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March 26th, 2007

Amazon Unbox on TiVo

Back when I first bought TiVo eight years ago I certainly never thought there’d be a day when I’d be able to download movies and TV shows onto it via the internet. But that day is here.

A couple of weeks ago, TiVo announced after lots of speculation that Amazon Unbox would be providing downloadable movies, TV shows, and assorted stuff to all “modern” TiVo users. Here’s how it worked for me. I logged on to Amazon’s Unbox site which in turn asked me to log in to my TiVo account. I then hooked up the two and Amazon Unbox “saw” my TiVo. That’s all there was to the setup.

Unbox not only offers purchases but rentals as well and, to me, that’s its biggest advantage. A rental costs $2.99-$3.99 (Blockbuster here is $4.29 for 2 days or 1 week; RedBox is $1 per day). You can store the rental on TiVo for up to 30 days but, once you start watching you have 24 hours to finish. These are the DRM restrictions, which I’ll touch on again shortly.

We decided to try it out this past weekend. When I first hooked up TiVo and Unbox I noticed that Borat was available for rental so I went looking for that. And… what? I can only purchase it for $15? That’s right! It wasn’t “out of stock”, but simply no longer available for rental. Very very lame. Instead we went for Little Miss Sunshine, $3.99. I checked out on Amazon as if it was any other purchase on Amazon.

About 15 minutes after checking out, the movie started downloading on TiVo all on its own. The movie was 101 minutes per IMDb, and it took perhaps half that time to download on our allegedly 3Mbps AT&T DSL connection. We left for a while and didn’t just sit there and watch it download.

When we were ready to watch, though, it was just like anything else on TiVo. Once we clicked “play” we got a friendly rental warning (WATCH IN 24 HOURS OR DIE) and that was that. It was widescreen, too – nice touch. And after the film, my wife asked if we could save the movie to VCR, as one can with any other TiVo program. The answer is… surprisingly, yes! You can do this. Of course I wouldn’t do this with a rental.

A fast aside about the DRM: yes, it sucks. But when looking at this as a rental and nothing more it works pretty well. I think I’d feel a little more cheated on the (slightly more liberal) restrictions if I out and out bought a movie or TV show. I have no intentions of keeping the rentals permanently, nor do I want to hack my TiVo box, nor do I want to crack the DRM. It didn’t blow up our TiVo, either.

All that said, TiVo was a movie rental box waiting to happen. Unbox offers a nice, convenient option with a slightly limited selection and competitive pricing. If you’re not doing Netflix and still rent regularly, and have a TiVo obviously, it’s a very good option for renting. For purchasing, I’d still buy a used DVD elsewhere.

Posted in Technology

Ryan March 26, 2007, 6:46 pm

That’s pretty nice.

Question: can you start watching the movie while it’s still downloading?

Adam March 27, 2007, 3:08 am

I had all sorts of trouble with mine, but perhaps they got through those problems after the first few days. First, I tried to download a rental – My Super Exgirlfriend. I started the download from work in the AM thinking that it would be done by the time I got home that evening. I was wrong. When I went to my Amazon Media Library (where they store your Unbox info), it showed the movie had stopped downloading at 94%. I clicked download again and it seemed to start downloading to my TiVo.

When I went to bed I had 30 minutes or so before the download was supposed to be done. I woke up in the morning to find the movie gone from my TiVo. I later went back to Amazon and it clicked download for a third time and that did the trick.

Those problems aside, I agree that it has a lot of potential. But personally I would love to pay $10 a month for 5 movie rentals or 10 TV show rentals. That would allow me to cut my Netflix subscription way back. (Obviously, the selection isn’t up to Netflix’s yet so I wouldn’t totally cut it.) Until then I think the price is just a little too expensive for what you get.

By the way, play around with Amazon’s YourMediaLibrary. It’s not just a place to house all of your Unbox purchases. It also automatically keeps track of all of your media (music, software, DVDs) purchases. Best of all you can add any media – even if you didn’t get it from Amazon. It makes a great online DVD collection app.

Paul March 27, 2007, 12:28 pm

Ryan: yes, you can watch while it’s downloading for sure.

Paul December 2, 2007, 1:51 pm

Huh. It seems that TiVo has removed the “watch while you download” ability from Unbox – swell. We found this out the hard way the other night when we were downloading a movie and TiVo politely told us to wait until it was done downloading.

A two-hour movie takes a while to download so, our plan for the night was shot. Thanks for the downgrade, TiVo!

Dave Walls December 3, 2007, 4:12 am

The last few times we’ve tried Amazon Unbox, we’ve had mixed results. The last time we tried ordering a movie, it never arrived. After a few hours, we called Unbox technical support. We were told in was “in queue”, and it shoud start. 2 days later, the movie still hadn’t come. We were refunded the purchase price.

This was back in August I believe. Just last week, I came home from a business trip, and found the movie on our Tivo. Of course, we’ve already seen it on DVD a few times now.

It should be noted we rented an episode of Law and Order SVU this past week, and it worked just fine.

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