Review of Amazon Unbox for TiVo

Posted on May 1st, 2007 in Entertainment,Product Reviews,Technology by EngineerBoy

If you own a TiVo there is a new service available to you from an Amazon/TiVo partnership called Unbox. Also, if you don’t yet own a TiVo GO AND GET ONE RIGHT NOW!!!!! I’ll wait…

Amazon Unbox is a service that allows you to locate movies, TV shows, and other video content on Amazon, purchase or rent them, and have them download directly to your TiVo for your viewing convenience. No schlepping down to the video store, no waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail. Just an hour or two of download time, and it’s ready to watch. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

It is, kind of. You see, the technology is pretty good, with only a few quibbles, as follows:

  • You only get the main feature, none of the DVD extras (deleted scenes, commentary, etc)
  • Video quality is not nearly the same as DVD, for example, there is noticable artifacting in dark scenes
  • Sound quality is simply “stereo”, not 5.1 or any other home-theater-quality sound
  • No hi-def content
  • You have to wait for the entire movie to finish downloading before you can start watching it
  • You can’t transfer downloaded content between your TiVos or move it to a PC running TiVo Desktop

Other than that, it works pretty good – you log into Unbox with your Amazon credentials, locate a movie you like, click to purchase, tell it which TiVo of yours to download to (if you have more than one), then wait the 30-120 minutes for it to download, depending on the length of the feature and your available download bandwidth.

The big disappointment, however, is the number of titles available for download. When I heard that I would be able to download movies from Amazon directly to my TiVo, I was ecstatic – FINALLY entertainment technology that worked how I wanted it to – I figured with Amazon’s huge selection of DVDs that I would have virtually anything I wanted at my fingertips. But it ain’t so, not by a long shot. As best as I can figure, Amazon carries about 190,000 DVD titles. And how many are available for download to your TiVo? About 3,300. That’s a little less that 2% of the available DVDs. And that makes Unbox extraordinarily frustrating.

Since the service went live a few weeks ago, I’ve looked for, conservatively 150 different titles on Unbox. How many have I found that were actually available? Four. Four measly titles that I’ve wanted to get from Unbox. For this article I combined the top movies from both IMDB and the AFI to get their combined Top 20 films of all time – in other words, the twenty greatest films that have ever been produced according to IMDB and the AFI. Check the table below – one, count ’em, one of these films is available from Unbox for TiVo:

AFI and IMDB Top 10 Movies of All Time

Title

Available for TiVo from Unbox?

The Godfather

NO

Citizen Kane

NO

The Shawshank Redemption

NO

The Godfather: Part II

NO

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

NO

Gone With the Wind

NO

Lawrence of Arabia

NO

The Wizard of Oz

NO

Casablanca

NO

Schindler’s List

NO

The Graduate

NO

On the Waterfront

NO

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

NO

Singin’ in the Rain

Yes

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

NO

It’s a Wonderful Life

NO

Star Wars

NO

Sunset Boulevard

NO

Now come on Amazon, what the hell? If this is the best you could do, you should have delayed the launch of this new product until you had some semblance of an actual library of available films. Now, I’ll give Unbox this, it has a whole lot of recently released Hollywood crap, that’s for sure. What do I mean by crap? Glad you asked:

  • Ten Adam Sandler films
  • Eight “National Lampoon” movies (not counting Animal House, which they have and which was great)
  • Both “Jackass” movies
  • Nine films with Rob Schneider
  • Six films with Martin Lawrence
  • Alien? Nope. Aliens? Nope. Alien Resurrection? Yup. Alien vs. Predator? Yup.
  • Truman Show? Nope. Cable Guy? Yup.
  • The Matrix
  • Four Michael Bay films.
  • Nine Ben Stiller movies.
  • Original “Godzilla”? Nope. Crappy “Godzilla” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Stepford Wives”? Nope. Crappy “Stepford Wives” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Swept Away”? Nope. Crappy “Swept Away” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Psycho”? Yup. Crappy “Psycho” remake? Nope. (so they get some things right, so what?)
  • Original “Poseidon Adventure”? Nope. Crappy “Poseidon” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Alfie”? Nope. Crappy “Alfie” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Village of the Damned”? Nope. Crappy “Village of the Damned” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Carnival of Souls”? Nope. Crappy “Carnival of Souls” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Fun With Dick and Jane”? Nope. Crappy “Fun With Dick and Jane” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Manchurian Candidate”? Nope. Crappy “Manchurian Candidate” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”? Nope. Crappy “Mr. Deeds” remake? Yup.
  • Original “When a Stranger Calls”? Nope. Crappy “When a Stranger Calls” remake? Yup.
  • Original “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”? Nope. Crappy “Guess Who” remake? Yup.

Now, I’m a bidnessman, and I know that they’re going to focus on the films that they can a) get the rights to allow for digital downloading and b) generate the most revenues. That’s the way it works. However, today, Amazon Unbox is like the video rental counter inside your grocery store – stocked only with titles that appeal to the least-common-denominator. It appears that Amazon is expanding their available inventory by a couple of hundred titles per month, so progress is being made.

But, for now, for me, Unbox is really just a frustrating tease – a taste of the way things *should* work, but don’t yet. My fear is that Amazon is running into licensing issues with studios and other rights-holders who are either resisting making their products available for download or who are trying to be too greedy about their licensing terms. One hopes that video media rights holders will look at the example of iTunes and see that, yes, making content available digitally is a good thing to do and will both generate revenues for them while preserving their copyrights.

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