This past week I had my first opportunity to sample Amazon and TiVo’s newest service: Amazon Unbox. The concept behind it is pretty simple. Amazon offers a number of movies that can be either bought or rented from them which can then be directly downloaded to one’s TiVo (or computer). 

It was easy enough to purchase a movie, in this case Blood Diamond. The purchase occurs much like any other on Amazon. Rather than having a cart and having to checkout though, there is a “Rent now with 1-click” (or “Buy now with 1-click” button depending on which you’re doing) button. There is also a drop-down menu to choose where you’d like the movie to be downloaded, listing any TiVo boxes (series 2 or 3) that one has added to Amazon as well as the chance to download to a PC. It should be noted that for the service to work with TiVo, the TiVo boxes must be connected via broadband, not dialup. 

Once purchased from Amazon, Blood Diamond began downloading to my TiVo almost 30 minutes later (after speaking to customer service, I was told it should have started about 15 or 20 minutes after the purchase was made). The two-hour 23 minute movie downloaded fully in around 70 minutes (making the total time from purchase to completed download 100 minutes). Movies downloaded to a computer via this service can begin playing before the entire film is on the local machine, but downloading to a TiVo requires that the entire file transfer be complete prior to beginning viewing.

The sound and video quality of the movie were outstanding, far superior to digital cable and everything I have ever watched on my TiVo. I noticed no discernible difference between the video quality of this movie off of my TiVo and watching a DVD. 

At $14.99 for the movie, the price of the feature did come in lower than the DVD, but without any of the special features that accompany DVD releases. Additionally, it is not portable like a DVD. The service does allow purchased movies to be located on up to two TiVos or two computers at the same time (one TiVo and one computer is acceptable) and be transferred onto two portable devices as well (but will not work on iPods or Macs). Should one choose, one need not download it to any device, it will live on at Amazon in a media library and be available for future download, or re-download should you want to delete it from your TiVo and get it again later (there are some restrictions on re-download for new releases).

Rentals have more stringent viewing requirements. Rentals can only be downloaded to one computer or one TiVo and cannot be transferred to any portable devices. Once the download of a rental has completed, the purchaser has 30 days to begin viewing it. After viewing has begun, the rental expires within 24 hours. 

While I was disappointed with the length of time that the download took to begin, and wish I could begin viewing the program before the download was complete, every other part of this experience was fantastic. The download was fast, and the audio and video quality superb.

That being said, I cannot imagine purchasing many more videos this way as they are not burnable and then watchable on a DVD player (should you download to a computer the filed can be burned to a DVD, but will not play on a DVD player). Renting seems far more likely for me, though the notion that I won’t be able to start watching immediately is a downside. “On demand” movie purchases from cable companies are viewable immediately, but tend to cost more than Amazon’s $3.99 for many new releases. It would also be far more easy to use the service if purchase and rental were available from the same product page on Amazon rather than having one page for purchasing a download and one for renting it. 

In the future, if I know earlier in the day that I’m going to want to watch movie X, Y, or Z that night, this is absolutely a product I’d use in the future. At $3.99 a rental, even if I start watching and then don’t complete the movie within 24 hours, I can re-rent it and the combined total of both those rentals will only then equal a trip to Blockbuster. 

Plus, I won’t have to deal with DVDs that have been scratched beyond all recognition.