VPN and Amazon Video, but without a mouse/keyboard
February 20, 2017 12:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm an American living in Germany for the next few years. I have an Amazon Fire TV Stick and love it. I would love it more if I could make it think I was in the US! I'm not wedded to the Fire TV stick, either—really what I'm looking for is a solution for watching Amazon Video as if I were in the US. Difficulty level: I want a lean-back experience (no mouse/keyboard), and DNS services aren't working. Budget: 150€ (say US$185).

I pay for a VPN wth Tunnelbear, so I can access US Amazon Video via my laptop (mid-2014 Macbook Pro running El Capitan) and hook it up to the TV via HDMI. That's... okay. But setup is annoying (I always have to disable my backup programs, set the sound to go out over HDMI, turn off notifications, etc.), and I hate having to walk over or lean over to my laptop to pause. I have some Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket, and I'd really like to find a solution.

Here are the things I've investigated and more or less ruled out:

(1) Making the Fire TV use a DNS service like Unlocator so it thinks it's in the US. The first service I tried worked for about a week, then the Fire TV said there was an error and to contact German tech support. Unlocator never worked in the first place. I'm not sure if Amazon is blocking the DNS servers a la Netflix, or whether my ISP (Telekom) is doing DNS hijacking. Maybe there's a way to tell what's going on and work aroud it?

(2) Setting up a Raspberry Pi with the Kodi media system, installing a VPN, and plugging it in to the TV with a remote. This looked really promising until I discovered that of course Amazon doesn't make a client for Kodi. There have been third-party clients, but I'm not really comfortable with that. I could access via a web browser on the RPi, but then we get back to the mouse/keyboard problem.

(3) Getting a Chromecast, then casting to it via my phone on which I have installed the Tunnelbear VPN. This won't work because once the phone is connected to Tunnelbear, it will not realize it's on the same wi-fi network as the Chromecast, and casting won't be an option.

(4) Setting up my Mac to access TunnelBear via OpenVPN (using the Tunnelblick app) as a gateway which the Fire TV accesses, based on this Q/A. I thought I could handle this because I'm comfortable using the command line, but no, it's INCREDIBLY fiddly and all the instructions I could find are out of date or incomplete. This is also still a pretty janky solution.

Here are the things I haven't really looked into and would like advice on (although suggestions re: the above could also be helpful):

(5) Buying a separate router whose traffic I can route through a VPN like TunnelBear. (I'm currently using my ISP-provided router.) I think OpenVPN can do it, but which routers can it be installed on? What routers have the power necessary to do the encryption and whatnot without reducing throughput to a crawl? The world of DD-WRT and Tomato and whatnot are baffling to me, but if any of you wonderful nerds could point me to some concise info it might be possible. Also tricky: I will probably need to buy a separate modem to get from the TAE port in the wall to Ethernet, and although there's an empty wall jack I'm not sure if I'll have to have a guy come out from Telekom to set it up.

(6) Controlling my computer via my phone (Galaxy S7). This seems possible but not ideal. It would solve the problem of having to get up to pause/rewind/etc., but wouldn't solve the annoyance of having to get out and set up my laptop whenever we want to watch something.

Any help you can provide re: any of the above—or any other ideas!—would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!
posted by dondiego87 to Technology (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't give you an answer, but just to add to your list of hardware to investigate: a Roku player will play Amazon video natively. I think it has the same issue in that you can't connect it to a VPN, but it might be possible to use it in something like your Option 2?
(Will be watching this thread with interest, I've got a similar issue and have been meaning to investigate options).
posted by une_heure_pleine at 1:32 AM on February 20, 2017

(3) Getting a Chromecast, then casting to it via my phone on which I have installed the Tunnelbear VPN. This won't work because once the phone is connected to Tunnelbear, it will not realize it's on the same wi-fi network as the Chromecast, and casting won't be an option.

Have you tried this? I ask because you use "won't" rather than doesn't and I have successfully used a tablet with wifi connected to HolaVPN - it still recognised that it was on Wifi and didn't prevent the tablet casting to the chromecast (I had to give up on this method as the chromecast had a lag in the audio but it was a while back and hopefully they have fixed this now).

Hola has privacy issues so I don't recommend it on a phone that has sensitive information but if tunnelbear won't work then a cheap phone or tablet without any secure information on it might be a viable option?
posted by *becca* at 4:10 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Unless I'm missing something here, the answer is simple and free. you can just get the Amazon Fire TV controller app on your phone. This allows you to control everything, and even use your phone's keyboard to type searches, etc.

If that doesn't work because of the VPN for some reason, you could also grab a controller (Amazon sells one that's configured like an XBox controller, w/ the addition of play/pause/forward/back buttons.) Well under you budget, with the added bonus of playing some games. :)
posted by nosila at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2017

Apparently you can root (jailbreak) your fire tv stick and then install a openvpn client directly onto the fire stick. Google "fire tv vpn" eg:

This would be my first try, since you already have the hardware.
posted by czytm at 9:05 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions.

@*becca*: I haven't tried a Chromecast yet, correct. I was scared off by reports I'd seen of TunnelBear not working, but it's interesting to hear that a different VPN might work. I may give that a shot.

@czytm: It looks like my version of the Fire TV stick can't be rooted, and isn't compatible with IPVanish. The Fire TV Stick 2 (with Alexa) is due to be released in Germany in April, so maybe I'll pick one of those up then.

Whatever I end up doing, I'll try to remember to post a follow-up. Thanks again!
posted by dondiego87 at 1:08 PM on February 21, 2017

I think that Chromecast wouldn't work for two reasons. Most importantly Amazon does not let you cast their instant video on Chromecast.

Second, it is my experience with my Chromecast that it is controlled by your phone but connects via your router, so if you were on a VPN on your phone, this wouldn't affect the Chromecast's connection.
posted by czytm at 10:22 PM on February 21, 2017

The only way to watch Amazon Video on a Chromecast that I know of is with a laptop and Google Chrome tab casting... This might work with the VPN, though.
posted by czytm at 10:29 PM on February 21, 2017

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