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SIX months after Netflix made its long-awaited debut here, long-time subscriber Lim Yeong Chun decided to cancel his account.
Having used a DNS (Domain Name System) service to sign up for Netflix's wide range of streaming content since January 2015, the co-founder of local geek news site, Geek Culture, did not like the fact that Netflix was blocking his access to US content, and redirecting him to the much smaller library available to local subscribers.
Instead, he took his US$8.99 a month Netflix subscription, and considered the other streaming options available in the market.
Eventually, he signed up for the US$99 Amazon Prime annual plan.
On top of access to Amazon's Instant Video streaming service, which offers shows such as The Man In The High Castle, The Americans, Orphan Black and Bosch, it also gives him offers at the Amazon online store, as well as the Prime Music streaming service.
"Amazon isn't just for video streaming. I get 20 per cent off Amazon pre-orders, and I just placed a pre-order of The Last Guardian Collector's Edition video game. The set is huge and I was only charged US$4.99 for shipping to Singapore. What's not to love?" said the 38-year-old.
While access to US-only streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video were previously open only to those who knew how to circumvent geographical locks set in place by the American providers, there are now more of such streaming services available locally, providing on-demand access to TV shows and movies from the US, the UK, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
Fans of Asian drama and variety shows can also opt for DramaFever and Viki. Anime lovers can depend on Crunchyroll. Some of these services are geo blocked and require a subscription fee, or are free to use but play fixed ads.
Following the global rollout of Netflix in January, Hong Kong based PCCW has launched its premium Viu service here, allowing subscribers to download Japanese and South Korean dramas for offline viewing.
Its popularity was boosted in March, with the debut of the hit Korean series, Descendants Of The Sun.
Earlier this week, Taiwan-based Catchplay, which previously launched its movie-only streaming service with StarHub, released a standalone service for the general public.
Both these services are available for a flat monthly subscription.
Locally, StarHub has its StarHub Go streaming services, powered in part by Catchplay, and last month, Singtel launched its Cast streaming services, powered in part by Viu.
Instead of charging a flat fee, both services by the two telcos follow the cable TV subscription model of making users pay more for packets of bundled content.
StarHub offers a sports and an entertainment package for S$9.90 a month each. Cast has a Korean, Asian and Kids pack, available for S$6.90 a month each, or S$4.90 each under a 12-month contract.
While many of these services can be viewed on smartphones and tablets, some, such as Netflix, offer 4K streaming on larger, ultra high definition enabled television sets as well.
Below are a few content streaming services worth subscribing to.
Viu and Singtel Cast
Viu Premium: S$6.98/month
With One-Year Contract
Without data: S$4.90/month per pack
With 1GB of data: S$7.90 per pack
Without Data: S$6.90/month per pack
With 1GB data: S$9.90 per pack
PROS: Viu specialises in South Korean drama and variety shows, and the free tier grants access to a selection of programming. It also forms the backbone of Singtel's Cast service, which offers three more packs of content. Singtel subscribers can also sign up for 1GB of additional mobile data a month together with each pack, at just S$3 more.
CONS: Cast only offers four content packs at the moment. While there are complete episodes for popular TV dramas, Cast only streams recent episodes from long running variety programmes.
Fans of Asian programming have very few streaming options, and Viu is one of them. If you are a fan of Korean programmes, you might want to sign up for Viu through Cast, as Viu is offered as a standalone pack, and there is a S$2 a month savings if you sign up for a year.
Viu specialises in Korean dramas that are available from eight hours after the Korean broadcast. If you sign up for Viu through Cast, the Cast app opens up the Viu app for Viu content.
While Viu offers unlimited monthly access, the individual purchase of the other three content packets via Cast looks to be a holdover from the traditional cable programming days.
The good thing about the Cast app is that it allows users to download any show from the remaining packets for offline viewing, such as on the daily commute to work or school.
Because the account is tied to the user's Singtel mobile number, it only allows for one active stream.
Users have the option to create a user ID and password, to access the account on another device, such as a tablet, that does not have a SIM card slot, so that their phone remain available for calls and messages.
Content from the app can be mirrored on a compatible TV, but it cannot be cast to just any smart TV either.
Even though this is a Singtel app aimed at mobile devices, the operator is making users pay for data use as well. On the other hand, StarHub offers free data for its StarHub Go streaming service for StarHub mobile customers.
FEES: S$10.98 (standard definition, one stream); S$13.98 (high definition, two streams); S$16.98 (ultra high definition or UHD, four streams).
PROS: Strong focus on US movies and TV shows. Offers 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, as well as Netflix orignal programming, such as Stranger Things, Daredevil and Orange Is The New Black.
CONS: Due to rights issues, the local library is different from the US one. While the local library has titles not available in the US, and vice versa, the overall number of titles available locally is much smaller.
Couch potatos rejoiced when Netflix announced in January that it was launching in 130 new countries around the world. Prices for the local version matched that in the US, but the joy turned sour soon after.
Local subscribers accessing the the US version via their VPN or DNS service realised that the local version only contained a small fraction of the titles found in the US. A few weeks later, Netflix started to cull the use of VPN and DNS services, and prohibited access to the US servers.
While the local version has content, such as Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and the Indiana Jones movies, not found in the US version, others, such as Netflix's own Voltron animated series, is not available here.
The good news though is that Netflix is still the most robust service for Western content, with a great mix of movies, TV shows and original content.
It is also one of the few ways that local users can get ultra high definition (UHD) 4K and high dynamic range content on their brand new smart TVs.
The service is smart enough to detect if users are streaming shows on their phones, tablets, computers and television sets, and will stream the highest possible resolution available. This is also dependent on the subscription plan. The basic plan allows for one standard definition stream, while the high definition plan allows for two concurrent stream. The UHD allows for four.
This means that a family or a group of friends on a UHD plan can share a subscription, and watch four different shows on four devices at the same time. At S$16.98 for the UHD plan, it comes out to less than S$4.25 per person a month.
Catchplay and StarHub Go
Movie Fans: Free tier. Includes one free movie from a curated selection each month. Additional movies can be rented for S$3.50 each, with newer releases priced at S$6.
Movie Lovers: S$14.90/month for unlimited views from the library, including one single movie rental.
Single rental titles from Catchplay are available from $3.
Go Select and Go Sports content packs: S$9.90/month each
Prime Football Pass: S$19.90 for 30 days
For StarHub TV subscribers:
Watch the channels you have subscribed to on StarHub TV on devices at no extra cost.
PROS: Catchplay offers a strong focus on US movies, with affordable rental rates for digital content. If you are a StarHub TV user, you can catch the shows you have subscribed to on the go. There are also no data streaming charges for StarHub Mobile Customers using StarHub Go.
CONS: Movie rentals must be viewed within a limited time window. Catchplay's focus is on US movies, so there are no US TV shows available. Like their cable TV offerings, StarHub Go's packs are also individually priced.
Catchplay offers a large library of movies that can be viewed on its paid tier, but aside from a handful of blockbusters such as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, big name titles such as Fast & Furious 6 and The Dark Knight Rises are only available via an additional rental fee. To its credit, titles available for rent include recent movies such as The Boss, Everest, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Conjuring.
StarHub Go acts as a complementary service to its StarHub TV service, for subscribers to watch shows on the go. This means that if you want to catch HBO or TVB dramas on the MRT ride to work, you would first need to be a StarHub TV subscriber and pay for those channels.
While the Go Select pack offers a mix of variety and TV shows, it looks more like a preview of what's available on StarHub TV, to entice folks to sign up.
Amazon Instant Video
FEES: US$8.99/month for Prime Instant Video only; US$10.99/month for Amazon Prime, which includes Prime Instant Video; US$99/year for Amazon Prime, which includes Prime Instant Video.
PROS: Strong focus on US movies and TV shows, including Amazon original content such as Golden Globe winning dramedy Mozart In The Jungle, The Man In The High Castle and Bosch.
CONS: The service has not been officially launched here, so users need to subscribe to a DNS or VPN service, to access the US streaming service. Most shows on the service are in standard or high definition, and users have to pay extra to view 4K content.
Amazon Instant Video serves as a great complementary service to Netflix's own, as both offer exclusive titles not found on the other.
While Netflix in the US might have a stronger library, Amazon Instant Video is more than a match for Netflix Singapore.
The downer is that folks here need a separate VPN or DNS service, to circumvent the geo lock put in placed by Amazon.
Unlike Netflix, Amazon has not blocked access to its US streaming service here.
With a little know-how, users can even load the Amazon Instant Video app on select brands of smart TVs in the market, so the user experience between the two is barely noticeable.
But if you have an ultra high definition television and want to watch movies and shows in 4K glory, you might have to pay more as Amazon charges a separate fee for 4K content, even if the title is available for Prime members.
This might make sense for the one-off movie, but for TV shows such as The Blacklist, the 4K version is available in Netflix, but Amazon Prime users need to top-up US$54.99.
Each Amazon account allows for two simultaneous streams. Select Prime titles also allow users to download content, for offline viewing.