Should I Use a VPN to Stream Sports?
A PCMag reader hopes to use a VPN to stream their favorite sporting events to a smart TV. Senior security analyst Max Eddy explains that while this can work, it’s a complicated and morally fraught process.
Since my start in 2008, I’ve covered a wide variety of topics from space missions to fax service reviews. At PCMag, much of my work has been focused on security and privacy services, as well as a video game or two. I also write the occasional security columns, focused on making information security practical for normal people. I helped organize the Ziff Davis Creators Guild union and currently serve as its Unit Chair.
There are few things that move people like watching sports, and when fans can’t watch their favorite teams play, it can eat at their souls. A PCMag reader recently wrote to me, asking if it’s possible to use a VPN service to restore the live sports channels that were part of a no-longer-accessible cable package. The question has been edited for brevity.
I want to use a VPN for watching television sports. I moved and my new cable provider doesn’t carry the station I want. I want to use VPN with the router provided by my new cable company, streaming the channel via a smart TV. Will that work?
The Master of Unblocking
In their message, the reader mentions that they wish to access the channels that were previously available to them. That presents a problem, and I do not think a VPN will help. As I understand it, cable boxes communicate directly with the cable providers. The provider enables or disables specific channels for use on your box. The issue isn’t that there is a geographic block, something a VPN could help you circumvent.
I mostly focus on privacy and security here at PCMag, but I know from our surveys that about 25 percent of readers use VPNs to access blocked streaming content online. Companies like Netflix sometimes offer different content depending on where customers live. The US might have shows that aren’t available in the UK, and vice versa.
VPNs are great for accessing content that is region-blocked—that is, content on the internet that can only be accessed by people living in specific parts of the world. Companies are able to screen out your location by looking at your IP address. When you use a VPN, your data is routed through different locations, which changes your public IP address. By selecting a VPN server in the region with the content you want to watch, you can make it appear as if you are in the area approved for viewing.
This works in theory, but using a VPN to access blocked content is a tricky thing. First, you have to find a VPN that works with the specific service you want to access, which is usually by process of elimination. Even after you find a service that does what you need, it might not continue to do so. Streaming companies actively work to block VPNs, so a service that works today may not work tomorrow.
If, however, you’ve found an online stream of the sports program you can no longer access, a VPN might help! Friends have told me that the MLB offers online streaming of baseball games for free, but only if you live outside the US. Those same friends have used VPNs to get around that restriction, by making it appear that they are in a location that can access those free MLB streams.
My colleague Ben Moore has spent quite some time looking at sports streaming services and tells me there are some unusual caveats that sports fans should keep in mind. Notably, he says that these services are subject to the same coverage blackouts as cable and that some broadcasts are restricted to certain regions or local markets depending on distribution rights. He tells me that only national sports broadcasts (for the most part) are available to everyone. Depending on what you want to watch, and where you are located, your best bet might be to skip streaming all together and, unfortunately, explore what cable packages are available.
Using a VPN With Your TV
While a VPN is probably the wrong tool for tackling our reader’s question, there are ways to use a VPN with a TV. You might want to spoof your location so the TV itself can accessing streaming content in other countries, or you may be very sensitive to the idea of an ISP or other third party monitoring your TV’s web traffic.
For this, you’ll need either a smart TV that can connect to your network and stream video directly via its own apps, or a connected streaming box such as a Roku or Apple TV.
One way is to try and run a VPN on your TV or streaming box directly. Some VPN services, such as Surfshark, offer VPN apps for these devices that can be installed through the official apps stores. Just download, enter your credentials, and you should—in theory—be online. I haven’t tested any of these apps so I’m hedging my bets as to whether they work.
Alternatively, you can install a VPN on your router, as our reader suggested. This provides VPN protection to all the devices on your network, and is especially useful for devices that can’t run VPNs on their own, such as a smart bulb or some other IoT device. It also lets you spoof the location of all your devices, including a connected smart TV.
Most VPNs provide instructions on how to set up a VPN on your router, or will outright sell you a router preconfigured to work with a particular VPN. However, I don’t recommend this approach for most people. Banks, streaming services, and other sites and services often block VPNs outright. If you encounter that, and the VPN is running on your router, toggling it on and off could be a pain. For ease of use, I prefer to simply run VPNs on individual devices, turning the services off when necessary.
One more note about VPNs and streaming: streaming from a computer to a Chromecast, or another streaming media device, isn’t possible with a VPN. That’s because these devices generally only work with other devices on the same Wi-Fi network. When the VPN is switched on, the data is encrypted and piped out of your network, meaning that you won’t be able to connect to a local streaming device. Some VPNs have advanced settings that allow access to LAN devices, but a general rule of thumb is that you’ll have to power down your VPN before you can cast content to your TV.
But Is It Moral?
Using a VPN to access blocked streaming content appears to be legal, but it is sometimes in violation of a company’s terms of service. That aside, I think it’s worth pondering whether or not doing so is moral. Now, I am extremely not a lawyer, so don’t rely on this as legal advice. However, I have spent most of my adult life thinking about the ways we consume media.
I’ve been writing and editing technology content for over five years, most recently as part of PCMag’s consumer electronics team, though I also spent several years on the software team. Before PCMag, I worked at Neowin.net, Tom’s Guide, and Laptop Mag. I spend too much of my free time reading forums and blogs about audio and photography.
The Bottom Line
Starz offers an expansive movie library and a moderate sampling of original shows, but its app and web experiences don’t feel as premium as those of competitors.
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|$8.99 per month
|On-Demand Movies and TV Shows
|Offline Downloads on Mobile
Starz has long offered a dedicated video streaming service with a library that extends beyond the reach of its cable channel. Starz’s extensive catalog of movies distinguishes it from the pack, but its limited lineup of original content does not compare well with what the best of the competition offers. We like that Starz supports offline downloads on mobile and up to four concurrent streams per account, but its apps could be better, and we would like to see support for 4K streaming.
What Can You Watch on Starz?
Starz features all of the premium channel’s current and past original programs. Episodes from on-air shows go live at the same time as they do on cable, and you can stream entire series and seasons of past shows on-demand, too. Original shows currently airing on the service include Blindspotting, Hightown, Outlander, P-Valley, Power Book II: Ghost, Run the World, The Girlfriend Experience, and The Gloaming. This list of original programming is not nearly as extensive as those of Netflix (Atypical, Bridgerton, Ozark, Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit), Amazon Prime (Invincible, The Boys, and The Expanse), or HBO Max (Insecure, Mare of Eastown, and Westworld), nor does it feature as many well-known titles. A show can still be excellent without being popular, however, and Starz seems more focused on carving out its own niche in the streaming world. For example, Starz has tried to release shows that appeal to women (Opens in a new window) , in particular.
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A major appeal of Starz is its extensive movie catalog; after all, prolific film studio Lionsgate owns the channel. At the time of this review, Starz offers a catalog of over 800 movies that’s bolstered in part by an agreement with Sony (Opens in a new window) for streaming rights to its theatrical content (at least until 2022). In the past, the catalog had over 1,000 titles, but it seems Starz is focusing more on developing original content. Some examples of hit movies currently on the service include Bad Boys for Life, Jumanji: The Next Level, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Spider-Man: Far from Home, and the recently added Monster Hunter.
This is only a small sampling of the available TV and movie titles. Note that the movie and TV series lineup may change at times, similarly to how content arrives and leaves on other video streaming platforms.
Amazon Prime Video
How Much Does Starz Cost?
Starz costs $8.99 per month, which is reasonable for an on-demand streaming service. A discounted annual plan costs $74.99 per year. A free seven-day trial option is available, but it requires you to enter a payment option. Starz is available as an add-on to other video streaming services including Prime Video, and live TV services, such as AT&T TV, Hulu, Prime Video, Sling TV, or YouTube TV, for the same price.
Starz’s pricing is mostly competitive with most other on-demand services. Peacock’s Premium plan is cheaper at $4.99 per month, Netflix’s Standard tier (the minimum tier we recommend) costs $13.99 per month, and Showtime is pricier at $10.99 per month. HBO Max’s ad-free plan costs $14.99 per month, though you can get its limited, ad-supported tier for $9.99 per month.
If you don’t want to pay for your video streaming entertainment, consider one of the free video streaming services we’ve reviewed. Peacock is our top pick for that category because it offers the most mainstream shows and movies of any of the free options.
Starz allows you to stream on up to four devices simultaneously. Disney+ also lets you stream on up to four devices at the same time. Other services charge extra for this capability. Hulu, for example, makes you pay for its $11.99-per-month ad-free plan to use more than just one screen simultaneously; Netflix charges $17.99 per month if you want to use four screens.
You can watch Starz on the web or download its app for mobile platforms (Android and iOS), media streaming devices (Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku), and select smart TVs (LG, Samsung, and Sony). Additionally, you can watch Starz on the Xbox One and Series X. Sorry PlayStation owners!
Starz Web Interface
Starz’s web dashboard is functional, but it’s not as sleek as what some competitors offer. Across the top, Starz displays a list of horizontal menu items: Home, Series, Movies, Playlist, Schedule, Browse and #TaketheLead (Opens in a new window) . The categories work as you expect; each shows various sliders of noteworthy content broken down into categories such as Originals, Popular, Just Added, or a specific genre. The Playlist section organizes everything that you are currently watching, want to watch, or have downloaded in one place. The Schedule interface is an easy way to see everything set to air on any of the Starz channels. A Live TV option for the main Starz channel is also available on some platforms, Paramount+ and Showtime also have similar features as well.
On the right-hand side of the screen, you can switch profiles or access the settings. From the settings menu, you can also view subscription information, manage parental control settings, access the FAQs, or get in contact with Starz directly. Notably missing, however, are accessibility options, as we discuss a bit later.
Starz on Mobile
For testing, we installed Starz on an Android 11 device and signed into our account without any issues. The app’s UI is basic compared to those of competitors, especially HBO Max and Netflix, but it works fine. In testing, the app played content smoothly, which was not the case when we last tested it. We appreciate the dark theme and the occasional light-hearted language in some sections.
The app’s homepage shows a slider with a few featured shows going across the top. Below the slider, users have four selections to choose from: Home, Series, Movies, Browse, and More. The More option allows you to access the same options as on the main screen, along with Playlist. One missing section is the Schedule option from the desktop, which means you won’t be able to watch the Starz channel live on mobile. That said, the vast majority of the titles you see in the schedule are available for streaming anyway. If you go to the Browse tab, https://jiji.ng/ there’s an option to see all movies and series on the app.
Tap on the Settings option to access app and account preferences. In addition to managing account and subscription information, you can launch a FAQ section right from within the app or contact Starz directly with a form email. The Application Preferences area is where you set streaming rules for cellular connections and edit parental control settings for different profiles.
Back on the home page, clicking on any of the main content categories leads to a more vibrant content view, similar to what you would find with Netflix or Prime Video. For reference, during our testing period, some example categories were Starz Originals, Throwback Hits, and Black Cinema. The Series and Movies sections also break down into various sections, including Action, Comedy, Just Added, and Popular. These categories are consistent with those on the web interface.
Selecting individual show and movie titles takes you to a page with mode details. You get the option to play, download, share, or add the show or movie to the Playlist section. The ability to watch shows offline is always a great feature to have for long distance travelers, commuters, or even people who don’t often have access to a reliable Wi-Fi network. Starz was one of the first streaming services to offer this functionality, and it works similarly to those that have since followed. You can download most movies and shows, but note that titles will self-delete two weeks after you initially download them and may also be removed due to expired licenses.
The Starz Streaming Experience
We tested Starz’s web and mobile app streaming performance over a variety of Wi-Fi connections, including a home Wi-Fi connection (300Mbps download). Starz launched streams consistently and the app didn’t lag when I scrubbed to various parts of the video. For reference, over the same internet connection, it took around two minutes to download an hour-long episode of Outlander. Make sure you are connected to Wi-Fi before you commence any downloads so you don’t end up paying cellular data fees. Check your setting on the mobile app too; it allows for cellular downloads by default.
Annoyingly, Starz plays a pre-roll ad at the beginning of a show or movie. These clips highlight content from Starz library, so they are not quite as bad as traditional cable ads, but it’s still not an ideal user experience. Prime Video and HBO Max are also guilty of this self-promotion practice. At least HBO Max and Prime Video let you skip the self-promotion on some shows and movies, whereas Starz plays a unskippable 30-second ad.
Starz says most of its streaming content is available in 1080p, which is fine, but not up to the technical prowess of Netflix or Prime Video. Both of those services offer a respectable amount of 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) content, as does Apple TV+. Starz recommends network download speeds of at least 6Mbps for the best experience, which shouldn’t pose a problem for the majority of users.
Accessibility and Parental Controls
Starz offers the bare minimum in terms of accessibility options. For instance, although though you can enable closed captioning, you can’t customize the appearance of the subtitles. Starz is missing some of the customization options (including text size, font, positioning) that other services, such as Hulu and Netflix, build into their players. Depending on what you’re watching, however, you may be able to change the playback language.
Forget about robust accessibility features, such as Disney+ and Prime Video’s audio descriptions (Opens in a new window) . This option adds contextual audio notes about scene changes and character movements that cannot be understood through dialog alone. If you’re looking for a streaming with vastly superior accessibility options, we recommend Disney+ for its top-notch accessibility tools (text-to-speech, keyboard navigation, and responsive design).
Starz offers a decent variety of content across the rating spectrum (including NC-17 and TV-MA), so we appreciate that it includes parental control options. It’s pretty simple to set them up as well. Just enter a PIN and select a maximum rating that each profile is allowed to view for both the TV and Movie sections. Netflix also lets you set restrictions on a per-profile basis.
Starz and VPN
A VPN is an excellent tool for securing your activity online. However, many video streaming services simply won’t work if you are connected to one. One potential reason for this policy is that the video service’s content may be region-locked or subject to other licensing restrictions. Starz, for example, is limited to US residents and select Middle Eastern countries. Blocking the use of VPNs and proxies prevents people outside the country from spoofing their location and bypassing this rule.
We tried connecting our test mobile and desktop devices to a US-based Mullvad VPN server to see if Starz would still work. The mobile Starz app didn’t allow us to log in to our account over this connection and even signed us out when we connected to the VPN server (after we logged in without the VPN connection active). The Starz web site exhibited the same behavior.
Finding a VPN that works with all of your favorite video services is no easy task, especially when you consider the fact that most streaming services actively try to thwart common workarounds. Some VPNs do offer dedicated streaming servers for specific services, but this should not be your main concern when choosing a VPN. Data privacy and sound security practices should be your top priorities.
Starz: Movies and More
Starz has an extensive movie library, and we like its support for four simultaneous streams per account and offline downloads on mobile. However, the service’s lineup of original shows does not stand up well to the competition. Starz also needs to improve its accessibility options and apps. If you enjoy Starz’s content, the reasonable price may be enough to outweigh those concerns.
Otherwise, we recommend some combination of our PCMag Editors’ Choice winners such as Netflix for its excellent lineup of original shows, Hulu for its deep collection of cable TV shows, or Peacock for its free library of popular shows and movies.
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