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What is SmartDNS?

SmartDNS is a technology that helps users bypass geo-block. This service is offered by many VPN providers to support their customer needs especially when it comes to streaming. But, what's the catch with this technology? Let's find out.

SmartDNS is a technology that helps users bypass geo-blocks. It works by letting your device use certain name server information instead of the default provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). 

The core benefits of SmartDNS are;

  • It allows easy access to some geo-blocked services and content.
  • You can use it with almost all Internet-connected devices.
  • Your Internet connection still works at full speed.

How SmartDNS Works

SmartDNS will route specific requests via a proxy server to the targeted website.

SmartDNS acts more like a proxy server compared to VPN. However, even between SmartDNS and proxies, there are distinct differences. SmartDNS connections only affect part of your Internet traffic; the DNS queries. 

This partial routing is what makes SmartDNS a good, lightweight solution for specific needs. One of the best employments of SmartDNS technology in smart TVs to help overcome geo-blocks for media streaming.

Since SmartDNS traffic isn’t encrypted, your Internet speed isn’t affected. That means you can stream your favorite movies in full 4K glory without lag.

Why You Need Smart DNS

Sadly, this question will start one of my typical rants. I love streaming services, especially Netflix. Unfortunately, I live in a region where there are limited movies available—the reason; licensing. 

Netflix and other streaming platforms often restrict content based on locality. It isn’t something personal, but they need to iron out complex broadcasting rights and fees. This complexity (and usually, cost) means they aren’t able to share everything everywhere.

While that is certainly reasonable, it’s slightly unfair that they charge all subscribers the same fees while providing different content. With SmartDNS, these problems go away and level the playing field for everyone.

Many VPN providers offer SmartDNS services to support their customers who need to bypass geo-blocks on their smart TVs. Two of my favorites are NordVPN and Surfshark.

Setting up SmartDNS

SmartDNS is simple to set up, especially for devices that don’t offer the complex configuration system of mainstream computers. That’s especially true for smart TVs since many of us will rely on nothing more than a tiny remote control.

You can see your WAN IP address in your router control panel.

Note: Regardless of what brand of device or VPN service you will use, you will almost always need to know your IP address. Some VPNs will autodetect yours for SmartDNS, but if not, you will need to grab it manually from your router.

To get your IP address, load your router’s administration interface and look for the “WAN IP,” and copy the string of numbers shown there.

The exact method of setting up SmartDNS will vary depending on the brand of your smart TV. However, the overall flow will be similar in most instances. To get you started, here are two examples to give you an idea of what will need to happen;

How to setup SmartDNS on Surfshark

Surfshark provides specific SmartDNS instructions for various brands of TV.
Surfshark provides specific SmartDNS instructions for various brands of TV.

Surfshark is my VPN of choice for most cases, and it’s the first I used to test SmartDNS. To set up SmartDNS with Surfshark;

  1. Log in to your Surfshark account on their website.
  2. Click “SmartDNS” on the left navigation bar and click “Get started.”
  3. Enter your WAN IP address, then click “Activate Smart DNS.”
  4. Copy the two DNS addresses shown and turn on your smart TV.
  5. Navigate to your Internet settings on the TV and EDIT your connection settings.
  6. Change the DNS server to the ones provided in Step 4. If you can only enter one address, try them alternately to see which works.
  7. Save your settings, and you should be good to go.

How to setup SmartDNS on NordVPN

NordVPN will auto-detect your IP when you activate their SmartDNS service
NordVPN will auto-detect your IP when you activate their SmartDNS service.

NordVPN is one of the best VPN brands in the market. It’s been around for some time now and offers a good balance of price and performance. To set up your smart TV with NordVPN SmartDNS;

  1. Sign in to your NordVPN account on their website.
  2. Click the “Activate” button for SmartDNS. NordVPN will automatically detect your WAN IP; you just need to confirm that it’s correct.
  3. Once you’ve confirmed the IP address, NordVPN will send you an email with primary and secondary DNS information.
  4. Navigate to your internet settings on your TV and manually input one (or both) of the DNS addresses.
  5. Save the settings, and you should be able to bypass any existing geo-blocks.

Is there a Catch with SmartDNS?

SmartDNS wasn’t intended to replace VPN use but is more for devices that have limited capabilities. One classic example is the modern smart TV. These often vary in capabilities, and not all will support a dedicated VPN app. However, many smart TVs today give access to Netflix and other streaming services. That’s where SmartDNS comes in handy. 

The problem with SmartDNS is that it doesn’t offer the same level of protection that VPN services do. SmartDNS only helps bypass geo-blocks and does not;

  • Encrypt your data
  • Block tracking cookies or ads
  • Give any measures of anonymity or privacy

In addition, SmartDNS won’t work every single time. There have been instances where my Netflix simply wouldn’t load for me. I always prefer to watch Netflix on my PC, but that’s just me. SmartDNS may change your TV streaming experience.

One of the most significant issues I have with SmartDNS, though, is that there isn’t any way of knowing if it is working for sure. Yes, you can change the DNS on your TV Internet settings and hope it works, but there’s no real easy indicator of operation.

In addition, many homes use dynamic IP addresses that often change. You’ll need to head back into your SmartDNS settings and update the IP address whenever this happens. While not overly challenging to do, it can get annoying as heck.

Conclusion

SmartDNS isn’t the be-all and end-all of overcoming geo-blocks. It helps in a pinch, especially for those who love streaming movies on giant TV screens. Yet, it’s crucial to realize that SmartDNS offers no data protection or privacy features. For that, you still need a full VPN service running.

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