Friday, December 16, 2022

Accessing free streaming American TV services from overseas

 Although I use this blog mostly for ham radio communication purposes, I thought it might be useful to pass on other knowledge that I have found helpful.  People living in the USA will not find this post to be anything new, but it may be useful to other expats and non-Americans living outside of the country.  In this entry I will show how you can easily enjoy watching free (and legal) USA television/movie services from outside of the USA.

*** To skip to a quick "how-to", jump to the last paragraph of this post.

The Free Apps and Websites

First of all, we all know that movie services such as Netflix, Paramount+, and Disney+ are available for payment in many countries around the world. Being a stingy guy, however, I don't pay for these services.  In fact a goal of my wife and I in 2022 has been to remove as many recurring monthly charges from our credit card as possible.   This meant that, until recently, there wasn't much American TV I could watch from here in Seoul unless it was part of our local Korean cable-TV package.  

Here are a few of the better free movie services, apps, and/or websites that allow you to stream television if you are in the USA (or if you use a VPN from outside of the USA).  Many Americans access these using devices like Amazon Fire Stick, Roku, or a Google TV device.  But overseas expats may find it easier to just use their computer, tablet or phone with a VPN.  If you use a VPN, such as the FREE VPN from Proton VPN, these can be accessed easily.  

Often these apps are not located in your host country's app store, but are in the USA app store.  You can also side-load these apps (Android-speak for getting your app from a non-Google app store or location) from other websites like Amazon Appstore, or sites that host apps people have grabbed and uploaded, such as APKPure (always use caution when sideloading apps, and scan them for viruses/malware).

The list so far:

1.  Pluto TV
2.  Tubi
3.  Plex
4.  Crackle
5.  The Roku Channel (I believe you now need proof of using a Roku device to access this one)

Other sites may appear or disappear, and I will try to update this list every once and a while.

About VPN's

Accessing American movie services, apps, and websites often requires a VPN.  If you do not live in the USA and try to see them, a visit will end up in a greeting telling you that you don't have access in your country, or that the service is "coming soon" to your area.

If you don't know what a VPN is, it's a service that hides your IP address and location, and makes it appear to be in another country.  NordVPN (a paid service) has a great video explaining them.  VPN also provides a high level of security.  This service is often used for nefarious purposes like torrenting illegal movies/programs (some VPN's block such use), but there are also many positive uses.  For example, people in China can use a VPN to see around the "great internet wall" that their country uses to block information or keep control of world news.  Here in Korea, it allows expats to make their computer appear in America, so they can access USA Netflix (which has more movies than Korean Netflix).  A VPN also allows access to geo-location blocked sites when buying gifts for others overseas, like from Home Depot's website.  Other uses include overcoming geo-blocks on video streaming services which the Korean government considers "adult".

I have made judicious use of paid VPN services over the years... ummm... to visit the non-adult TV sites listed above.  Most recently my 3-year subscription to NordVPN ran out, and after they tried to almost triple the cost at renewal I decided not to renew it.  (Note: this led to them successively reducing the charge back to my original billing price in monthly emails to "get me back").  

I have not returned to NordVPN, because I have so far found Proton's free VPN service/app to meet my meager needs.  If you don't want to pay any money, I suggest you make a free account and install their free VPN program or app.  You need to run it and connect to the United States option for the various movies sites on this page to work.  If you run the app on your phone, be sure to reopen it and turn it off when you don't need it (or your internet access will seem slow).  Here is a look at the Proton free VPN program in use on a computer.:

Paid and Free VPN services

Good paid VPN's usually cost anywhere from $3 to $6 per month.  Top names are NordVPN, CyberGhostVPN, ExpressVPN, ProtonVPN, TunnelBear, and many others.  As of this writing, I believe the first two on this list (Nord and CyberGhost) are owned by the same company.  Both are considered to be excellent.  Something worthy of note, however, is that the popular Opera web browser, which is trusted and has been around for years, includes a free VPN option.  Also, the ProtonVPN people graciously allow partial free access to 3 countries (USA, Japan, Netherlands) through their app.  Anyone may download and use this free service, although services are limited  to no torrenting, and Netflix or other jealous sites may go over and above in attempts to "sniff out" the basic level of this VPN and disallow its signal.  The more intensive VPN abilities to bypass tricky sites and government blocks require a paid VPN service.  Oftentimes VPN services do offer free 1-week subscriptions to try the service out to see that it meets your needs.  Others even offer a static IP option that is only used by your computer, fooling websites into further thinking you are indeed a household at one location that never moves.

An Inside Look

These sites are free only because they serve you ads every 10 to 15 minutes.  This can be very annoying, or not much of a bother.  It often depends on the service and/or popularity of a show that is playing.  You will find that some of these streaming sites (Crackle, for example) are actually owned and operated by the "big names" in the industry, such as Sony.

Here is a quick look at what the best free sites offer:

Pluto TV


Pluto TV has become my favorite for its large implement of hundreds of very good live channels. Many of them include formerly highly popular shows from past years on a loop, one after another.  As you can see in the example, Star Trek is one of them (there are Channels for at least 3 different Star Trek series).  Other popular series like CSI, Stargate, Doc Martin (a popular British TV show) are examples.  The compliment of shows -- and GOOD shows -- is dizzying.  There are categories for Crime, Reality, Gameshows, Daytime TV, Comedy, Classic TV, Food, Culture, Gaming and Anime, Espanola, and so on.  Quality appears to be at least 720p on shows that allow it, and is very good.  Of course, as with all of these apps, the video will expand to full screen, or nearly so.

Pluto TV also offers a plethora of on-demand movies, many of which are free.  These are not all worthless old titles, either.  You can find a lot of good stuff here.


As far as these free sites go, Tubi is absolutely massive, and chock full of great movies for free.  There are also many Live TV channels, including live news from traditional news outlets, sports re-runs, and a mountain of others.  If you like to watch movies, you'll spend a lot of time on Tubi, given its excellent free content list.  

Plex TV


Plex offers a wide variety of "so-so" older movies, with a few decent movies from the past 5 years sprinkled-in.  The Live TV channels, however, may prove very interesting to you.  There are so many shows (over 200+ channels claimed).  You're bound to find several things you like.


Sony's Crackle offers a fairly extensive list of movies and TV shows.  It can be a bit wonky to use at times, and quality isn't the best.  Sony is very aggressive about protecting its content, so they tend to be a bit lower in bitrate with crushed blacks and a generally dark look.  Still, there tend to be some good titles here.  I've found the level of quality to be a bit off-putting, compared to Pluto, Plex, and Tubi, however.  Sony needs to up its game.

The Roku Channel

Roku offers this channel for free for those who use one of its players. This is a fabulous channel, which used to be free to anyone who could load it and use stateside, or via VPN.  Lately, however, they seem to block access to non-Roku owners (although I was given a temporary free taste before it began demanding a Roku account).  If you use a Roku, you may need a VPN that has been set up through your router in order to fool the Roku device.  If you can get it to work another way, or have better luck than me, please comment below.  By all accounts, The Roku Channel is one of the best free movie channels out there.  If you are able to access it, you will be rewarded.

A Quick "How-To"

To access these sites...

By Computer:

If you are on computer, just go to the website and make a free account.  Download and install Proton VPN.  Run it, and turn on the United States VPN link. Then go to your free streaming website of choice (found via google, if you search for Pluto TV, Tubi, Plex, Crackle, etc).  The site should work fine once you have the United States chosen and running with the Proton VPN on.  If they don't, it might remember you are from outside of the USA if you accessed without the VPN on. 
Try closing the browser and going to the sites again.


First get the free Proton VPN app from the Google Play Store. Make a free account there.  Run it, and turn on the United States VPN link. Then you can either go to your website of choice (found via google, under the names listed above), or install the apps. Getting the apps requires sideloading them.  The problem is that these apps are not available to you in a non-American app store.  You can get them from APKPure or elsewhere, if you google then download the .apk file and install.  You don't need the VPN running to use APKPure's website.  Note that when you try to install these, your Android phone will ask you how.  Use the Android Package Installer (or similar-sounding choice).  It will also block the install with a warning about using apps from an outside source.  You must allow this ability within Android.  This can differ, due to your version of Android, but the toggle for this is usually something in settings like "allow apps from outside sources."  Please note that you may need to update these apps manually after a few months or years, if they stop working.  People usually upload updates to APKPure.


Apple users will need to install the free Proton VPN app (check your app store), pay for a VPN, or use the Opera browser with VPN turned on to access the websites directly (Opera should be found in the app store).  Making an account with Proton is free.  Many of the apps for these sites are in the USA app store, but not in other country app stores. Apple access is a bit more difficult that the other options.  Computer access is easier.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Inexpensive but very nice desk mic for the Kenwood TS-480

 I love a good bargain.  I especially enjoy a bargain that works well, and saves me a great deal of money in my ham life.  Recently, I took a chance on purchasing a $33 (38,000 Korean Won) microphone from China off of the website Aliexpress, and it turned out to be a great find.

Note that the TS480 is not listed, but if it lists for these radios, the PTT works.

Even though my Kenwood TS-480-SAT is an aging radio, I have come to enjoy using it.  The remote head and minimalist overall size (originally mean for the car) works well as a discreet desk rig.  Now, normally I run a Yaesu FTDX3000, which is surely a better radio, but the TS-480-SAT is certainly no slouch.  The Kenwood's main function is as my 100w QRO portable rig, but I sometimes fire it up on the desktop, when I just want to try something new.  The only issue was that the Kenwood stock hand mic (although a decent mic) makes a little handling noise, and requires hanging to keep it from falling off of my desk.  I really wanted a desktop microphone to use at home for it, so that I wouldn't destroy the stock hand-held (I've already damaged two Yaesu MH31b mics by dropping them).  

I Like Stock Mics

After playing around with several different microphones, I've always found myself gravitating back toward the stock mics sold by the radio companies themselves.  They may not always produce a smooth, boomy AM-like sound, but they do provide excellent results in terms of raw communications, and the cables are usually better. Also, they tend to keep their value, so if you buy a good used one, you don't lose much.  You might even get it all back, or make a few dollars.  Being a "stingy ham", I'm certainly in favor of a high resale price, should I part with a piece of equipment!  Of course, buying a mic branded by the same company as my radio is often quite expensive.  You do get more resale on the back end of the sale, but you still have to "cry once" when you pay for it, initially.  Such prices are even worse when you are a ham living in a country like Korea, where shipping can become expensive.  Good used Kenwood desk mics tend to disappear within minutes of being sold on the Korean used ham sites.  They are quite popular, and have held or gone up in value, in recent years.  So "the stingy ham" was itching for a cheaper way...

Taking a Chance on the OPPXUN

Enter the OPPXUN desk mic.  This same mic is actually sold under a few different names on Aliexpress (I assume they are likely the same mic re-branded).   It is also sold in a Yaesu model, so Yaesu users might want to look into it.  I found the OPPXUN to be the cheapest at the time of purchase, so I went with it.  You'll note that the radios listed as working with this mic are NOT HF radios.  They're all VHF/UHF, as I understand.  Even still, the plug is identical, so no adapter is needed to fit a TS-480 radio.  Not being on the list of approved radios for this mic was the chance I took. I felt reasonably comfortable in purchasing this mic, however, as I learned from N0AKF that his Kenwood KMC-9C mic (which this Chinese mic is a copy of) worked very well on his TS-480. In fact, he preferred if over the hand mic.  I wrote to him, and he put me at ease with the idea of the Chinese OPPXUN mic at least having a chance at working, given that it serves the same Kenwood VHF/UHF radios.  I don't believe the left button has any usable function for the TS-480, but the right button works perfectly as the PTT, without any cheap clunking or clicking noise that my hand mic suffers from.  There is a felt/rubber base pad on it, which keeps it from moving around.  You can leave it on a desk, or hold it in the hand and press the top part of the button, for operation.  My preferred method is to leave it setting there, and grab it when I need it, lifting it to my mouth.  It works either way.  The mic is a smidge omni (meaning that it's not fully what I would call 100% Cardioid in pattern), If your shack is very noisy, I'd suggest going with something a bit more toward super-cardioid in pattern.  That said, it works well.

The Verdict

The mic was ordered just over three weeks ago, around February 4.  The seller sat on the order until the last moment before Aliexpress automatically cancelled the shipment, but did eventually send it.  Korea is close to China, so I was able to receive it barely a week after it was shipped.  I couldn't wait to plug it in. I noticed that the mic was well-built, and had a decent amount of weight to it (which is to say it's not thin and light). 

Upon plugging it in and testing my RX via WebSDR around Asia/Pacific, I was rewarded!  The sound is very good (typical good/high quality electret sound).  From the TS-480's widest 2.4 TX audio bandwidth and flat EQ, to the tighter 2.0 bandwidth and HB2 TX filter setting, the mic sounds excellent enough.  I prefer its versatility over the stock Kenwood mic.  I enjoy using it either with or without compression.  I don't notice a single RF-related problem, so it seems to be shielded well.  Highly recommended!  My only suggestion would be to purchase a cable extension for RJ45, which has a straight-through pin configuration (the coiled cord is a little short, and only good for 2 to 3 feet, comfortably).  

Back side of the mic

Audio Test as follows.  Receiver was a KiwiSDR receiver at BM2KVV in Taiwan (about 1,550 miles away), set to RX at a bandwidth of 2600Hz, giving it a little extra than my radio could generate. I was transmitting at the stock bandwidths available on the TS-480SAT, which included 2400 and 2000Hz.  Antenna was a 2-el homebrew 20m yagi at about 60 to 70 feet in the sky, on top of my building.

UPDATE:  I wired up a patch cable to use this mic with my Yaesu FTDX3000, after selling my TS480SAT.  It works just fine, and actually does great with no EQ on it, but there is not really any bass available at wider than stock 2.4kHz settings. Just so you know...

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Rode Procaster Mic Settings For Yaesu FTDX3000

I recently purchased a Rode Procaster, and decided to try it out on my Yaesu FTDX3000. I am happy to report that this is an excellent microphone!  I am generally a DX'er and a long-distance (5,000 mile+) rag chewer, so the following settings make for a clean sound with a bit of bite (but not overly so), with about 0 to 5% compression.  For close-in rag chews, up the bandwidth at Menu #104 to something like 200-2800, or wider, and lower the numbers on the high end toward the default specs.  

Please note that a pop shield or sponge is an absolute necessity with the Procaster, unless you "talk across" the front of it, to control plosives.  It's not a very plosive-friendly microphone.  It is, however, as close as you are going to get to an Electrovoice RE20, at around half of the cost.  If you can't afford either of these two excellent mics, I suggest looking into the $25 Behringer XM8500, which is a steal, and also sounds excellent, with proper EQ'ing.  

So here are HL1ZIX's EQ settings from thestingyham blog, for the Rode Procaster, and the Yaesu FTDX3000.  You should note that I like to "eat the mic" with these settings, and get in so close I touch the sponge, to take advantage of the Procaster's "proximity effect".  This is partly why I cut the lows so much.  The proximity effect adds a lot of bass, which will overload your ALC if you don't trim it out.  The overall effect is, however, a very forward low-end sound:

169 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC EQ 1 LEVEL -17  (you might prefer -15)

Incidentally, these aren't bad for the Yaesu MH31b stock hand mic, either.  I find this really great at the 300-2700 setting on Menu #104, for DX'ing, if you push it to the top of the ALC to get about 0 to 5% compression.  If you want a bit wider signal, change #104 to 200-2800.  Not having your radio tuned to a proper SWR level may affect the ALC.  If you like a really thin signal with more bite, change Menu #104 to 400-2600.

The settings above are with PROC (compression) enabled.  I have my COMP/PROC (menu item 177 to toggle from TX PWR, then turn the far left inside knob, next to MOX button) set to 45.  If you want to run these settings without compression, apply them to menu numbers 159 to 167, and turn PROC off. 

Of course, you might tweak the EQ FREQ (frequency) numbers a bit, per your voice.  But remember, little tweaks in the frequency are probably where you'd need to make a change, if any.  Once you start changing the LEVEL or BWTH (bandwidth), you might find you compression ability suffers, or you could overdrive the ALC.  My other Yaesu radios acted differently, but the FTDX3000 seemed especially finicky with wanting to overdrive the ALC.

My numbers seem to have angered at least one purist on QRZ.  These are settings for a DX sound, rather than a "dull, wet blanket" BBC sound.  The high frequency level and bandwidth of menu items 174 to 176 are set in this way to both create just enough high-end bite, which is good for DX comms,  I tested this remotely via WebSDR, from 3,000 and 5,000 miles.  If you choose to set those high frequencies to a lower level and bandwidth, you may find it difficult to achieve processing/compression of a useful level for DX (and that's OK, if a more smooth sound is your goal). 

These settings also allow you to drive the ALC to a higher level without exceeding it, and create about 2% to 5% compression at the top of the ALC scale (with my voice). Please set your Mic Gain level so that it does not exceed the limits.  You may find your FTDX3000 takes 5 or 10 minutes to "warm up" before the ALC acts properly.  I find mic levels reduce a bit, after a few minutes.  Check your levels often.

I have found that Yaesu's parametric settings are not the same for every radio.  The ALC and COMP can act differently on each rig.  Your radio might even differ at bit, so I suggest you listen via an SDR receiving station online, and make adjustments to your sound.  Always watch that ALC, and do not exceed it, lest your signal become "dirty".  Here is a map to Kiwi SDR sites, but you may have to search yourself, if their link changes:

Map of SDR Receivers

Lastly, I find the shock mount accessory for this mic prohibitively expensive.  This shock mount is cheap, but works really well.  If the link dies, just search to find a shock mount for a 48mm-54mm microphone.  The same model is sold by various sellers.  I have purchased from AliExpress for over 5 years, and had very good luck:

You can also find a sponge on AliExpress for cheap, and help stop the Plosive P-pops.  The mic is about the same size as the popular AT2020, so the same sponge fits:


Shoot me a message, if you have any questions or comments...