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What is SmartDNS and which VPNs have it?

SmartDNS on TV
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Let's face it... we're spoiled rotten. The world's leading streaming services already offer thousands of TV shows and movies at the click of a remote. But subscribers who take the time to learn a bit more about SmartDNS can open up the possibility of accessing even more quality content.

In this article, we'll outline just what SmartDNS technology is, how you can use it to your advantage when you’re next browsing TV shows and movies on your favored streaming device, and how they combine with VPN providers.

Why use SmartDNS?

Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Hulu tend to have their content libraries tailored to the region of the world in which they are being watched. So while some movies may be available to Netflix users in the USA, for example, Netflix subscribers in the UK or France may not be able to access the same selection.

Like the increasingly popular use of streaming VPNs, using SmartDNS is one way to unlock regional viewing restrictions, allowing subscribers to access a provider’s entire content catalogue, regardless of their location. 

This means that if you’re planning to go abroad on holiday and still wish to access your subscription service, you’ll avoid being locked out of watching shows that are restricted to your home region. Alternatively, by using SmartDNS you’ll also be able to unlock geographically restricted shows from the comfort of your home.

How SmartDNS differs from VPNs  

Unlike VPNs, which mask a device's entire IP address by rerouting through an encrypted pathway to an external server, SmartDNS offers a more focused approach. 

This means that while it does not hide your IP address or encrypt your data, it does replace the domain name system (DNS) of a user’s device with a DNS address that will not reveal your real geo-location. Instead, the user will be able to select their desired region from a list of proxy servers in specific countries.

The advantage with this more targeted approach is that it shouldn’t slow down your connection in the way that using a VPN might do, with the drawback being that as the IP address remains unchanged and your data is not encrypted - it won’t offer the same level of privacy and anonymity.

Which VPNs have SmartDNS?

Outside of pure security, streaming is probably the most popular of all VPN uses these days. So it's no surprise that pretty much all of the best VPN providers have a SmartDNS function alongside or in addition to their traditional functions.

NordVPN’s SmartPlay function uses both VPN and SmartDNS technology and over 80 server locations to successfully unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, and Amazon. With even more server locations (160) ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer also uses SmartDNS and therefore does a similar job.

How to use SmartDNS on streaming devices

The SmartDNS function of VPN providers serves a very valuable function on many of the most popular streaming devices out there, too.

If you're after an Amazon Fire TV Stick VPN, things are easy - you simply download the dedicated VPN app straight to your Stick and away you go.

But if you were more interested in an Apple TV VPN or want to watch via your games consoles, for example, no such apps exist. Instead you have to use the DNS function of your VPN to stream to your device.

The risks of using SmartDNS and VPNs 

It's worth noting here that providers like Netflix generally forbid the use of SmartDNS, VPNs, or similar technology to override its regional blocks. 

So while it remains unlikely that subscribers will be suspended for doing so, users should be aware of the risks of accessing streaming services with the intention of watching geo-blocked content that isn't meant to be available in their region.

What is SmartDNS?

Thanks to its greater speed and often cheaper cost, SmartDNS is swiftly becoming a preferred option to using VPNs for geo-blocking top streaming services offered by Netflix and Amazon Prime - just without the same level of online protection.

Alexis is a freelance writer and journalist from the north east of England. His love for creative technology stems from the day he was gifted his first ever digital voice recorder (a beloved Olympus WS 110), which brought with it the wonderful realisation that he'd never again have to rely on his iffy shorthand…