Apple TV, Plex and Netflix from the US

When I moved into my new flat, I got an Apple TV. I love it so much — it connects to the TV in the flat, letting me watch Netflix and YouTube videos, or videos that are in my iTunes library. It also lets me use AirPlay, which is baked into Apple devices; if I’m watching a video on my iPad, I can tap a button and suddenly the video I was watching appears on my television, letting me watch videos either on the sofa or as I wander around doing housework.

This is especially useful for me, because there are a couple of video sources on my iPad that I can’t get on the Apple TV. The first requires some context: I have a Synology NAS1, which is running Plex Media Server2 By running Plex on my Synology, I can watch any of the videos I have downloaded on my iPad (or my Mac, or any other device). But, there isn’t a Plex app for Apple TV, so I have to use the iPad to watch this content and use AirPlay if I want to watch it on my television.

The second video source is Netflix. While the British Netflix is available through the Apple TV, sometimes it’s useful to be able to connect to Netflix in other regions because the video content there is different (the US has many more US sitcoms, for instance; the Dutch site has a lot of blockbusters). I can’t do that through the Apple TV, so I had to connect the iPad to my VPN (Private Internet Access) and then the iPad to watch it.

A photograph of Netflix running on the Apple TV.

It’s a fairly minor inconvenience, but I got more and more annoyed that whenever I wanted to watch videos from Plex or other regions’ Netflix I had to use the iPad. Using my iPad to AirPlay the video to the Apple TV worked fine, but it was annoying if the iPad was running low on battery, or even if I was browsing Reddit and accidentally clicked a link to a video. Heck, even visiting a website with video ads can replace the show you’re watching with something completely different!

Fortunately, however, it’s possible to get your Apple TV to play video from both the sources I list above, and this blog post shows you how to do that. Before we start, I’m assuming that you already have Plex Media Server running on your Synology (and therefore that you have configured your Synology to allow third-party packages). Also, this process caused me a great deal of stress and occasionally went very wrong for me, so make notes of the initial state and don’t blame me for anything that happens as a result of these instructions; you do this at your own risk.

Getting Plex onto the Apple TV

The first step is to visit this very useful post on the Plex forums, which will take you through the process of installing and running PlexConnect on your Synology. It looks scarier than it is, but honestly it’s about five minutes’ work to get everything working. This process neatly addresses the first of my two gripes about the Apple TV, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever miss the WSJ Live app. It’s worth noting that installing PlexConnect will cause your Apple TV to stop receiving updates by default, but this can be changed (I’ll leave how to do so as an exercise for the reader).

Getting US Netflix onto the Apple TV using OpenVPN

Once you’ve got PlexConnect working, if you want to get US Netflix as well, there are a couple of ways to do that. The way I did it was predicated around my choice of VPN, Private Internet Access; they allow connections through OpenVPN but don’t offer what’s called a Smart DNS3, which meant I had to get a little clever. The first thing to do is to visit your Wi-Fi router’s settings and make your Apple TV’s IP address permanent4. Then, on your Apple TV:

  1. Open Settings, then General, then Network, then the name of your network (as before).
  2. Select Configure IP, then select Manual.
  3. Don’t change the first two IP addresses.
  4. Change the IP address for Router and DNS to the IP address of your Synology (the second one should already be set).

Then, on your Synology:

  1. Open Control Panel and head to the Network, before opening the ‘Network Interface’ tab.
  2. Create VPN profile.
  3. Select whichever type of VPN you have. OpenVPN is the best choice if your VPN supports it.
  4. Fill in the details, and make sure you tick the box that allows other devices to use the Synology’s internet connection.
  5. Connect the VPN

Go back to the Apple TV, and open the Netflix app; the content shown should be from the region that you’re VPN’d to. However, there’s an important caveat here: as far as I can tell, PlexConnect doesn’t work when the Synology is connected to a VPN if you’ve followed these instructions. So: disconnect the VPN if you want to watch Plex content, and reconnect it to watch Netflix in other regions.

So, there you have it. You can watch US Netflix content from your sofa using a VPN and PlexConnect. Go forth and binge Parks and Rec!

  1. The DS415+, fact fans! 
  2. A NAS is a box that has some hard drives in it and connects to your router. Once it’s connected, anyone on your network can access the drives, and you can install some simple programs on it that are also accessible to people on your network. One of these programs is Plex, which basically takes video files and organises them for you. But, if you didn’t already know all that, this blog post might not be ideal for you…. 
  3. If you have access to such a thing, then you might be better off following these instructions on the PlexConnect GitHub Wiki; they’re likely to be more useful to you. 
  4. I’m not 100% sure that this step is necessary, but unless you have hella devices on your network, it’s not like it’s going to cause any inconvenience. 

1 Comment

  • st1tcher_ch

    10th February 2017 at 23:51

    I got the DS416play to run the OpenVPN client and the AppleTV accessing Netflix USA.

    Trick is to use both ethernet interfaces but do not Bond them. Use one for a network just for the NAS interface and the AppleTV, then (lazy) select all network traffic to go over the VPN. Interesting the VPN never shows up in the Service Order but it still works like a charm.

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