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Amazon Releases TV, Movie Download Service

Posted on Friday, September 8th, 2006. Last Updated on Friday, September 8th, 2006 1:47 PM by Scott Jentsch

Amazon.com, a merchant in our Gift Shop and no stranger to selling movies and TV shows on DVD, has released a new video download service called Amazon Unbox.

 

Screen shot of Amazon Unbox Service Main Page

The new service allows you to rent or purchase videos online and download them to your computer for viewing via your Windows PC or compatible portable device (PlaysForSure devices, not iPods).

Studio support for their service is strong, with seven movie studios listed and 26 TV channels from which to choose:

 Movie Studios
TV Channels 
20th Century Fox
Fox Searchlight
Lionsgate
Paramount
Sony
Universal
Warner Bros.
A&E
Adult Swim
Animal Planet
BBC
The Biography Channel
Cartoon Network
CBS
Comedy Central
Discovery Channel
E!
Fine Living
FOX
FX

Fuel
Hanna-Barbera
HGTV
The History Channel
Logo
MTV
MTV2
The N
Nickelodeon
PBS
Speed
The Travel Channel
VH1

Unsurprisingly, Disney and ABC are not represented in the above list. Apple will reportedly introduce its own movie download service next week, and since Steve Jobs heads both Disney and Apple, there shouldn't be too much of a surprise whose movies will be highlighted at that announcement and conspicuously absent from this one.

Does it work? Is it up to our standards? I don't know, yet. In my opinion, it has to pass the test of the three P's:

  • Price
  • Picture Quality
  • Portability

Regarding price, TV shows are $1.99, which is pretty much the standard set by Apple's iTunes last year. Movies are $3.99 to rent, and between $7.99 and $14.99 to buy. That's up there, but the convenience factor may justify the cost, so long as the picture quality is acceptable.

There's no mention of what the resolution of these downloaded files are, so it's difficult to know without going through the purchase process to see for one's self. I find the 320x240 resolution of iPod downloads much too small to be acceptable, and I would hope that Amazon hasn't done that here, considering they aren't saddled the limitations of that particular portable device.

For a TV comedy, it might be passable, but for a movie, it's downright horrible. Even Apple does better with their movie trailers that are available in 720p and 1080p HD resolutions, so I would imagine that Amazon has stepped up with at least DVD's 720x480 resolution if they actually want us to watch this stuff on a TV. Offering something approaching HD resolutions would be wonderful, but it would also constitute dreaming on our part, so we won't even go there.

The last part of the test is the real pinch; portability. When you buy a DVD, you can take it anywhere you have access to a DVD player. You don't have to worry about DRM restrictions getting in the way of being able to watch it, and you don't need a PC tethered to that portable DVD player just to watch it. The Amazon Unbox downloads come with a portable-friendly sized version of the video as well, and there are a few portable devices on their "tested and compatible" list, although there is a mention that any device compatible with PlaysForSure should work.

When we get a chance, we'll check it out for ourselves and report back. In the meantime, if you try it out, please be sure to send us a note in the Feedback Form and let us know what you think! 



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