Using a virtual private network (VPN) has become an essential tool for streaming content online. With more and more geo-restrictions in place, it’s getting difficult to access libraries of popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video when traveling or living abroad. Using a VPN allows you to bypass these restrictions to unlock more content.
A VPN works by routing your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a server in another location. This allows you to appear as if you are accessing the internet from that location, granting access to region-locked streaming libraries from around the world. For instance, connecting to a US-based VPN server provides access to US Netflix content even when traveling overseas.
However, not every VPN delivers the fast speeds and reliable connections needed for high quality HD streaming. And some don’t work reliably with popular streaming platforms at all. Picking the best VPN tailored specifically for bypassing geo-blocks and streaming restrictions ensures buffer-free access wherever you are.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a VPN for Streaming
With the rise in streaming services cracking down on VPN access, it’s important your VPN can reliably bypass blocks across multiple sites. When evaluating VPNs for streaming, there are several key factors to consider:
1. Encryption and Protocols
Encryption is what keeps your data secure while routing through external servers. Strong encryption like AES-256 bit encryption means your ISP and network attackers can’t see what you’re accessing – they just get scrambled gibberish if they try sniffing your traffic. Using the latest protocols improves stability and speed as the VPN tunnel communicates with sites. The two most common protocols ideal for streaming are:
OpenVPN: This open-source protocol offers the best balance between speed and security for most VPN users across platforms like Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It uses either TCP or UDP connections to route encrypted data.
WireGuard: A newer protocol that uses state-of-the-art cryptography and faster processing speeds for near real-time performance. It’s not supported natively on as many devices yet, but where available typically delivers the fastest streaming speeds.
In short – you want OpenVPN available for widespread device support and the option of WireGuard for maximize streaming speeds where you can utilize it.
Using a VPN introduces extra steps into accessing and loading content, which can mean slower speeds if the service is not well optimized. The amount of speed loss depends on factors like your own ISP speeds, server load levels, distance to servers and the VPN efficiency.
While it’s hard to avoid some speed reduction, the best streaming VPNs reduce the impact to performance as much as possible. Features like unlimited bandwidth allow your speeds to peak at the fastest rates your own ISP provides. Tools like internet kill switches prevent latency by instantly rerouting the connection if speeds drop.
Be sure to run speed tests connected to nearby servers on VPNs you’re considering. Top choices maintain strong speeds of at least 50-80 Mbps for HD streaming – enough to use services like Netflix and Hulu smoothly without endless buffering. The fastest can even reach 200+ Mbps across good connections.
3. Unblocking Capabilities
The most important streaming feature for a VPN is consistently bypassing geo-blocks across multiple sites and services. Streaming sites actively block VPNs IP addresses to enforce content rights in different countries.
Top providers stay on top of these blocks by updating servers and IP addresses frequently. Features tailored to defeating streaming blocks include dedicated streaming server profiles (optimized just for unblocking sites) and tools like SmartDNS. Customer support should provide help accessing any sites giving you troubles after connecting.
Some standout streaming services you should test access to using short trials include:
- Amazon Prime Video
- BBC iPlayer
Compatibility across these major platforms demonstrates a VPN can reliably defeat regional blocks worldwide.
While free VPNs exist, most don’t have the dedicated streaming profiles and bandwidth needed for HD streaming. Typically free plans impose annoying limits like very slow speeds, capped data amounts, or restricting access to only certain servers.
Paid plans remove these limits so you can stream smoothly and in HD quality. Premium VPNs do cost more than generic providers, but the ones focused on streaming are worth it. Look for longer 1-3 year plans that reduce costs down to just a few bucks per month.
Many top services also offer free trials or a money-back guarantee for testing streaming performance risk-free. This lets you cancel and get a refund if speeds or unblocking abilities don’t live up to expectations.
Top VPNs for Streaming
Based on extensive hands-on testing and research across the factors above, these top 5 VPNs stand out as the best for streaming:
NordVPN earns the #1 spot for streaming thanks to its mix of fast connection speeds, access to a wide range of streaming services, and emphasis on continual improvements to stay accessible. This Panama-based provider has over 5,400 servers across 60 countries.
In speed tests NordVPN maintains 65-80% of base ISP speeds. I experienced smooth 1080p streams and very minimal buffering for sites like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu. Dedicated streaming server profiles configured just for bypassing geo-blocks on major sites make getting access a breeze.
NordVPN has put particular focus recently on strengthening reliability for Netflix and keeping up with Disney’s aggressive block attempts after its launch. Unblocking these two demanding streaming services demonstrates the effectiveness of Nord’s infrastructure and commitment to users.
Other smart advantages NordVPN includes for streaming are automated SmartPlay profiles that connect you to the best server for whatever streaming site you launch. The Cybersafety feature blocks ads, malware and other nuisances when streaming. Apps across all major platforms make it easy to setup and maintain access on the go.
Backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee, NordVPN is a savvy streaming investment. Longer 1-3 year subscription plans drop the monthly cost down as low as $3.29. Combined with streaming-specific features and consistent unblocking capabilities, NordVPN is hands-down the best VPN for streaming available now.
ExpressVPN has earned a stellar reputation as a powerful jack-of-all trades VPN – and streaming is no exception. This British Virgin Islands-based provider has a massive network of over 3,000 VPN servers covering 94 different countries. Streaming enjoyed smooth performance across tests thanks to ExpressVPN’s speedy network and ultra-fast WireGuard protocol option.
Average speeds clocked in around 50-60 Mbps during my trialling for HD streaming. In terms of unblocking, ExpressVPN ably bypassed geo-restrictions to allow access to Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and BBC iPlayer libraries from multiple test locations. Apps make getting connected quick and easy across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux devices (with router support available too).
One advantage ExpressVPN maintains is not relying on dedicated streaming servers. Thanks to fast core performance, ExpressVPN can stream through any of its standard servers. This provides more reliable uptime to shift between different locations – decreasing chance you’ll have to settle for lower quality streams or experience buffering slow downs.
While more expensive than other leading options, ExpressVPN backs its premium product with a 30-day refund policy. Given its versatility and reliability for streaming, ExpressVPN remains one of the top recommendations on the market.
Offering a compelling free VPN option, Windscribe emerges as the best route for economical streaming access. This Canada-based provider offers a solid free VPN tier with 10GB monthly data and access to servers across 11 countries. Premium unlocks unlimited data and servers encompassing 63 nations – still reasonably priced starting at $9 per month.
Windscribe won’t match top providers’ speeds due to using less streaming-optimized servers. Yet performance remained sufficient for 720p viewing without major buffering in my experience. This tier-system focuses more on simply extending server locations rather than multiplying numbers, keeping quality reliable across its network.
The built-in firewall provides an added layer of device security while streaming. Windscribe also confirmed ability unblocking popular sites and catch-up services like Netflix, Disney+ and BBC iPlayer. Streamers simply needing basic access can rely on Windscribe’s reputable free VPN service without paying at all. If you later need more data or speed, reasonably priced upgrades make it easy to scale the features you want.
4. Private Internet Access (PIA)
Operating a massive network with 35,000+ servers across 78 countries, Private Internet Access (PIA) offers VPN newcomers and experts alike extensive options for streaming. Default performance won’t set any speed records. But power users can enable advanced tweaks like port forwarding to redirect device traffic for faster streaming speeds exceeding 100 Mbps.
PIA proved itself very capable at accessing Netflix and Prime Video libraries from a spectrum regions during testing. Handy region selection filter makes targeting specific streaming sites easier by identifying best servers to use. Split tunneling ensures any streaming data routes through the VPN while allowing other traffic types to bypass as needed.
PIA manages to keep subscription costs reasonable by focusing investment on core VPN technology rather than fancy extras. Plans start at $2.19 per month for longer commitments – among the cheapest rates around. If getting access to streaming sites is the priority over optimal streaming speeds, PIA is an attractive bargain pick.
Offering over 7,400 servers across 91 countries, CyberGhost is another capable streaming assistant able to bypass geo-blocks like clockwork. It stays on top of access issues impacting major services Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and more – displaying current status right in the apps. Expected speeds won’t break any records, but maintained 25-35 Mbps during testing – fast enough for crisp 720p/1080p streaming.
One advantage is CyberGhost’s dedicated streaming profile enabling intelligent network optimization for video. Features like malware blocking give added protection when accessing shady sites. Apps make getting setup seamless across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
Managed by a company based in Bucharest, pricing is quite affordable for longer 3-year commitments at only $2.25 per month. Backed by a generous 45 day money-back guarantee, CyberGhost makes it easy to test streaming performance before committing long-term.
Using a VPN opens access to a whole new world of content by allowing you to bypass regional streaming restrictions anywhere you connect from. NordVPN stands out as the most well-rounded provider for unblocking and smooth streaming across a spectrum of supported platforms thanks to continually evolving technology staying ahead of blocks.
But quality alternatives like ExpressVPN, Windscribe, PIA and CyberGhost all have compelling strengths depending on your preferences and budget ceiling. Focusing on core capabilities like fast speeds, watertight encryption protocols, access to major streaming sites and reasonable pricing ensures your choice can handle streaming needs both now and future-proofed as new services arise.
Take time to trial run short term plans for top contenders during your research process. Testing factors like speed loss measurements and unblocking capabilities for sites you want will determine which provider best fits your streaming needs. An ideal VPN will unlock your favorite platforms without sluggish buffering or sacrifice to video quality.