No alarms and no surprises, please.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Amazon Unbox + TiVo = Merely OK.

A while ago, I put up a post talking about Tivo and Amazon's new partnership. It's a real, live offering now. They offered a 15 dollar credit for Amazon Unbox, and I quickly jumped on the freebie, so I could test the service out.

The service comes in two flavors, Rent or Buy. Figuring that the difference between the two was mostly the lifetime of the downloaded file (30 days for "RENT" and indefinitely for "BUY")I was most interested in the "BUY" option. So I cashed in my 15 bucks on downloading "Babel" (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett). I did this from work. I logged into Amazon, clicked on "Amazon Unbox" and then selected Amazon+TiVo. This required me to enter the email address I had registered at which is used for online scheduling, etc. Then, I had 15 bucks of virtual cash burning a hole in my pocket. I clicked on "buy" from the Babel page ($14.99) and selected one of my two TiVo's to download it to (you name them on - Mine are named "bedroom" and "living room"). I chose the Bedroom TiVo because it has a DVD burner and I wanted to see it TiVo was slick enough to allow me to burn the flick to DVD. And voila! The file begins downloading. I went back to work. One feature of note is that I haven't just bought the downloaded file, but the right to download it again from Amazon. So, when I whack it from my TiVo to reclaim space, I can download it again.

When I got home, I checked my bedroom TiVo and there it was: A TiVo "folder" called Amazon Unbox and in it was Babel. Can't burn it to DVD. Bummer, but maybe that's coming with a software update, right? Still, it's Strike One. I check out the quality and it's excellent, both in terms of video and audio.

Later that night, I sit down on my couch to watch the movie. My two TiVo's are wirelessly connected through my home network which enables one of the coolest TiVo features - Video Sharing. I can watch a program on TiVo A that was recorded on TiVo B. Of course, this should work for Amazon Unbox programs. Argh. Strike Two. I "bought" this, right? I can't transfer it from one box to another? Ack.

I log back into Amazon and find, upon reading some small print, that each download is dedicated to being on just one box at a time, and only 2 "PCs" and two "Mobile Devices" (read:not an iPod). You can change which PCs can play your media. Each TiVo box counts as a PC. And I am allowed to "backup my movie to DVD". Reading even smaller print teaches me that means backing up the amazon file to DVDRom, not creating a DVD playable in normal DVD players. Annoying.

I then decide that I'll just download it to my Living Room DVR and watch it from there. I click download and sure enough, the next time I check my DVR list there it is. I click on the Amazon Unbox folder and try and watch the movie. No go. Message comes on screen "You must wait until transfer has completed". Strike Three. You see, the movie file is 2+ GB in size and that's just way too long to wait (it later turns out that it took 2hrs, so I'd have to watch a movie while waiting to watch a movie).

This is something that TiVo needs to fix. When transferring programs from DVR to DVR or PC to DVR, I can watch almost immediately. With Cable On Demand, you can watch almost immediately. Having to wait until the entire program downloads is just too long. And the mere fact that the download took about the same time as the movie makes it self-evident that you should be able to watch as you download. Lame.

It's official "Buying" is useless. And the price is not low enough to give up the flexibility and control you have with an actual DVD. Perhaps when we all have Fiber Optic lines running to our houses, but not now.

Renting? Renting is better. The cost is lower (a still too-high $3.99) and the length of the rental is 30 days. If they adopted the Netflix subscription model, it might even be more attractive. As it is, given the ability to begin the download from any internet location, you could consider it like Netflix without the mailbox. No need to get the movie or send it back. I personally think that a fairer cost would be 1.99

The really compelling bit about all this was that this is just software. All of a sudden, one day, I could download a movie from Amazon and watch it on my TV. That's pretty cool. The "buy" implementation is terrible. It just doesn't offer much value. The "rent" implementation is much more interesting, but I still think that the price is a bit high. It has some benefits over traditional renting (selection and no store or mailbox to visit) but two hours to move it from one place to another? That's hardly "on demand" and even less is it this (from the TiVo website):

With the click of your mouse, they can be re-downloaded back to your TiVo box and ready to watch whenever the mood strikes.

Sure, if you know the mood will strike two hours from now.