June 07, 2018

The streaming chronicles (1/4)

In which I expand my Japanese media options with a Roku.

At minimum, switching from Dish to DirecTV (the new home of TV Japan) would add another ten dollars to the subscription price (at least $46/month plus numerous taxes and fees), on top of a new set-top box ($60) and a 24-month commitment (ugh).

A Roku Express costs less than $30 (no additional taxes or fees) and nobody has to commit to anything. Hey, I'm already saving money! The picture quality on my 720p screen is better than I expected, almost as good as a solid 1080p OTA signal (the gold standard).

Here are a few of the Japan-specific channels available on the platform.

NHK World is a remarkably complete news and information service. Many of the features are original NHK productions with English voice-overs or subtitles, including the all-important highlights during sumo tournaments. Frankly, NHK World alone justifies the cost of the Roku.

Even better, it's a free service, as is the Roku app.

The other big draw for me is Crunchyroll. The annoying ads can be removed for $9.99/month (or $99.99/year), a great deal for the biggest source of anime anywhere. Like Netflix, they use embedded subtitles, which is vastly superior to the closed captions approach.

A free ad-supported Roku channel worth adding is Tubi. It's got a well-stocked anime section, though the quality is all over the map and the search tools are entirely lacking.

The same thing goes for Tubi's surprising number of live-action offerings. which range from art-house films to schlocky tokusatsu series.

Now the sole remaining independent anime service, HIDIVE carries anime and a few live-action exclusives from Sentai Filmworks for $4.99/month. That leaves Funimation as Crunchyroll's only other competitor (Funimation has since acquired Crunchyroll), but for $5.99/month it'd hardly break the bank to get both.

At $9.99/month, dLibrary Japan is a VOD service run by NHK Cosmomedia (also responsible for NHK World and TV Japan). It licenses recent live-action content (some titles can be up to a decade old) for only a year or two, so there's no backlist to speak of. But the catalog is updated on a regular basis.

Most of the movies on dLibrary Japan are subtitled. Fewer of the television series are, and I've noticed an increasing use of machine-translated closed captions (that at times resemble an infinite number of monkeys trying to type Shakespeare).

Netflix is the latest streaming service to discover there simply isn't a big audience for localized Jdrama in North America. On the other hand, I am very impressed with the quality and quantity of the Netflix anime catalog.

That leaves Rakuten Viki as dLibrary Japan's only competitor, though the two services are aimed at quite different audiences, and Rakuten Viki employs an innovative approach to the challenge of subtitling.

Then again, Netflix recently added a kabuki play and a whole suite of filmed theatrical productions that take place during the late Warring States period. I imagine they initially licensed the videos for distribution in Japan and ended up with worldwide rights in the bargain.

Also free on Roku, J1 Radio streams popular Japanese music from the postwar Showa era up to the present.

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The streaming chronicles (2)
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