Amazon Unbox on TiVo = Love + Hate
There are three major players about to vie for a spot in your living room to download videos: Xbox 360, AppleTV, and Amazon Unbox on your TiVo. I have an Xbox 360, a TiVo Series 3, and my AppleTV should be here “any day now” (right Apple?). Saying that I’m thrilled at the ability to order movies from my recliner is an understatement. 🙂
Some of you will howl that Netflix and BitTorrent and other things should fall into this category too. I say “Nay!”. I’ve built and re-built so-called Media Center PCs before and I’m sick of it. I don’t want a PC in my gear stack, I just want a device that does one thing well: A giant video store in the sky.
So, how does Amazon Unbox stack up? Let me break it down:
- Amazon lets you rent OR buy your movies. This is super important, and something Apple is blowing, big time. How many movies that you see do you really want to own? If they’re not Disney (if you have kids), or Indiana Jones or something, you probably want to watch it once. So you want to rent. But there are still those few movies you want to watch over and over and over.. so you want to buy. Give consumers the choice! We’re smart – we’ll figure it out! This is a big win for Amazon.
- Amazon keeps your purchases “in the sky.” This is huge! If I run out of room on my TiVo and delete something that I later want to watch, I’m not out of luck. Amazon will happily re-download it to my TiVo and I’m all set. Apple loses out on this one too – I’ve lost songs I’ve bought from iTunes and had to re-buy. That sucks… they have my purchase history, why can’t they give me another copy?
- 1-Click rocks. Ok, the patent thing was stupid and silly, but nonetheless, being able to click “Buy Now” and have the video almost instantly appear on my TiVo really really rocks. It downloads, for me, 2X realtime (1 hour TV = 30 min download), and I can watch it before it’s finished. Xbox 360 sucks here – you have to wait for it to finish a big chunk first, and it’s terribly slow.
- The selection isn’t that great, yet. I’ve bought a bunch of TV shows, but some of them I really wanted, like The Sopranos or Lost, just aren’t there.
- Browsing for stuff is confusing. I browsed through the TiVo listings and found movies that I couldn’t actually get for my TiVo. Want to watch Sum of All Fears, for example? Tough, it’s listed in the TiVo section but only available on Windows PCs. Ugh.
- They have rentals only for movies. Um, hello? How many times do I really want to watch an episode of 24? Let me rent those, as well. I’ll happily buy every episode of the Simpsons, but I want to rent 24. Gimme the option.
- No HD. Xbox 360 already offers 720p downloads. I’d gladly pay more for HD versions of my favorite movies and TV episodes. I already do with HD-DVDs, afterall.
- Wish I could browse Amazon Unbox from my TiVo. I’m not smart enough to know how this could be done well, but maybe using Amazon recommendations + TiVo thumbs up/down, it could get smart about what to offer me? My wife doesn’t want to open a web browser to buy her movies, she wants to use her remote.
- There’s something terribly wrong with the video encoding. Anytime there’s a lot of horizontal movement (especially camera pans), the video gets all jittery and ghosty. Plus the interlaced picture structure is super-visible. I’ve done enough video editing and encoding that I’m gonna make a guess here: they inverted the interlaced frames and have encoded it wrong. For most scenes it’s tolerable (but not good!), but for some, it’s downright awful. I’m hoping this is a simple oversight and will get fixed, but of the 6 or so shows I’ve watched so far, they all had this problem.
All-in-all, I think it’s off to a good start. Certainly competitive, and I’m certainly going to use it more than the Xbox 360’s download stuff, which was very disappointing. I’m glad there are big competitors duking it out – that means you and I win. 🙂
I’m happy to pay the content holders a reasonable price to download this stuff in a convenient way. It’s no secret that every TV show and DVD is available for free via bittorrent, but the same can be said about music, and I love shopping at iTunes. The people who make this stuff do deserve to get paid, and I’m happy to help. I wish they wouldn’t muck it up with DRM so that I could use it more easily, but hey, that’s life.
Word to the wise: I’d buy *MORE* of this stuff if it were DRM free.