The New York Times reports that Amazon is launching the service for a limited number of customers today, with a wider release scheduled for later this summer. The Amazon Unbox web page has a little button asking for volunteers for a new beta program, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that beta=video on demand.
According to the article, videos will be available for rental or purchase. And once you've purchased a video, you'll be able to watch it from any computer. No software installation necessary. In other words, it sounds like the new service is browser-based.
On the one hand, this means Amazon Video on Demand will be compatible with Windows and Mac machines (I'm not going to hold my breath for Linux support), which is great. But it's also nice to be able to save a copy of a movie on your own computer for archiving. What happens if Amazon kills the service in two years. Does that mean you lose your online video library which you've paid for? I'm hoping that Amazon still gives users the option of downloading movies, even if not everyone will need to use that option.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says in a few weeks the company will launch a streaming video service. How's that different from Amazon Unbox? When you purchase or rent a movie from Amazon Unbox, the video is downloaded to your computer. While you can start watching before the download is complete, streaming video services like Hulu and Netflix allow you to start watching videos immediately.
There's one other major problem with Amazon Unbox: The video player and download client only work with Windows XP and Vista. There's no way to purchase videos from the site if you're a Linux or Mac user. It's not 100% clear whether the new streaming video service will be cross-platform. But we can certainly hope, can't we?
The streaming video service will be pay-per-view. It doesn't sound like there will be any kind of subscription option. And that's about all we know so far.
As I've mentioned a few times, I don't have cable or satellite. I have a computer with an HDTV tuner and a digital antenna sitting on top of our TV cabinet. I get crystal clear reception on every available network except for CBS and PBS, and I can pick those up with old fashioned bunny ears. And while I could supplement my free TV buy purchasing the cable-only shows I really want to see from iTunes or Amazon Unbox, Hulu has been saving me the trouble by providing new BattleStar Galactica episodes within a day or two of their original air date. So while most fans have been tuning into Sci Fi for their BSG fix on Friday nights, I've just fired up the old web browser on Saturday mornings.
And then this weekend things went horribly wrong. There was no new episode on Saturday morning. Or evening. Or Sunday. Today I checked out the Battlestar Galactica page on Hulu, and I found a note showing the air dates and "available on Hulu" dates. Apparently new episodes will not be made available online exactly one week after their original air date. Well, most episodes. If you look closely, you'll see that this past week's episode is scheduled to be online in about a thousand years. But I'm hoping that's just a typo because I'm not really sure I can wait that long.
Honestly, a one week delay isn't unreasonable. It makes sense that Sci Fi would want to encourage people to watch on television rather than their computers. I'm pretty sure they're still making more money from TV advertisements than web-based ads. And the latest episode is already available from Amazon Unbox for $1.99. So I either have to adjust my expectations and avoid spoilers for a week, or shell out some money. Seems fair enough.
Have you noticed any other programs getting a delayed Hulu release?
Amazon Unbox is probably one of the simplest non-Apple services for renting and buying downloaded TV shows and movies on a PC. The service is also compatible with TiVo, but I know a few folks who refuse to pay for any video unless it comes in high definition. And so far, HD video has not been available via Amazon Unbox.
Bu it looks like that could be changing. TiVo Vice President Jim Denney tells TV Week that HD capabilities are coming to Amazon "in the not too distant future." And judging from the source, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that means you'll be able to download and watch HD video using a TiVo HD or TiVo Series. As MegaZone at Gizmo Lovers suggests, it's likely that Amazon will use the H.264 codec, which would let the company distribute high definition videos with relatively small file sizes (relative being the key word here).
[via Zatz Not Funny]
While it's not clear whether Amazon actually plans to implement any of the changes suggested in the survey, the company is asking which "improvements" would make users more likely to use the service more. Several suggestions include the ability to watch streaming video. Right now you have to wait for your video to start downloading before you can watch. But if the survey is anything to go on, Amazon is considering offering free, ad-supported video streams as well as paid ad-free streams.
Another improvement would be high definition downloads, which kind of speaks for itself. Amazon is also asking a number of questions related to DVDs. For example, if you bought a DVD from Amazon.com, one option would be to download and save a digital copy of the movie or TV show for a small additional fee, while another would be the option to watch streaming video of movie or TV show while waiting for your DVD to arrive. Another suggested improvement would allow users to burn downloaded movies to DVD.
Honestly, I'd love to see all of these options added to Amazon Unbox. I can understand why the company might not want to overload customers with choices that could make their purchase or rental decisions or complex. But Amazon already has one of the easiest to use video download services. I'm fairly certain they could find a way to give customers a few additional choices without cluttering up the interface.
TiVo Director of Service Operations Stephen Mack posted the news in the TiVo Community forums. TiVo customers can download Amazon Unbox movies to their TiVo boxes for viewing. But if you don't have a TiVo, you can still get the free videos from Amazon's website.
A few of the titles include Charade, House on Haunted Hill, His Girl Friday, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Some of the movies are available as free "purchases," meaning you can download the flick now and watch it whenever you like. The rest are free rentals. That means you can download it today and watch anytime within the next 30 days. But once you hit play, you have just 48 hours to finish watching your movie.
The free movies are available through Nov 18th.
You can download the NBC Direct video player from NBC's website. Because the videos use Microsoft DRM, the player will only work on Windows. And as far as I can tell, there's no way to transfer the videos to a portable device.
TV shows will be available for 7 days after their air date, and once you start watching you have 48 hours before your video self destructs. There is a button you can press to get another 48 hours if you need it. Meanwhile, Hulu, the online video site that NBC and News Corp recently launched allows you to watch the last 5 or so episodes of most TV shows that are currently on the air.
Hulu also has a much larger selection than NBC Direct. Right now, the only shows you can download are The Office, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Bionic Woman, and Life.
TiVo HD/Series3 owners should notice their boxes downloading version 9.2 of the TiVo software in the next day or so.
Once you get the upgrade you should be able to expand the storage on your TiVo unit by plugging in an external hard drive. No more mucking around inside the case and voiding your warranty. TiVo 9.2 also includes an update for Amazon Unbox users. Now you'll be able to watch videos as soon as you start downloading them without waiting for the download to finish first.
And of course, you can download many of the same shows for a fee from services like iTunes and Amazon Unbox. But NBC is preparing to launch a new service that's a combination of the two. NBC Direct will let you download videos to your computer for free. They'll include advertising, and you'll only be able to watch for up to a week after a program's original air date. But you can download a video and watch it on the go when you don't have an active internet connection. No buffering needed.
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