I’ve been skeptical of streaming media in the past and notably declared it on the Podcast when this season’s Simulcasts were announced. Trusting a streaming service feels odd when I’m used to deal with disks and files. Disks and files I can convert, travel with, watch without an internet connection. With a streaming service you are limited to where, when, and how you can watch your content. So with a few exceptions, such as House of Five Leaves, I have avoided using streaming services.
When Crunchyroll approached me to write a review of their premium services the above belief was stuck in the back of my mind. But I agreed just to experience what, supposedly, was the best way to watch streaming Anime. I was skeptical, maybe even a little biased, walking into this review. However, after a month of using the service I’ve changed my attitude towards streaming…. slightly.
I also decided to write not only a review of their premium services but of the entire site. This feature is part one of three of a complete Crunchyroll site review. Here I will discuss the features a premium subscriber receive and how it compares to other competing streaming services. Read on!
Also check out the audio review on the Otaku in Review Podcast.
The reason to subscribe to Crunchyroll is to take advantage of the premium content. With a free account, or no account, a user can see most videos on the site in low quality with a post roll ad. When you upgrade to a premium subscription the ads go away, although the user is still haunted by the banner ads all over the site, and two higher resolution choices are available: 480P and 720P.Unlike most streaming sites Crunchyroll scales the player to the chosen resolution. Look at the images below to see how much larger the 720P video compared to the SD image. When increased to full screen the 480P image remains crisp while the SD version is filled with line breaks and image quality that looks muddy. The 720P has better color and a slightly different aspect ration. I found it difficult to see a huge difference in the image quality and asked my friends over at Fanboyreview.net, who are far more skilled at detecting slight changes in image quality, to take a look at the images. They immediately saw that the 720P image was superior in quality, aspect ratio and color. However, due to the way it has been compressed it is hard to tell if it isn’t a true 720P image or if it was a true 720P image that it is just poorly compressed. Compression is the crux of streaming content because of delivery over an internet connection requires a tight control over file size. Here, although the picture quality is not as good as it possible could be, it still is exceptional for a streaming service and far better than Funimation and The Anime Network, Crunchyroll’s chief competition. The screenshots were taken on a monitor with a resolution of 1680 x 1050. Click the images for the full size.
After watching the higher resolution it is difficult to go back to the free account’s SD option. It’s a shame that most of the content on the site isn’t available in 720P but Crunhyroll is making an effort to release all their newer titles in the higher resolution and most of the shows lacking the High Definition option, such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, weren’t animated in High Definition to begin with. If Crunchyroll is a person’s primary method for consuming anime there is no reason not to upgrade to a premium account. Access to the higher resolution is alone worth the price of the monthly subscription.
The raise of fansubs was prompted by the long gap between when a show aired in Japan and when it was released in North American. Simulcasts have eliminated that problem with companies like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and The Anime Network offering subtitled anime only hours after it has finished airing in Japan. This speed completely subverts the pirates who, unlike the companies above, don’t have access to the Japanese scripts and have to do a lengthy transcription before translating the show. Of course, fansubs have not disappeared but are starting to slow down once the show becomes available streaming.
The simulcast model makes sense based on the old broadcasting model that is, unfortunately, still dominant. The show can now be previewed for “free” with ads or as part of the premium membership long before the DVD comes out. Consumers are no longer forced to buy anime blindly. This simulcast model has a huge benefit for the American licensing companies. These streaming sites can serve as testing areas to see if a show is worth licensing for domestic release based on how popular it is when streamed.
Of all the sites currently doing Anime Simulcasts Crunchyroll is by far the best because of the High Definition options. The streams are normally up within two hours of the Japanese broadcast and there are countdown clocks all over the Crunchyroll homepage to remind users when the next show becomes available on top of a calendar that lists every title in the month with the day and time it will become available. Looking at Funimation’s streaming portal it is difficult to tell which shows are simulcasts and there doesn’t seem to be any indication of when the shows will be released. Crunchyroll is positioning itself to become the internet broadcaster of Anime while Funimation is dropping the ball by allowing their simulcasts to blend in with the rest of their content.
The Premium account gives the user early access to all of Crunchyroll’s Simulcasts. The standard user has to wait a week in order to watch the latest episode from Japan but a premium user has access to the shows only hours after they air on Japanese television on top of access to the higher quality resolutions. Crunchyroll has been dedicated to keeping a strict schedule even when all options might not be accessible. Once, and only once, while attempting to view the newest episode of Durarara!! there was no 720P option available. I’m speculating, but there may have been problems with the formatting or access to the higher resolution. That didn’t stop Crunchyroll from pushing the product out the door and a few days later the option appeared. Being so focused on speed may harm the quality of some shows but it is not obvious in the Crunchyroll simulcasts. That was the only time a promised feature wasn’t available and I can only assume it was because it didn’t meet their standards so instead of releasing a subpar encoded show they went back and made sure to do it right. I applaud the effort.
This first portion highlights the best features of Crunchyroll, the content. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will go over the Crunchyroll user interface, the video player, and bugs of the service. Those are the areas where Crunchyroll starts to show some serious blemishes.