Amazon Unbox on TiVo works great

Amazon Unbox on TiVo works great

Summary: Over the past week I've been trying out the new service from TiVo and Amazon that lets you buy and download TV shows and movies. In this review I relate my experiences with ordering, downloading, and viewing content with the new service. To demonstrate a PC is not required I even used a Wii to order one TV episode.

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TOPICS: Amazon
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Over the past week I've been trying out the new service from TiVo and Amazon that lets you buy and download TV shows and movies. Other than a couple of small complaints I've been very happy with the new feature.

The sign-up process was a little tedious. I started on TiVo's site and then was directed to Amazon.Impulsive viewers need not apply. After logging in there and it asked me for my TiVo userid and password. I don't know about you but I have so many userids and passwords it's hard to keep track of them all. Thank goodness for FireFox's password cache and the "forgot your password" link.

Once my TiVo and Amazon accounts were linked, watching something was easy. I simply got a list of the videos that are compatible with TiVo, and clicked on one. I wanted to watch this first episode of this season's "24" series, so I selected "24". Next, Amazon presented me with an episode list (which includes detailed descriptions), and selected the one I wanted.

The next screen allowed me to view a preview of the episode. The Amazon interface was quite snappy, and the resolution of the preview was higher than you might find on, say, YouTube. I spent a little time looking at previews of different episodes, but then came back to buy this one.

Amazon Unbox on TiVo

For some reason, Amazon required me to sign up for "1-Click" checkout. Normally I prefer the regular checkout mechanism, but this wasn't a big deal.

Please wait... 

Once I ordered the video, I encountered the main down-side of the service - you have to wait a while before you can see the show. It took 14 minutes for the TiVo to connect to its server and realize a video was waiting to download. Then the show took another 45 minutes or so to download all of its 832MB (using standard Time Warner cable RoadRunner service and wireless(B) router). The annoying part was that while it was downloading, it wouldn't let me watch the beginning of the show. Impulsive viewers need not apply.

One nice thing about the service is that it keeps track of your media library on the Amazon servers, and lets you re-download anything you own. This came in handy an hour later when I decided I wanted to watch the show on my other TiVo and had to re-download it there. Room-to-room transfers are disallowed.

Once the show was loaded onto the TiVo it appeared in the Now Playing list like everything else. Quality was excellent. Even on my big screen TV I couldn't see any encoding artifacts. While not strictly speaking high definition, it seemed to be approximately the same quality as a progressive DVD player. Considering I watch most of my TV shows on the lowest quality setting to pack as many as I can into the TiVo, I was pleasantly surprised.

Look Ma, no PC 

For my second test I wanted to see if I could download a movie without using a PC. I have a Wii hooked up to the TV so I started up its internet browser, logged onto Amazon, and bought a second show through there. The browser locked up afterwards (it is just a beta) but sure enough, one hour later I was able to start the show. So unlike, say, the Apple TV, you're not absolutely required to have a PC to watch something. Hopefully one day they'll hook up an interface through a Java-based TiVo HME program (under Music, Pictures, and More) so then even the browser will be optional.

The selection at Amazon looks good, and promises to only get larger. Most TV show episodes are $1.99, with movies at $3.99. For movies, however, you are only renting, not buying. The movie will expire 24 hours after you first press play, not after you download. So if something comes up before you get around to starting it, you're not penalized.

Amazon is running a promotion whereby if you sign up before the end of April they'll give you $15 to use towards movies and TV shows. That way you can try it without risk. But watch out: once you do, you just might get hooked.

Topic: Amazon

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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4 comments
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  • Have you read the Terms of Service?

    Good luck with such a crippled, blatantly anti-consumer product:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/09/15/amazon_unbox_to_cust.html
    tic swayback
    • Doesn't apply to TiVo

      Most of that applies to the "Unbox" software that you have to use to view the stuff on your PC. For example, the part about the software running continuously, checking for updates, etc.. There is no special software needed to view movies and TV on your TiVo.
      Ed Burnette
  • Pinnacle hiker

    I agree, my experience using a TIVO Series 3 DVR and a Tivo 802.11 (g) wireless
    connection to my new Apple Airport Extreme (n) was quite satisfactory. Unlike the
    Comcast On Demand digital feed there were no artifacts or other distortions
    (Unbox is streamed down digitally via the web avoiding the Comcast streaming
    service). The video filled the entire sceen and I almost mistook it for HD on My
    Sony 60 inch WEGA.
    Amazon took 3 minutes to start the the download direct to my TIVO-- a blue LED
    turns on when the download begins. So far its taken 40 minutes to download a
    100 minutes of Dr. Zhivago at 5 PM Central time. One can monitor download
    progress using the percent bar on "Your Media Library" page at Amazon. com.
    Also if you have more than one TIVO in the house you can use Amazon's popup
    TIVOI selector to direct your wife's and your kids movies' to what ever room they
    want. Whether or not TIVO will succeed in the video marketplace I do not know--
    they will have to bring the cost of their boxes down. But the fact that one can can
    order movies online at work in less than 5 minutes, have it dowload to your choice
    of Tivo/TVs at home that evening, and are able to watch a $2.99 rental for any of
    30 upcoming days (as long as you complete watching it in 24 hours after starting
    play). When TIVO upgrades to 802. 11 (n) wireless it will be an unbeatable service.
    David Werling
  • Even better in Media Center

    I have used amazon unbox to download movies and then stream them to my XBOX360. It works great and the picture quality is phenomenal. Even better, on media center, you can usually begin watching the movie 2-5 minutes after your download begins, no need to wait until the download is complete. Another nice feature is that it will download a copy of the video for viewing on a portable device.

    AppleTV will definitely have to play catchup in this arena. However they have some advantages that will help them close the gap quickly:
    - Not many people have adopted XBOX360 as a media center extender
    - There is a lot more content on iTunes than Amazon unbox. (e.g. there is only one show from ABC available on Amazon)
    rkennel