Free. Legal. And released within a week of the show’s Japan air date. Streaming video is something that I have craved ever since I started watching anime. I always feel guilty about not doing enough to support the industry, even if I do buy more anime than a normal person should. Watching streaming anime gives me a way to offer my support without needing to shell out $30 for 13 episodes. The biggest (legal) services right now are Cunchyroll, Netflix and Hulu.
I was prejudiced against Crunchy Roll before writing this review. My impression was that the site built itself by profiting off the hard work of fan sub groups. I don’t know if Crunchy can get rid of its bad image, but it does the next best thing: It works, its cheap and it has the best selection of recent anime. Crunchyroll specializes in simulcasting or airing shows at or near the time of the show’s Japanese release date. It operates both a paid section that has immediate access to the simulcasts and a free section where access is delayed by a week. The streaming quality is fairly good for free shows, coming in at 480p and subscribers get access to ramped up 720p videos. On the downside, the site is glitchy– videos often freeze and I found that I needed to pause frequently to let shows buffer. Plus, the site is ugly. I much preferred the iphone app to the website itself.
Highlights: Great selection, 720p for paid users, available in some other countries
Downers: Free service has lots of ads and a delay in accessing simulcasts
Netflix has the best video player of the three services. It caches video and provides screenshots when you fast forward to help you pinpoint what you want to watch. It even adjusts the video quality automatically based on the speed of the internet connection. Personally, I disliked this “feature” since I’d rather have the choice of manually setting the video quality, otherwise I end up with stuttering and grainy video. Best of all, Netflix provides applications to access the service on Wii, Xbox 360, PS3 and a number of Blu-Ray players. On the downside, the anime selection isn’t as good as Crunchyroll. Netflix only has about 50 unique streaming titles, including a couple of movies. Fortunately, to supplement the streaming videos you can rent DVDs to watch. Still, even the rental library is limited, new titles like Xam’d are still listed as “coming soon.”
Highlights: Best video player, view on game consoles and iphones, includes dvd rentals
Downers: Limited streaming tiles, slow to get new titles, only available in US and Canada
Downers: Lots of ads even on hulu plus, selection changes frequently, lower quality