Streaming services for varied viewing habits

Streaming apps are fast becoming an alternative to TV as junkies can get their shows and movie fix online.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Internet video streaming is fast becoming an alternative source of television viewing, especially in Singapore with its high Internet penetration rate.

Local Internet service provider (ISP) MyRepublic says that online video streaming, including YouTube content, accounts for almost 60 per cent of its current total Web traffic. Similarly, more than half of the Internet traffic on ISP ViewQwest's broadband network is from users accessing Netflix content.

Almost half the Internet traffic in the Asia-Pacific region - 47 per cent - is now driven by video and music streaming, according to a report by US research firm Sandvine earlier this month.

In the United States, the number is even higher, at 68.9 per cent in May, with Netflix alone making up 36.5 per cent of all downstream Internet traffic there.

With US content streaming giant Netflix due to hit Singapore next year, although in a "curated" form where certain shows might be censored or unavailable, the expectation is that more such services may follow it into the market.

The big names of online streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video, carry mainly American TV series and Hollywood movies. However, they may not be everyone's cup of tea in Singapore.

The good news is that there is a growing list of websites and apps out there that cater to the wide variety of viewing habits Singaporeans have, be it Hong Kong movies, Korean dramas, Bollywood productions or Japanese anime.

These services boast an impressive range of titles for Asian content. The Straits Times looks at five such services which offer the best and most varied content in their areas.

Crunchyroll is a favourite of anime fans, with over 25,000 episodes of content. For ardent viewers of Cantonese Hong Kong dramas and serials, the official stream of TVB gives them their favourite shows anytime. Korean drama addicts will appreciate DramaFever, with its library of over 15,000 episodes, while lovers of Chinese flicks will flock to PPTV.

For sheer variety, Viki contains Bollywood shows and even shows from the Philippines and Thailand.

These services can be accessed through a Web browser or as apps on mobile devices, tablets or even consoles. Video streaming sites often offer monthly memberships with perks like ad-free viewing or high-quality streams. Most accept international credit cards or PayPal.

Most of these services require a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN service connects one's Internet network to services that are unavailable due to geographic distance. It links the connection coming from your computer or streaming devices to the VPN server, before redirecting it to its final location, such as Netflix. Netflix will think the connection originates from where the VPN server is set to, and will not block access to a local user.

But VPN may not be universal. For instance, one service may provide access to US servers and not to China. So a user who wants to access China streaming services like PPTV must subscribe to a VPN that lets them do so.

The Media Development Authority has said VPN use is "legitimate", and various methods to obtain the service have sprung up over the years. ISPs ViewQwest and MyRepublic offer VPN services built into their Internet services.

There are also several third-party VPN services which customers can pay for on the Internet, which normally come in the form of browser extensions or apps. Prices range from about $7 to $12 per month.

Those who might not want to fiddle with these online VPN services can get a VPN set-top box such as the one offered by ViewQwest. The device can be plugged into a modem offered by any ISP, including those from M1, StarHub and Singtel, for a fuss-free way to gain immediate VPN access.

This article was first published on September 30, 2015.
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