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How to Use a VPN on Apple TV

Woman holding a basket of apples and an umbrella in the other hand
Simon Migliano

Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more.

Fact-checked by Callum Tennent

You can use a VPN with your Apple TV by setting up Smart DNS, creating a virtual router from your computer, or by connecting to a VPN server directly from your internet router.

Here’s a summary of the differences in setup methods:

Smart DNS Virtual Router VPN Router
Setup Difficulty Easy Medium Hard
US Netflix Yes Yes Yes
Streaming Apps Few Many Many
Speed Very Fast Fast Fast
Additional Costs No No Yes
Hides Your IP Address No Yes Yes

Once installed, using a VPN on your Apple TV helps bypass streaming geo-blocks. It also encrypts your traffic and hides activity from your ISP.

What You’ll Need to Set Up a VPN on tvOS

Depending on the setup method you choose, you may also need one of the following devices:

  • A VPN-compatible router
  • A Windows or Mac laptop computer (for virtual routers and mobile hotspots)

Method 1: Use Smart DNS on Your Apple TV

Some VPN services come with a Smart DNS feature. This solution is ideal for unlocking geo-restricted video content.

Smart DNS works by changing your DNS servers, but doesn’t hide your IP address, nor does it encrypt your internet traffic.

You shouldn’t use it if you want to protect your online security or privacy.

Using Smart DNS involves changing settings on the Apple TV device itself. This looks daunting, but it’s actually very straightforward.

Before you start, go to your VPN provider’s website. Log in and look for the address of the DNS server you need to use and make a note of it for later.

We’ve used ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer as an example in the following instructions. If you’ve also chosen to use ExpressVPN, you can find full installation instructions in our ExpressVPN Apple TV guide.

How to Set Up Smart DNS on Apple TV:

  1. If you have a dynamic IP address (one that changes from time to time), you will need to set up DDNS and get a static hostname. There are many free services available for this. ExpressVPN recommends https://www.dynu.com/
  2. Register your hostname on your VPN account.
    Registering DDNS hostname with ExpressVPN
  3. Within your VPN account find the Smart DNS/MediaStreamer server IP address.
  4. On your Apple TV, head to the Settings app.
    Apple TV main menu
  5. Navigate to Settings > Network > WiFi.
    Screenshot of Apple TV settings menu
  6. Find Configure DNS and change the settings from Automatic to Manual.
    Configuring DNS settings in Apple TV
  7. Write down your current DNS address/setting for future use.
  8. In the manual DNS input screen, type in the IP address you picked up from your provider’s website.
    Screenshot of Apple TV entering new DNS IP address
  9. Select Done.
  10. Restart your Apple TV.

You can now stream geo-blocked video content from your Apple TV.

Method 2: Use a Virtual Router or Mobile Hotspot

Diagram explaining how to use a virtual router to protect Apple TV

If you don’t have a VPN-compatible router you can set up a virtual router or mobile hotspot using a desktop computer.

A virtual router sounds fancy, but essentially it’s just a device on your network that can share your internet (and VPN) connection with other devices.

Virtual routers can be made using Windows devices only, but you can set up a mobile hotspot with a Mac computer, which will do the same job.

Unfortunately you can’t share a VPN connection from your phone.

Once you’ve got the VPN up and running on the laptop, any device connected to the virtual router or mobile hotspot will benefit from the same protection and coverage.

Just be sure to connect your Apple TV to that newly-created hotspot, rather than your home WiFi, and it’s all set.

We’ll show you how to create a virtual router first.

Before you start, you’ll need to check that your Windows computer can support creating a virtual router, as not all can.

To do this type cmd in the Windows search bar to bring up Command Prompt. Right-click and select Run as administrator.

In the command prompt, type:

netsh wlan show drivers

Screenshot of command prompt

Hit Enter.

If your Windows computer supports the creation of virtual routers you will see “Hosted network supported: Yes.”

If it says “no” you can try updating your adaptor driver or try using a different wireless card.

If this doesn’t work you won’t be able to use that device to create a virtual router or a mobile hotspot.

For supported Windows 10 devices, skip to the Windows 10 Mobile Hotspot Setup instructions below.

Here are step-by-step instructions for creating a virtual router with a supported Windows laptop or PC:

  1. Ensure that your Windows computer is connected to your network by WiFi or ethernet cable.
  2. Install your chosen VPN onto the computer, but don’t connect to a VPN server just yet. You can check out the following guide for VPN setup instructions.
  3. In the Windows search bar type cmd to bring up Command Prompt and type in the following:
    netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=NETWORKNAME key=PASSWORD
    Name your virtual router by setting the following values:
    ssid=[choose a name for your network]
    key=[choose a password for your network]
    Screenshot of command prompt
  4. Type: netsh wlan start hostednetwork
    Hit Enter and you’ll see a message saying: “The hosted network started.”
  5. Now you need to share your virtual router. Press the Windows key + R and type ncpa.cpl. Hit Enter and then click OK.
    Screenshot of Windows Run box
  6. Find your new WiFi connection in the Network Connections window and take a note of the name of the connection, which will appear in bold above the SSID name you chose for your network.
  7. Look for a network connection labeled “[VPN service provider name] Tap Adapter” and right-click on it. Select Properties.
  8. Click on the tab labeled Sharing and check the box that says Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection.
    Screenshot of network sharing panel on Windows
  9. Use the drop-down box entitled Home networking connection select your new virtual router (the name you took note of in step #6). Click OK.
  10. Now open up the VPN Windows app and change the VPN protocol to OpenVPN (if there is an option to). Select the VPN server of your choice and click the connect button.
  11. Finally connect your Apple TV to the new virtual router and all internet traffic from it will be encrypted.

If you would like to disable the virtual router type the following into the command prompt of your virtual router device:

netsh wlan stop hostednetwork

Windows 10 Mobile Hotspot Setup

If you have a Windows 10 device that supports hosted networks you can create a mobile hotspot instead of a virtual router in order to share your VPN connection.

It’s much easier than creating a virtual router.

Here’s how:

  1. Install your chosen VPN service onto your Windows 10 computer, but don’t connect to a VPN server yet.
  2. Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile hotspot and toggle Mobile hotspot to On.
    Screenshot on mobile hotspot toggle on Windows 10
  3. Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Change adapter options. Right-click on [VPN server provider name] Tap Adapter and select Properties.
  4. Under the tab labeled Sharing check the box that says Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection.
    Screenshot of network sharing panel on Windows
  5. Now select the hotspot you created from the drop-down menu entitled Home networking connection and click OK.
  6. Open up the VPN app on your Windows 10 computer and select OpenVPN as the VPN protocol (if there is an option to). Connect to the VPN server location of your choice.
  7. Finally connect your Apple TV to your new mobile hotspot and enjoy encrypted streaming.

To disconnect from the mobile hotspot, go to Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile hotspot and toggle Mobile hotspot to Off.

If you’d like to use a macOS device to share a VPN connection with your Apple TV instead, read on.

macOS Mobile Hotspot Installation

You can turn your MacBook or iMac into a mobile hotspot in order to share the VPN connection with your Apple TV, but it’s a little more restrictive than the Windows setup.

You can only connect via the PPTP VPN protocol or L2TP. If your VPN doesn’t support these protocols you can’t use this method.

PPTP is also a very insecure VPN protocol, and can be hacked in minutes. We wouldn’t recommend using L2TP either as it has some security flaws, too.

Only use this method if you are unable to protect your Apple TV using any of the other installation methods recommended in this guide.

We’ll show you how to set up VPN connection sharing using L2TP as this is more secure than PPTP:

  1. Ensure that your MacBook or iMac is connected via ethernet cable (not WiFi).
  2. Set up an L2TP VPN manually by clicking on the Apple logo in the top-left corner of your screen and select System Preferences.
    Screenshot of macOS settings menu

  3. Click on the Network icon and then on the + symbol to add a new VPN service.
  4. Select VPN from the Interface drop-down menu, L2TP over IPSec from the VPN Type menu, and then type in your chosen name for the VPN connection next to Service Name. Click Create.
  5. Log into your VPN account on the VPN website and find your username, password, and server address for L2TP manual configuration.
    Screenshot of ExpressVPN L2TP manual config username and password
  6. Go back to the Network menu and select Default from the Configuration drop-down menu. Copy and paste the server address into the next field, and your L2TP username into the Account Name field.
  7. Check the box that says Show VPN status in menu bar. This means that you’ll easily be able to see whether the VPN is connected or not by looking at the menu bar.
  8. Now click on Authentication Settings and enter your L2TP password in the password field. Enter the L2TP shared secret into the Shared Secret field, and click OK.
  9. Click Advanced, check the box labeled Send all traffic over VPN connection, and click OK.
  10. Click Apply.
  11. Now you should click Connect to connect to the VPN server. The Status will show as Connected.
  12. Go back to the System Preferences menu and click Sharing.
    Accessing macOS network sharing settings from system preferences
  13. Select Internet Sharing and share your connection from the L2TP VPN connection you just created to computers using WiFi.
  14. Click WiFi Options and enter a Network Name of your choosing. Leave Channel as the default, put Security to WPA2 Personal, and choose a password for your network. Click OK.
  15. Go back to the Sharing menu and check Internet Sharing box. When the prompt pops up click Start.
  16. Connect your Apple TV to the new network to encrypt your internet traffic.

You can disable the mobile hotspot by going to System Preferences > Sharing and uncheck the box labeled Internet Sharing.

Then go to System Preferences > Network and click on your L2TP VPN profile. Click Disconnect.

As you’ve seen, using a virtual router or mobile hotspot to protect your Apple TV is a long and intricate process.

It’s definitely not for beginners.

Method 3: Use Your Home Router

Diagram showing how a VPN router protects devices in the home

If you set up a VPN on your router it encrypts the internet traffic of all devices connected to it, including your Apple TV.

Installing a VPN at router level is the most secure way to protect your Apple TV.

In theory, this is a pretty simple procedure, but not all VPN services support router installation.

It should be easy to find out if you can install the software at router-level by looking at the VPN provider’s website (or our review of the VPN).

Alternatively, you can use one of the best VPNs for routers to simplify the setup process.

Screenshot of router set up on IPVanish's website

Even if your VPN service provider supports router installation, your router might not support VPNs.

The odds are that the basic modem router supplied by your ISP won’t support VPN client software.

You’ll need to buy a VPN-compatible router if your current hardware doesn’t support VPN connections.

Some popular router brands that allow for VPN client software are:

  • ASUS
  • Linksys
  • Netgear

It’s best to check which routers a VPN service supports before you purchase a subscription.

We recommend using a router (and VPN service) that supports the OpenVPN protocol, as it’s the safest choice.

Some routers support PPTP, but this is a very insecure protocol: you shouldn’t use it unless no other setup options are available.

Here are the basic installation steps for getting a VPN on to your router:

  1. Log into your router’s admin dashboard.
  2. Flash your router with VPN-compatible firmware (if it doesn’t already support OpenVPN natively).
  3. Configure the router with your VPN service provider’s configuration files.
  4. Connect to the VPN.
  5. Test the VPN connection for any IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.
  6. Connect your Apple TV to the VPN router’s WiFi.

Some VPN services, such as ExpressVPN, come with router applets, which make changing VPN router settings and server locations easy.

Screenshot of ExpressVPN router applet

Router set up varies greatly between router models, and also between VPN services.

If you need help installing your VPN on a router, it’s best to contact your router provider or VPN service provider for specific instructions.

We have given instructions for specific router setups in our VPN router installation guide, too.

Why You Should Use a VPN on Your Apple TV

The main reason for using a VPN on your Apple TV is to access region-locked TV shows and movies.

It also lets you unblock region-locked Kodi add-ons.

When you use a VPN, you can change your IP address to spoof your location. If you’re using Smart DNS, you’ll only change your DNS server address. Both let you stream geo-locked video content.

Not all VPNs can unblock popular streaming services, though. Make sure you take a look at our list of the best streaming VPNs before you purchase a subscription.