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Life in Japan - Streaming USA TV Shows

After conquering the challenge of watching USA Netflix in Japan (explained here: How to Watch Netflix in Japan), there unfortunately still remained a minor dent in my USA TV streaming desires--watching things like NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  No one keeps me in touch with my home country's news dramas like good ol' Brian Williams, so my mission was to get him streaming to my Tokyo living room.  While it is relatively easy to watch USA news and TV shows on a computer connected to the Internet, my goal here was to have it on my TV screen.

Approach #1 - A Custom Media Center PC
I used this for years during my time in Japan, and it worked quite well.  Kodi (formerly known as XBMC) is by far the best software I found for this, and using a bare-metal distribution like those listed below delivered a fast-booting seamless system.
- GeeXbox
- OpenElec
- Kodibuntu

Software-wise, Plex is another solid option and worth mentioning.  I tried both (free downloads), and chose Kodi because...
- Plex doesn't run on Linux.
- Plex requires 2 separate apps--the media center and the media server.
- I found the Kodi interface and performance superior.
- The Kodi plugin known as "Navi-X" is incredibly awesome.

I started off with a bare-metal Kodi distro, but later gave the Windows 8 platform a try.  Here's why:
- I wanted to check out the Netflix app.  As Netflix relies on Microsoft Silverlight (and its DRM), it's not available on free Linux distros (like Kodibuntu).
- Windows 8 seemed to handle sleeping and waking the PC better.
- I considered trying Skype on my media center PC.  This can be done on Linux, but it's not as easy and the software isn't updated very often.

While this solution did work well, I met a few challenges and disadvantages:
- Remote control was not easy.  First I used an old Xbox IR remote, then later graduated to a Logitech DiNovo Mini (I wanted to get rid of the IR line-of-sight requirement).  It worked OK, but it was a bit ridiculous having a mini-keyboard / touchpad interface to watch TV with.  I missed having a one-hand remote control.  The pricey Mac Mini platform comes the closest to achieving this easily.
- It got a little annoying maintaining a whole PC just for watching American TV streams (I affectionately called it my "Brian Williams PC").  Both Linux and Windows wanted updates and reboots.

Approach #2 - Streaming Device
Given the cost / performance advantages of affordable streaming boxes like the Apple TV and Roku 3, I researched the possibility of migrating to one and retiring my dedicated media PC setup.  I chose the Roku 3 over the Apple TV for a few reasons:
- Roku 3 has a non-IR remote, eliminating IR's annoying line-of-sight requirement.  Apple TV's remote is elegant, but IR-based.
- Roku 3's remote has a headphone jack for don't-wake-the-baby viewing.  I unsure whether I'll ever use this feature, but it's a bonus.
- Roku 3 has far more available channels.
- Roku 3 has a Plex channel, allowing me to watch my own media.

The only remaining challenge was finding one in Japan.  I searched a few online resources and did find it--at a suspiciously high mark-up over the USA street price.  The vendor obviously bought them in the USA, greedily re-selling to some Japanese sucker.

Instead, Amazon USA turned out to by my godsend.  They shipped my Roku 3 direct to Japan for a very reasonable price. 
Here's the link if you're interested:

And here's a quick summary of my Japan Roku 3 experience:

- It's shockingly small, like around the size of my palm.
- The overflowing channel selection is spectacular.  I even found an abundance of exercise video-related channels and now enjoy quick weekday-evening workouts.
- It's super low power, always-on, and keeps itself updated.
- The interface performance and video quality are very impressive, especially considering how diminutive it is.
- Fanless, so it's totally silent.

- I like the one-hand remote, but I wish the OK button was in the center of the + instead of below it.  I think they designed it that way because the remote can also be used to play games.
- I wish it had a restart menu option or button on it.  It occasionally gets choked-up and the only option is to pull the plug.  UPDATE: This feature has been added in a software update.  They listened to me!
- The timezone setup doesn't support Asian timezones, so the Roku clock shows PST.
- The Plex channel doesn't work as well as I had expected.  In short, it can't play DVD VOB files directly.

Overall I'm very happy with my Roku 3 purchase.  I'm not only streaming Brian Williams, but also a generous assortment of other Internet news and entertainment video content.  Stream on, fellow foreigner!

* Due to a scandal, Brian Williams is no longer the host of "Nightly News with Brian Williams," so I now catch my news using the built-in Roku news channel.
* Amazon is being a big baby about shipping electronics to Japan due to customs.  This really sucks.  Some available-in-Japan streaming alternatives come to mind:
Amazon Fire TV: Not surprisingly, Amazon Japan sells these
- Apple TV: The new model has an improved non-IR remote
Google Nexus Player: Google's Android-based player is a solid choice.

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  • Guest - Mark Jacobson

    I bought a roku streaming stick while in U.S. I can get Netflix but Amazon is not listed as one of the channels to stream. Any advice?

    from Shiomi, Koto, Tokyo 135-0052, Japan
  • Guest - Douglas

    Try one of the Android boxes with Kodi. I use a Google Nexus Player which also has its own app store. Target USA was blowing these out late last year for $30USD. Up here in Canada they were $70CAD but have since returned to $109CAD the same as a Roku 3. I tried the Plex Unsupported channels which are running off my server but they just can't compare to the Kodi repos. The GNP has become my goto device of choice for the past several months (I also have both versions of the Roku 3). That may change if they release another box but with the tanking Canadian dollar I can't see that happening. Using the boxes is easy once you get the hang of it. Very wife approved if you get what I mean. Netflix is also available in High Definition since its an approved box. Many other Android players are not. It also has the latest version of the Android operating system available for it (6.01), and will have continuing support for some time to come. I and my friends are very happy for your purchases...

    from Canada
  • Guest - Bill Keese

    Hmm, unfortunately Amazon US won't ship electronics to Japan anymore. :-( Due to customs apparently.

  • Guest - Mondaiji

    Guest - Bill Keese

    Thanks for letting me know. I posted updates to the article.

  • Guest - Digi

    Mondaijin, you cannot use a Japanese Paypal account, as it registers that you are living in Japan. You cannot set up a US paypal account without US credit either. So, that is the issue.

  • Guest - Digi

    All this works only if you have a US Credit card. If you input your Japanese Credit Card, then it assumes that you are in Japan. I can't find a way around this. I can still use some apps, using my DNS router, but some just dont work.

  • Guest - Sam

    Hello were you able to use some of the cable/dish subscription apps like A&E or ESPN apps on Roku? I am wondering if I can watch live ESPN TV on the Roku 3 before purchase.

  • Guest - Matt

    having trouble getting around NTTs router settings for my roku3 - any advice?

  • Guest - Matt

    Ug, I hate the ISP-provided routers. Do you have to use theirs? Can you use your own?

  • Guest - Heather

    I am moving to Japan in a few months and just assumed my Netfix and Hulu would work. I was very saddened when I started reading both are blocked in Japan, as that is how I watch all TV. I gave up cable for my Roku. Love it. Does Netflix stream through the Roku in Japan or did you find a channel on Roku to watch your show?

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