatively easy to do and, if you do it through a company that provides you the service, only costs a couple of quid extra per month. Here, then, in handy Q&A format, is your simple guide to getting the US Netflix library on your UK Wii U, Wii, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, PC or iOS device.
NOTE: If you don't want the full explanation on how it works, skip to the next page for the instructions. But it's worth giving this a read anyway so you know the ins and outs and why it's completely fine to do it.
What do you mean the American library? What makes it so different from the UK one?
Well, you have to bear in mind the history of Netflix. Netflix was originally set up in the US in 1997 as a subscription service that let people receive DVDs in the post (like LOVEFiLM still does in the UK). Then, in 2007, Netflix started adding support for movie streaming, so you didn't have to wait for discs to turn up. Over the five years it's been going in the US Netflix's streaming library has continually grown, leading to the enormous catalogue of streaming video it has now. Netflix only started in the UK in January this year however, so while its library is still impressive it's still got a lot of catching up to do as Netflix negotiates licenses with film studios to show their films in countries outside of the US.
Right. So in other words, American Netflix has more films than UK Netflix.
Exactly. At the moment of writing, the UK Netflix has a total of 576 films and TV shows in its "Comedy" category. The US one, meanwhile, has a total of 1809. The difference in scale is the same right across the board, from anime to horror to documentaries to action.
Are us Brits getting worse treatment than the Americans then?
Not at all. As we said above, Netflix has only been going in the UK for ten months and new distribution deals are being struck with various studios at a steady rate. The growth rate of the library in such a small time is impressive. It's just that the American library has had a huge head-start of more than four years, and it's continuing to grow too. In fact, your Netflix subscription already lets you access the US library, you just may not be aware of it.
Eh? How come I can't see it then?
Well, when you subscribe to Netflix you're just subscribing to Netflix. Not Netflix UK, or Netflix US, or Netflix Canada or anything like that. When you connect to it you're shown the library that Netflix is licensed to show in your country. That's why if you go on holiday to America or Canada and load up the Netflix app on your iPad or laptop, you'll suddenly be given access to the US or Canadian libraries, along with a message telling you that since you're on holiday you can access the Netflix library for that location.
So different countries access it in different ways?
Yup. This actually happens quite a lot with websites too, mind. Have you ever played a video online that says "this content is not available in your country"? That's because they're only licensed to play the video in a certain country (usually the US) so if you're connecting from the UK it'll block you. It's like that. When you visit the BBC site from America you have to sit through an ad when you play a video, because the BBC can't show ads in the UK (because of our TV license) but can in in America.
So this trick...
...lets you connect to Netflix and make it think you're in the US instead of the UK.
Ah. Clever. Go on then.
Well, first it's worth bearing in mind that many people will tell you a proxy or a VPN - in which you literally connect via another American-based computer - is a better way to do this. We really can't stress enough that we don't recommend it for various reasons. Firstly, it can sometimes be legally dubious - while some proxies and VPNs are above board others aren't and it can be difficult to get your head around which is which. The method we give you on the next page is completely legit.
Secondly, it can be extremely slow - you're not connecting straight to Netflix, but connecting to another connection in America, which is in turn connecting you to Netflix. This would be all well and good if you were just visiting standard websites but streaming video takes up a lot of bandwidth and so a VPN or proxy often won't be able to cope with it, unless you're paying for access to an expensive one. Thirdly, since you're always connected to this VPN and all the data you transmit is going through it it's impossible to guarantee your personal information is safe. In short, we don't recommend it at all. We have a different, safer, generally more inexpensive method.
So how does this trick work then?
It's all down to your DNS (Domain Name Service). The full reason is pretty complicated but we'll try to explain it as simple as possible. A DNS is a catalogue of sites and their IP addresses. Every site has a number which is its actual address - all the .com and .co.uk stuff is just there for us to remember it easier. For example, if you were going to Google you may think the address is http://www.google.com but in reality entering that would just redirect you to one of Google's "real" addresses, like http://18.104.22.168 (click it if you don't believe us).
Your DNS, then, looks up the text address you typed in (www.google.com), finds the actual numerical address it corresponds with (22.214.171.124), and connects to that numerical address. Your router automatically assigns you a DNS based on your location, so when you head to www.netflix.com the DNS will look it up, find the UK version of the site and send you there.
Right, I'm with you.
Good. Now, here's what this trick does. Most devices that connect online will let you choose between either letting your router set the DNS for you (and give you a standard directory of sites) or connect to a custom DNS instead. That's where a site like Unblock Us comes into play. Unblock Us is a site that lets you pay a small monthly membership ($5 Canadian, roughly £3) to connect to their DNS. What makes their DNS special is it's identical to the one you usually use except a handful of sites (like Netflix) point to the American version of the site instead of the UK one.
Everything else remains absolutely identical - you still have the UK BBC site with no ads, you still access the UK Wii U eShop, you still get perfect online mutiplayer, every single other site you visit acts completely as normal with no change in connection speed - because the only time you're ever being diverted is when you connect to Netflix and the DNS points you to the American site.
Also, a disclaimer: Unblock Us isn't the only site around that does this, of course. There are other sites that perform similar services so you might want to shop around if you'd like. We haven't mentioned others here because we haven't tested them and we're wary of recommending something that may not be very reliable, but there are certainly other sites out there that perform similar services, without a doubt.
We can't vouch for the quality or reliability of these other sites, however ,because we haven't tried them - we've been using Unblock Us since February and haven't had any issues with it during that time so that's the example site we're using because it's what we're familiar with and we're happy enough with the service it provides to recommend it. This article isn't an ad for Unblock Us, and if you have alternatives that you've tried and are happy with please do recommend them in the comments below and we'll add them to this article.
UPDATE - We asked, and you answered. Rob Oaks recommends Unotelly and Playmo as good alternatives, and Rebecca Gunn also backs Playmo, adding that the US Netflix is even more worthwhile now because "they just added classic Disney films".
And this is completely kosher and above board?
Yes. Netflix is aware of this and has taken no steps to stop it. It's a sort of unspoken agreement that as long as Netflix still gets its £5.99 a month it doesn't matter what library you use - after all, they happily give you access to the US library with the same account when you're in America. They just have to abide by their license agreements and as such can only feature certain films in certain regions - this trick, then, is the streaming equivalent of buying an American DVD and playing it on a region-free DVD player.
And if it doesn't work or I'm not impressed?
Unblock Us has a free one-week trial so you can see if it works as well as we describe here. You enter no payment information for this week. After the week it will block you from using their DNS, at which point you can either start paying them $5 Canadian (£3) a month to keep using it, or switch back to your own DNS and go back to the UK Netflix library (we'll tell you how to do that too over the page).
All set? Head to the next page and we'll explain the process.