VPN.ht exists primarily to provide a default option for VPN protection while using the Popcorn Time client to watch streaming content. However, it also offers a solid if frill-free VPN service at a low price, along with integrated SmartDNS for users wishing to watch legitimate streaming content from the USA or UK.
Pricing & Plans
VPN.ht’s pricing is on the low side for a VPN, with the maximum cost peaking at $5 a month if paid monthly, and the cheapest subscription working out as $3.34 a month if a whole year is bought at once.
A number of payment options are provided, including credit card, PayPal and BitCoin. There’s a 30-day full satisfaction money-back guarantee and, although there’s no free trial, new customers get their first month for just $1.
VPN.ht is registered and based in Belize, in Central America. As well as VPN servers in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Canada it has recently added servers in the US, Mexico, Singapore and Australia; its integrated SmartDNS service makes a number of streaming sites think users’ connections originate in the USA or UK.
Users can install or activate their VPN.ht subscription on as many different devices as desired, but simultaneous connections are only permitted from one computer and one mobile device at once. Its flagship feature, though – and indeed its raison d’etre – is its integration with the Popcorn Time client for Windows, OSX and Linux.
As might be expected of a VPN designed specifically to protect users who are doing something big media companies with international legal clout don’t like, VPN.ht goes to good lengths to protect its users privacy. Logging is limited to connection logs and then only to the billing dashboard – no logs are kept for OpenVPN at all. Registration and payment doesn’t require handing over any personal information.
OpenVPN connection profiles are available for 64-bit Blowfish and 128- and 256-bit AES, with the former provided for users looking for maximum speed and the latter for users whose biggest concern is security. Though OpenVPN is their recommended protocol, connections via L2TP/IPsec and PPTP are also offered for users who can’t or don’t want to use OpenVPN.
The VPN.ht site is a little bare-bones, but it’s fast and easy to navigate, and information is generally easy to find.
The client area is functional and smart, and we didn’t encounter any particularly odd design choices except for the process to contact support (see below). What’s more, there’s an enthusiasm and earnestness to it which made us smile despite the present paucity of content.
As a relatively new VPN provider, VPN.ht’s support is still somewhat rudimentary. There is, however, already a work-in-progress knowledge base full of useful setup guides for various platforms which tends towards giving more information rather than less, and a ZenDesk-powered 24/7 support ticket system with good response times and helpful operatives.
What’s noticeably lacking is live support in the form of web chat or VoIP, but there is a toll-free US number on the site which can be used by Skype users to contact support free of charge anywhere in the world.
Actually getting to the support part of the site can prove a little tricky, as for some reason the main page has a ‘Contact’ link with a mailto: recipient in place of the more helpful ‘Support’ button that pops up on other parts of the site. Registered users who log into their client area will find support options much more easily, however, and ticket support is open to all visitors to the site – if they can find the link.
Starting with VPN.ht is easy and simply requires users enter an email address and password for registration. Unlike some providers’ registration processes, this part of the VPN.ht site is well-designed and fast; users aren’t kept waiting around.
Payment is similarly fast and doesn’t demand unnecessary personal info; what’s more, the default first and last name for credit card customers is “Anonymous Customer” and no billing address is required. Along with the option to pay via BitCoin, it’s always great to see VPN providers making customer anonymity easy.
The Windows VPN client
Currently VPN.ht provides no dedicated VPN client of its own (a bespoke client is apparently in the works), but does provide configuration files that can be used with the free OpenVPN client. Instead, it’s designed to integrate with the Popcorn Time beta client.
Although the Popcorn Time client is in beta, as a browsing/streaming experience it works so well that it’s slicker than most streaming sites and apps out there. As a VPN platform, however, it works a little less well. We frequently had trouble getting the built-in VPN to connect, and even successful connection attempts could be quite lengthy. There’s no option to change your desired location or server, and there’s no built-in protection against, say, the DNS leaks to which certain versions of Windows are prone.
Despite this, when it works, it works well: speeds are good, there’s no messing about with confusing settings, and client integration is almost seamless. As a vehicle for protected streaming of questionably-legal Popcorn Time content, the only things we’d like to see added would be an option to connect automatically, and an easier way to disconnect the VPN when the Popcorn Time client is closed.
Performance (Speed, DNS and IP Test)
Speeds over the VPN.ht network are more than adequate for watching high-definition streaming content, and we found general performance and responsiveness of content streamed over the VPN-protected Popcorn Time client to be better than vanilla, un-VPNed Netflix. Results did tend to vary by server location, but we experienced neither remarkable highs nor terrible lows.
OpenVPN, European server.
L2TP, European server.
VPN.ht uses Google for its DNS services. DNS and IP leak checks were all as expected.
Setup guides are available on the site for a variety of platforms including Mac, Linux, iOS and Android, and there’s a version of the Popcorn Time client available from the main website for all of the above except iOS. Unfortunately, the Android version of the client doesn’t (yet – a new version is in the works) have VPN integration – instead, Android users wishing to use Popcorn Time over the VPN.ht service will presently need to use the OpenVPN Connect app or set up Android’s VPN manually.
Other/ Free Services
VPN.ht also provides customers with a SmartDNS service, but as well as being a little rudimentary at present – it only advertises support for US Netflix and Hulu, though we found several more channels to work including UK iPlayer and 4od – there’s no information on the website on how to actually set it up, and users instead have to contact support to get the details.
As SmartDNS is integrated into VPN.ht’s VPN service, users will automatically find themselves on the SmartDNS version of these sites if visiting with the VPN active; this is regardless of which VPN server location is chosen, and does make the service a little less useful for anyone wanting to use it to watch, say, Netflix from a location other than the USA.
Integration with Popcorn Time client
High level of user anonymity
Connection logs only (and none for OpenVPN)
Multiple options for encryption
Choice of protocols
Based in Belize
We weren’t so sure about
SmartDNS locking users into US streaming sites
Sparse knowledge base and no live web-based support
Popcorn Time integration still a bit shaky
No integration with Android Popcorn Time client just yet
As a vehicle for Popcorn Time users, VPN.ht does its job pretty well. Although Popcorn Time client integration is still clearly not without its issues, once connected (whether through the PT client or via a third party solution such as OpenVPN) users will find little to complain about. Though many aspects of the service are still pretty bare-bones or under-developed – such as the forced SmartDNS locking users to US Netflix – what’s there is generally pretty solid. Perhaps the real issue raised by VPN.ht regards its nature as a service to allow users to avoid paying for media content without worrying about being targeted by grumpy media corporations… that users have to pay to use.