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Eye on Demand | May 24, 2017

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Crunchyroll Review

Crunchyroll Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
9
User Interface
6
Content on Offer
7
Device Availability
7
Airplay and iOS
7
7.2

Best on Roku or iOS

Cable and Satellite broadcasting are not the only television delivery services that can specialize in niche markets. If anything, the Internet with its theoretically infinite size can accommodate any number of specialist services, and Crunchyroll is one of America’s most successful, submersing the viewer into a large library of Anime along with east Asian drama and pop music.

Crunchyroll started in 2006 as a site that allowed users to upload and stream fan-subbed content from East Asia, including bootlegs and unofficially licensed material, but soon evolved into a reputable on-demand service acquiring licensing contracts and distribution agreements with the likes of Gonzo and TV Tokyo. Today, Crunchyroll offer more than 340 anime and 280 dramas, with these figures being just the series themselves. If you take into account the number of episodes to each series – which can be quite significant, it really adds up to a lot of content that is available.

 

iOS iPhone landscape

Most of what Crunchyroll have on offer is free of charge, but they also push a premium service to customers with more features. The various tiers on offer include a drama & anime membership (both US$6,95 per month) and an all-in-one for US$11,95: Anyone of the the premium membership packages entitle the viewer to:

  • Earlier access to most anime titles available on Crunchyroll, which generally means within an hour of the show being broadcast on television in Japan (compared to free users who must wait up to a week later).
  • In addition to standard definition, viewers may also enjoy High Definition (HD) 1080p and 720p-quality videos as well as Enhanced Definition (ED) 480p-quality videos for early-access (Simulcast) shows, as well as back-catalog episodes.
  • Users will never be shown any in-video advertisements.
  • Users will receive additional discounts on items like DVDs featured in Chrunchyroll’s Daily Deal program.
  • VIP email support, with fast response times.

Another thing to keep in mind is that although Crunchyroll is available in many countries around the world, not all titles are possible to view outside the United States. If this is an issue where you live, you will require an additional VPN or applicable SmartDNS service to open access to all content (pay-wall only content still requires a subscription to Crunchyroll)

One of the highlights for dedicated anime followers are the simulcast episodes. Premium users will have access to the show often as quick as an hour after it airs in Japan, complete in many cases with English subtitles.

Not only do the simulcasts arrive so shortly after the official Japanese release, but often in 1080p HD and in many cases with more than one language available in subtitles. Many shows seemed to include Spanish and Portuguese in addition to English.

Quality ButtonVideo quality ranges from Chrunchyroll’s description of standard definition on the free service (600kbps), all the way up to 1080p HD at 4000kbps – depending on the title and of course your available bandwidth. Some of the dramas and pop videos can look somewhat pixelated at the lower end of the scale (and many pop videos are only available up to 480p) but once you hit 720p or above, the video quality can be described as excellent. One thing to keep in mind, is that Crunchyroll’s interpretation of standard definition is a lot lower quality than you would expect from many other services and especially broadcast TV. The BBC for instance defines their SD service at 1500kbps, more than double Crunchyroll’s and the quality difference is significantly noticeable.

Hardware support is wide, especially for premium users who can access the content via the web, Roku, Apple TV, iOS, Android, selected smart TVs, PS3, XBOX 360, Google TV, WD TV live and a Boxee box (if you can find one these days) , which puts Crunchyroll in a pretty impressive league regarding platform support. Free users are not quite so lucky, with content restricted to the web, iOS and Android.

 


  • www.crunchyroll.com

    First impressions are always important and everything started fine for approximately two and a half seconds, that was until the full screen advertising took over. After that point the home page resembled somewhat of a billboard, even on a premier subscription service. This ocular trauma subsides when you drill down to an actual series, at which point what information is displayed is in fact quite useful, but quite honestly, the front page is somewhat of a mess. Besides the handy menu at the top and the obligatory highlights slideshow, the home page seems more focused on news and social networking than the videos for which many viewers come for.

    Things can improve once clicked through the Shows button, drilling down to a selection from Anime, Drama or Pop that include Simulcasts (where the US release coincides with the Japanese), Seasons, Popular, Alphabetical or Genres, but some of the categories, especially the root ones for Anime and Drama still sometimes appear overwhelmed by full-screen ads.

    Besides all that, there is a lot of content available here, and the web portal is one of the best places where you can access drama or anime even if you don’t fully subscribe to that premium service. It appears to offer also many east Asian pop videos, something I didn’t find on any of the other reviewed platforms.

    Video quality is manually selected from the choices under the video window, which generally includes SD, 480p, 720p and 1080p if available. Keep in mind that you can only select the higher resolutions if your subscription allows this, and to be honest, once you view in 720p or 1080p, you will not want to go back to SD – especially as the compression algorithms leaves the standard definition far lower quality than would be found through traditional broadcasting.

    Again, depending on your subscription, you may be able to access the pop-out window, although full-screen should always be available, but one thing I didn’t particularly like is that there was no way to find out how much buffer was already downloaded. If you have bandwidth issues, this is always a helpful guide and despite my 50mb internet connection, I did notice some stuttering at 1080p – something which should not have been happening, and without any indication of how much buffering I had, there was no easy way to know if this was a browser or bandwidth problem (this could have been related to CPU usage more than anything else, as I never experienced issues with any of the other platforms).

    QueueThe Queue button is almost hidden at the top of the screen, but despite its diminutive size it is remarkably useful. Click on it and you will have access to shows which you have queued for later, or view your history. Adding shows to your queue is as easy as visiting them and pressing the Add to Queue button.

    Platform Pros:

    • Greatest range of content for free users.
    • Excellent video quality when viewed in HD.
    • Easy way to browse content.
    • Queue (watchlist) and History.
    • Remembers last spot played & shows current position as a progress line in the Queue.
    • Manual control of video quality.
    • Pop-out window (on premium) and full-screen playback.

    Platform Cons:

    • Not the most sofa-friendly environment.
    • Advertising on the home screen is far too dominating.

    (Assessing all of Crunchyroll’s content may require a SmartDNS or VPN when outside of the US)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19185″]


  • Best Choice StampIt was a difficult decision to decide whether to award the best platform stamp to Crunchyroll’s iOS or Roku platform as both are quite simply excellent. But the iPad’s implementation in particular just had the edge.

    If you read the criticism over Crunchyroll’s web based home page, you will be pleased to know the equivalent front screen on the iPad is a demonstration of elegance and tranquility in comparison. There are no horrible overwhelming advertisements and everything is clearly listed with easy access to genres, categories and content.

    Even when using the app without a subscription, the interface is just as pleasant, with the obvious limitations that the free service inflicts (see top of review). It does beg the question why this platform, and all others for that matter, can survive without the need to overwhelm them with full-screen advertising, yet the web portal can’t.

    The left hand side of the screen has the option to select Anime, Drama, Search, Settings and at the very top, Home, where your Queue and History are listed. This makes it extremely easy to return back to previously watched content and your last position is remembered (if not shown by a progress-line as in the web portal). However, keep in mind that although cross-platform support is included and your Queue or Watched shows will appear on other platforms, your current positions are only remembered locally.

    The top bar of the screen offers the expected categories and genres, allowing you to easily drill down by A-Z, latest shows, most popular or everything from Action to Sports. It is the set of genre choices as you will find on most other platforms but with the usual ease that should be expected on a good iPad app. In fact, the user experience is simply excellent. Scrolling down through the large range of available content and selecting a show to play couldn’t be easier and is why a tablet can be almost the ultimate TV remote for on-demand content.

    Naturally, the iPhone or iPod touch UI must make up for the lack of screen real estate, yet it does so in fine form. Of course, don’t expect the same visual enjoyment achieved on the larger iPad, but the quality of user experience is still extremely high. The only disappointing thought was that I was never able to access anything via 3G, only with a WiFi connection.

    As for video quality, as long as your WiFi and broadband connections are up to speed, expect excellent quality streams. Unlike the web browser, there are no manual controls, so a variable bitrate dynamically changes to reflect what your internet connection is providing. This can mean of course that the initial video quality is a bit blocky until the system realizes your Internet’s true potential.

    If the iPad or iPhone screen is too small, you can always airplay the content to your main television direct from the video screen. No mirroring is required here, and you get beautiful, high quality full-screen streams on your big TV. The only thing missing with AirPlay is the lack of multitasking support, so your iOS device will have to dedicate itself to the task at hand, and there is no opportunity to switch off to save battery power or the very existence of our planet.

    Platform Pros:

    • Resume ability to remember last spot that was played.
    • AirPlay support from video window.
    • Many drama or anime titles can play even without a subscription, but expect lower quality streams.
    • Fantastic UI.
    • Subtitle language control (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese or French when available)
    • Great sofa-friendly environment.

    Platform Cons:

    • No manual control over video quality.
    • No AirPlay multitasking.
    • Unlike web portal, doesn’t show current position in previously watched shows in the Queue.
    • No offline downloads.
    • Could not get to work over 3G

    (Assessing all of Crunchyroll’s content may require a SmartDNS or VPN when outside of the US)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18174″]


  • The recently introduced Apple TV app may have come as quite a surprise to ATV users considering anime is such a niche market and the platform still has so few dedicated apps, but there is no doubt many Crunchyroll fans would have been delighted at the new addition. As expected, the Apple TV app is simply beautiful and easy to use. In fact, I found it the most pleasing to the eye of all tested platforms.

    The user interface follows most of the standard rules of Apple TV apps, meaning regular users of this platform will feel right at home from the very beginning, although I especially liked the graphic designs for genres and seasons, which are quite different than on other Apple TV services.

    The settings control isn’t the most comprehensive, but they do allow users to clear their history from within the app. Likewise, it is possible to add to the queue by hitting the appropriate button on the video episode page.

    That said, there is no way to resume a previously started show, despite the only play button being labelled “Play from the beginning”. (suggesting another button would be offering a “Resume from last position”), nor is there any countdown to simulcasts, or ability to play non-subscribed content.

    Video quality is excellent, as should be expected on an Apple TV, but there is no way to manually control the bitrate itself as that is decided by a dynamic system, so like many other situations when variable bitrates are used, the video quality may start off a bit blocky, but quickly improve as it realizes the available bandwidth is good.

    Unfortunately, although most aspects of the Apple TV’s standard UI is generally pretty good, their scrubbing option is never quite as cool as the Roku thumbnail system. It’s still fast and responsive, but without any indication of exactly what part of the programme you are scrubbing past.

    Platform Pros:

    • Beautiful and easy to use UI.
    • Stunning video quality.
    • History and Queue listings.
    • Can clear viewing history from within App.
    • Great sofa-friendly environment.

    Platform Cons:

    • No Resume option
    • Only existing subscription material will play, i.e. if you have an Anime premium subscription, Drama will not play.
    • Scrubbing is Apple’s usual method and not as good as found on the Roku.
    • No manual video quality setting.
    • No ability to change default subtitle language.
    • No Countdown.

    (Assessing all of Crunchyroll’s content may require a SmartDNS or VPN when outside of the US)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18174″]

  • Crunchyroll’s Roku channel was my second favourite of the tested platforms, simply because it offers so many good options along with a fast and easy to use interface. Unlike the Apple TV, iOS app or even the Samsung Smart TV widget, Roku’s channel is certainly no looker. It follows the basic, bland but functional poster view that many other Roku channels use. It’s not exactly unattractive and it certainly isn’t spoiled by overwhelming advertising like their web portal, but it isn’t anything worth writing further about.

    All that said, it starts (in my opinion at least) in the perfect spot – the Queue. This is a listing of all the users favourite shows and I can’t think of a better place to begin, except for maybe the last watched programmes which is directly underneath anyway.

    Categories are the same as on other platforms and includes for Drama: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, Action, Comedy, Crime, Family, Food Historical, Horror, Martial Arts, Romance, and Thrillers, whilst Anime categories are Simulcast, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Ecchi, Fantasy, Historical, Mecha, Romance, Science Fiction, Seinen/Mature, Shoujo, Shounen, Slice of Life, and finally Sports.

    There are a few major differences between the Roku channel and the Apple TV app and one is that it will still play non-subscribed content, though with various restrictions which means even if you only have an Anime subscription, you can also watch selected Dramas and vice-versa (presuming you have at least one subscription). Another difference is that you can easily resume a previously started show where you left off. And finally the Roku channel uses a far better scrubbing method, similar to the Roku Netflix channel, where you have tiny, updating thumbnails showing where you are in the currently playing program.

    There are no compromises with video quality either, and the same variable bitrate applies as found on all other platforms tested outside of the web browser.

    Overall, Crunchyroll’s Roku channel only slightly drops below the iOS app for the award, and despite not walking away with the best platform title, it is only a fraction behind.

    Platform Pros:

    • Great, easy to use UI.
    • Excellent thumbnail based scrubbing.
    • Great video quality.
    • Ability to resume previously started content.
    • Opens directly in the Queue with the Watchlist not far away.
    • Great sofa-friendly environment.
    • Ability to play content with only partial subscription (limitations apply)

    Platform Cons:

    • Not the prettiest of platforms.
    • No manual video quality setting.
    • No ability to change default subtitle language.
    • No Countdown.

    (Assessing all of Crunchyroll’s content may require a SmartDNS or VPN when outside of the US)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18174″]

  • Crunchyroll is also directly available on selected smart TVs of which the Samsung widget is under review here. Interestingly enough, Crunchyroll have rolled out yet another entirely different interface than the previous other platforms. The Samsung Smart TV widget performs well and is considerably more elegant in design than its Roku cousin.

    But aesthetics isn’t everything and there are a few pitfalls with this widget. First of all, like the Apple TV app, the Samsung widget appears to be missing any method to resume previously started material. This is a very basic and standard function which is available on other platforms, so why is it missing here?

    Secondly, as is so often the case with Samsung widgets, the FFW and REW features are lacking. Granted, it is nowhere near as painful as the SBS on Demand Samsung widget, which quite frankly, despite an otherwise brilliant app, provided the worse FFW & REW I have ever seen. It is better here, but a far cry from what is offered on the other platforms, especially the Roku channel. In fact, there is no true scrubbing here at all. Although scrubbing and FFW/REW has never been a strong point across many Samsung widgets, it’s not like they can’t get it right when they want to like their Hulu or Netflix apps.

    Add in the same problem as with the Apple TV, that only the subscribed content is available (so Anime subscribers do not have any access to Dramas and vice-versa) and the aesthetic shine begins to rub off a little.

    To deepen to the wounds, there are simply not enough categories to choose from when browsing content. Only Popular, Updated, Alphabetical and Simulcast are available – or at least all I could find. This is a far cry from any of the other tested platforms.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom, as unlike some other platforms, the subtitle language can easily be set within the widget.

    Video quality is still excellent as well. This is after-all the business end of the application. Once all the frilly extras are set aside, the main purpose of such an app is to watch content and once the video begins to play, it plays well. Video quality is dynamically set using a variable bitrate based on the existing internet connection. The greater the bandwidth, the higher quality the stream.

    Control is a little different to the Apple TV and Roku box in that more dedicated remote-control buttons are used. The Tools or Menu buttons for instance will bring up an additional menu to access the Anime or Drama libraries, Settings etc. Unless of course you are already playing the video, then the Menu button confusedly returns back to your Samsung’s TV function.

    But on the bright side, the Samsung widget begins just like the Roku box at the Queue and Recently Watched lists.

    Platform Pros:

    • Aesthetically a well designed interface.
    • Ability to set subtitle languages.
    • Begins on Queue and Watchlist.
    • Excellent quality video.
    • Good sofa-friendly environment.

    Platform Cons:

    • No manual setting of video quality.
    • Very poor FFW/REW without proper scrubbing.
    • No Resume option to continue previously started content.
    • Limited categories makes for less than easy browsing.
    • No search option.
    • Use of special remote-control buttons can be confusing.
    • No countdown for simulcasts.

    (Assessing all of Crunchyroll’s content may require a SmartDNS or VPN when outside of the US)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16997″]

  • I’ll be honest here. I’m not a serious fan of anime. It’s not that I don’t particularly like it, it’s just that I have other preferences in television or film entertainment. So in reality, I am not the best person to say whether the content on Crunchyroll is brilliant or otherwise. In any event, there is a lot of content here, and it updates rapidly, which is always a good thing.

    That point aside, I can certainly appreciate the quality of this service. Whether accessing the free version, or viewing behind one of their subscriptions, Crunchyroll offer a fantastic streaming service for anime and east Asian dramas and content.

    Video quality under the subscription is stunning and with one of the better platform supports in the industry, Crunchyroll have the opportunity to bring some great video streaming direct to your main HD television. I also find the various subscription packages to be extremely good value for money. Not only do they provide stunning HD quality streams, of which it would be difficult to return to the poor quality SD stream, but subscribers also get access to a lot more platforms and other services.

    If anything, it would be nice if they could synchronize all their platforms to have the same features, with full cross-platform resume, along with adding a few additional features like multitasking to their AirPlay support and offline downloads for mobile devices. Until then, Crunchyroll on iOS (with AirPlay) or the Roku channel are their current best platforms.

    Pros:

    • Excellent 1080p HD video quality on selected content.
    • Ability to manually change video quality on some platforms.
    • Queue and History lists to assist returning to selected content.
    • Resume ability to continue from last playing position.
    • Excellent iOS app including AirPlay.
    • Wide range of platforms available making it easy to watch on the television.
    • Simulcasts allowing access to new shows from as early as an hour after airing in Japan.
    • Simulcasts have countdowns on selected platforms.
    • Great range of content available.
    • Limited cross-platform support.

    Cons:

    • Horrible front page on web swamped by full-screen advertising and pointless information.
    • No offline downloads for traveling.
    • Current positions in started programmes are not transported between platforms.
    • Free video quality is lower than the claimed SD level would suggest, at approx. 600kbps.

    Technical Details:

    • No 3G/4G service on iOS
    • 3G/4G service on Android via subscription.
    • SD=600kbps, 480p=1500kbps, 720p=2500kbps, 1080p=4000kbps.
    • Supported platforms include Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Samsung, Panasonic and Visio smart TVs, Apple TV, Roku, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Google TV, WD TV Live and Boxee.

     

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Comments

  1. jack

    I wouldn’t even grace that site with a 5/10, fucking garbage.

  2. Jay

    Too high of a rating… Also, they no longer provide service to certain smart TV’s. Meaning, some people paid, got a slight bit of service then nothing…

    Oh, one of those is the Samsung TV, making part of your review invalid. under “Platform Cons:” you should probably put “people had to pay – service cancelled on them/no longer available”.

    Their business plan is a joke…

    • Hi Jay, thanks for the post. It’s important to hear feedback like this as I can’t keep track of every on-demand service in the world. There are always a lot of updates that need to get done.

  3. Lolz

    Corndog

  4. Laurameghan

    Crunchyroll recently had a promotion in which you get a free japancrate for signing up. After months of emails to japancrate and crunchyroll they’ve decided not to honor the promotion. Japancrate stated that crunchyroll duplicated the promo codes and didn’t generate more and will not respond to them. Crunchyroll stated that I can delete my account but they aren’t honoring the promo anymore. Japancrate said there were many people with the same issue and they will send me free samples and coupons. I believe Crunchyroll was deceptive in this promotion and never had any intention in honoring it.