On Demand? Amazon Unbox

Jun 24 2007

Welcome to last year folks! While I debate my HTPC build, I thought I would take a look at the various online content delivery services available to see if they have progressed at all over the last year or so. Even though online delivery of video is relatively new, I had hoped it would as simple as walking into a store and renting a video from Blockbuster or even using Netflix. Before I delve into it, my first attempt at renting a movie online was made with the services through Vista MCE (that is a whole other RANT for later, what a huge disappointment!!!)

Resisting all urges to rant, lets continue on to Amazon Unbox. My goal was to rent the X-men series so I could watch them over the weekend. Is that too much to ask for a fledgling video service? I wouldn't think so, after all it was a pretty popular trio of movies. Armed with this task in mind I headed on over to Unbox to get started. Click the readmore button to read more on my Online Video Rental Saga. 



Really my first criteria for me to become an avid Unbox user was the selection of videos available for rent. I have no interest purchasing 90% of the videos I watch. As I mentioned earlier, I want to catch up on X-men and a few other movie series I have missed since becoming a father. The first goal in mind was X-Men 2 and X-Men 3. X-Men 2 was available for rental and out of the corner of my eye I saw X-men 3 there as well. Well I forgot to see if it was available for rental as well. As you can guess, it was only available for purchase. Why? I have no idea but it sure did tick me off. I guess Blockbuster will get my next hard earned dollars.

Second up, I wanted to watch the Underworld series. Kate Beckinsale in leather - Can you really go wrong? Well, yah.. because it wasn't available for rent or download. Argh. OK, you can sense my frustration here. Unbox just isn't a place for watching 2 to 5 year old movies. I searched around for a few others that I would be interested in and had about a 50% success rate. I suppose depending on your interest you could come out a little ahead. 

They do have most of the new hit releases they you would expect to find. I had no problems finding Casino Royale and The Departed for rental. Heck, if you hold out they may even have a 99 cent rental sale.

The website is typical Amazon fare. This is by no means a bad thing, I certainly don't have problems navigating the sight. However, sometimes you can get lost as Amazon tries to go a bit to far in integrating it with their other services. I can appreciate the commercial aspect of that, but I don't want to do a search and have it return results of products I can buy. My only other complaint is that when you search, you can't sort by rentals or purchase. In my opinion, you should NOT have to worry about this kind of thing. A title should be available for rent or purchase from day one. Once again, content providers getting you by the short and curlies. I would much prefer a simple rent or purchase link beside each search result. 


Unbox Homepage
Unbox Search


If you find something you are interested in, press download and you will be taken to the purchase page. Once you have set up you account, the rental process is a breeze. Simply, hit the rent now with 1-Click and choose which PC to send it to. You can set up multiple PCs, HOWEVER, you can only send rentals to one PC. It cost me $3.00 to find that gem out :)

Amazon has a feature called remote load. Simply pick the PC which you want to send it to and you are good to go. If you want to get that movie downloading while you are work you can login to Amazon.com and make it  happen.  

Once you download the One Box Video Player and "register the player", it will find the video you prompted for download. It takes between 5-15 minutes before the player is ready to play your video. The download speed averaged 1200 to 1500 Kbps. That isn't bad but it certainly didn't take advantage of my 8 Mbps cable connection. **Update** A couple of hours prior to publishing, I downloaded another movie at 7800 Kbps. Like anything, it depends on server load.The file is .WMV and can be played in Windows Media Player and of course MCE. While a 2' UI is always easier to navigate, in order to advance the Media Center platform Microsoft needs to beg Amazon to write a plugin. Given the current state of MCE online delivery, this is a must.


Unbox Player Main Screen
Unbox Player

Here is a quote from Amazon's FAQ regarding its DRM.

What is the difference between renting and purchasing Unbox videos?

When you choose to rent an Amazon Unbox video, your access to view the file is limited by the rental license agreement in our Unbox Video: Terms of Use. After you rent and download an Amazon Unbox Video to a compatible computer or TiVo DVR, you will have a limited period of time in which to begin viewing it. That period is 30 days unless otherwise specified on the product detail page for the Unbox Video rental. After you begin playing an Amazon Unbox Video, you will have 24 hours to complete viewing it. After these expiration times, the Amazon Unbox Video will automatically be deleted from your computer or TiVo DVR. Rented Unbox videos are not available for re-download from Your Media Library.

If you purchase Amazon Unbox Video, your rights to view the file do not expire, except as provided in our Unbox Video: Terms of Use. Purchased Unbox videos are generally available for redownload from Your Media Library and can be downloaded on up to 2 (two) different personal computers or TiVo DVRs and can be transferred to up to 2 (two) portable devices at any one time.

Please note that due to licensing restrictions certain new release movies are unavailable for redownload for an unspecified period of time starting 90 days after their release date. While these movies can be viewed as often as you like during this window, they cannot be redownloaded from Your Media Library.

That really isn't too bad. At least they give you a method to physically back up your purchase. Of course, you are stuck watching it on one or two computers.

Is Unbox ready to replace Blockbuster or Netflix? No. Simply because every movie in their library is not available for rent. Is it ready to replace my trip down to Target to buy a movie? No, I don't want my movies tied to a particular computer. Maybe I will check in another few months to see how their library is progressing. Next stop, Netflix.

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