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Playing In Neon Alley

Neon AlleyAnime has come a very long way in the US in a relatively short period of time. However, the saturation point on movies, series shows, and series shows that have spawned movies makes approaching watching anime a somewhat daunting task.

As one who first fell in love with the genre through tape duping and trading back in the 80's, I find it more than overwhelming to keep track of all the shows and movies available to fans today.

It is an embarrassment of riches. You kids don't know how good you've got it. And stay off my lawn...

TIGER BUNNYFanboy Planet was recently given an opportunity to try out the new Neon Alley "anime channel" on The Sony Playstation network. We wanted to let you know what excites us, what makes us scratch our heads, and compare it with other options you have available to you.

So is it for you? You do need to know two things right off the bat.

First, there's no getting around this right now: this is a Playstation exclusive. No web browsers, no iPad apps, you must install the free program on your PS3 and sign in to view. And obviously your PS3 must have an internet connection.

Officially Neon Alley video playback requires a minimum of 1Mbps connection, with 3+ Mbps recommended. Ours was over 30mbps, but that's just us, overkill.

Lower speed connections will likely not see HD quality video. We didn't test this broadly, but you can try it without risk and decide for yourself if your system measures up. More on that later.

Second, this is a 24/7 anime channel in every sense of the words. Every half hour block of time every day is scheduled with wall-to-wall anime series and movies. That sounds awesome, but note that it's not like your home DVR. There is no pause, no rewind, no fast forward. You are watching a broadcast at a specific time, which is likely repeated through out the day, but if you miss it, you have to try to catch it again in a repeat or you won't get to see your episode.

ONEPIECEThat's not too bad if you're committed; glancing at the schedule of programs it's easy to see how every four hours or so programming repeats, not unlike the evening programs on AMC or Comedy Chanel. However, and we have to drive this home, we really missed the pause button.

What you get that you can't get anywhere else is exclusive content. Shonen Jump and VIZ Media readers will be right at home with shows like One Piece and Naruto, many of which are shown with exclusive premieres of English dubbed episodes.

Other shows include Tiger & Bunny, Death Note, Blue Exorcist, and InuYasha, as well as a few live action entries. The streaming quality was very good, a little fragmented only at the very beginning. We did test on a pretty beefy internet connection but found the quality to be equal to if not a little better than most of the competition.

Make no mistake, purists, this is all dubbed. Now we're not terribly picky when it comes to anime, we're just glad not to have to deal with photocopied translation books any more! But we know this will annoy some fans. It's the right decision to make from a general marketing point of view.

BLUEEXORCISTAnd like Hulu and others, there are commercial breaks. But what's great about Neon Alley commercials is they're for products that appeal to anime fans, typically anime discs coming out or ads for other shows. As far as commercials go, you can't get a better interruption.

You can review the upcoming schedule for several days in advance. It would be great if this feature could send your personal calendar reminders or otherwise let you know when your show is coming up. Again, maybe in the future.

This is a new platform and format (actually, it's kind of a very old, pre-VCR format!) that you're going to have to get used to if you want to see their exclusive content.

We should note that pricing is good, but still in the ballpark of other similar streaming services. Playstation, XBOX, ROKU, and other internet connected devices with browsers really have a lot to choose from here. Anime content is strong in Netflix streaming, and it's commercial free. Hulu is similarly loaded with anime, and Crackle has a fair amount as well.

YouTube is where a lot of fans get their fix, but you often have to hunt down missing segments, and quality is often substandard, and they've finally added commercials. Still, for free, that's the way a lot of fans go.

And all of those alternatives support pause, rewind, fast forward, and on-demand viewing.

We were generally pleased with Neon Alley's quality and selection of shows. VIZ Media has some great content and if you're a fan this is likely going to be a tempting proposition. The picture quality is great, especially in their HD content, and the dubbing is some of the best we've seen. And you can try it risk free, a 1 week trial is available to new users!

Check out the schedule for the upcoming 7 days before you do, so you can make sure you've made the best of your demo period. Again, that's at http://www.neonalley.com/.

Blue Exorcist  


InuYasha The Final Act


Ric Bretschneider compass@fanboyplanet.com

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