Impressions: Taking VIZ’s PS3 Anime Streaming Service Neon Alley For A Spin

VIZ takes on competing video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu while going head-to-head against Crunchyroll with their unorthodox subscription service on PSN. Offering animated series, features, and Asian films on a dedicated streaming platform sounds great, right?

Well, some of the quirks in how Neon Alley handles its content, a curiously barebones interface, and the overall vision for the service are things you might want to think about before plunking down your $6.99 a month.

First off, you have to understand that VIZ, the manga and anime publisher behind Neon Alley wanted users to take another look at how they were getting content delivered to their set top box–in this case, the set top box is the PlayStation 3, where the service is currently exclusive. Neon Alley offers 24/7 streaming of its content through the app as opposed to the video-on-demand style delivery of something like Crunchyroll.

Effectively, VIZ has created “VIZ TV,” where you can catch programming on a fixed schedule, with blocks of anime episodes broken up by movies and the occasional ad. The lineup is made up of VIZ licenses, although the publisher has promised more publishers will be on board going forward and I did catch some live-action content from Tai Seng mixed into the schedule. VIZ is also using this as an opportunity to debut some of their catalog in the U.S. before it makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray or even the big screen, giving, for instance, Tiger & Bunny slots on the schedule in advance of its 2013 home video release. I should note that all of the content here is delivered with the English dubs, which is cool for anime but isn’t my particular thing when it comes to live-action content.

Now your mileage may vary here–Neon Alley offers the chance to see large swaths of series you like (or the opportunity to explore new ones) but you have to work with its schedule.

Which would be fine if the schedule in the app were a bit more navigable. The current layout allows you to bring up a small guide in the bottom fifth of the screen which details the name of the current program and allows navigation forward in the calendar. It’s fairly basic and could have benefited from a more detailed calendar view providing a synopsis, repeat airings, etc., but as it stands, the guide is functional.

Performance-wise, Neon Alley was a mixed bag for me in the couple of times I had checked out a couple of series (a bit of Naruto, if you must know) and a feature (the new Berserk movie), but either from some bandwidth issue on my side or VIZ’s, the picture quality was plagued with compression issues throughout, my screen a storm of pixels. I should note, I immediately checked my Netflix and Hulu apps which both streamed at much higher quality, so I’m guessing VIZ might still working out the kinks on their video delivery.

So VIZ has made a noble start on this front, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily the one that’s inline with the way people watch digital content now. Being constrained by a schedule seems so backwards-thinking, even if they’ve delivered some pretty great content.

Neon Alley is available now through PSN for $6.99 a month.

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