Amazon Makes Your Tivo Much, Much Better

Ever since replacing my god-awful Comcast DVR with a high definition Series 3 Tivo, I’ve really only had one complaint about this beautiful machine: it doesn’t support on-demand programming. In other words, even though Comcast would love to charge me $3.99 to watch an on-demand movie, I can’t do it anymore because I don’t use their hardware.

It’s a small price to pay for the greatness that is real Tivo service, but it is a legitimate disadvantage. It was with great happiness then that I noticed Amazon’s new Tivo on-demand movie service: “Amazon Unbox”.

Here’s how the service works:

  1. Go to Amazon and find a movie or TV show you want to watch.
  2. “Rent” or “Buy” it with one click.
  3. Within 15 minutes, it begins downloading to your Tivo and is available to watch as soon as the download is complete.

To my pleasant surprise, the movie files aren’t highly compressed 500 megabyte slugs but rather super high quality 2 to 2.5 gigabyte files. To my even greater surprise, these files made their way to my Tivo in about an hour each. Not that I would evvvvver BitTorrent a movie, but the last time I tried to torrent 2 gigabytes, it took all weekend. 2 gigs in an hour is great, and my cable connection usually only peaks out at around 2 or 3 megabits. Considering a trip to the video store and back for most people is, say, 20-30 minutes, and waiting for your movies from Netflix is a day or two, Amazon’s Unbox service compares favorably in the time department.

I do have four complaints about the service, all of which I’m sure will be dealt with shortly:

  • The selection seems a bit weak right now. I downloaded The Illusionist, Network, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but besides those, there aren’t many I really want to watch. Actually, there are plenty which are “Buy” only, but buying movies never made any sense to me. As of right now, Amazon lists 1799 “rentable” titles ($2.99-$3.99) and 3246 “purchasable” titles ($15-$20). My prediction? The “buy” offering will fall flat on its face and the “rent” offering will thrive. Once more titles are made available for renting, I’ll be using this service every week.
  • Seeing as I’m downloading these movies faster than real-time, I should be able to start them a few minutes after the download begins… not when it ends. At that point, it’s basically true on-demand.
  • You have 24 hours to watch whatever you rent, after you first hit “play”. Many people will cry bloody murder about this, but I’m really fine with it if the window were just extended to 48 or 72 hours… and I believe it will be.
  • Although the video is virtually DVD quality, eventually it will need to be offered in high definition. Better compression schemes should make this easily possible before too long.

All in all, I’m loving the service so far, but I just hope their rental selection expands quickly. If you’d like to try Amazon Unbox and get your first $15 worth of downloads for free, click over to their free offer here.

Amazon and Tivo have clearly beaten Apple to the punch, which makes me wonder yet again why Apple and Tivo — such perfect bedfellows — have never consummated their love.

15 comments on “Amazon Makes Your Tivo Much, Much Better”. Leave your own?
  1. I think your link to Amazon has been typo’d into error.

    (Editor’s Note: Thanks… I think it’s fixed now.)

  2. Don says:

    48 hours is worthless to me. 24 not a chance. I’ll often take a week or two to watch a movie. Oh well, it isn’t for me just yet. I just finished watching the Pistons beat the Sonics last night … was that a couple of days ago? I’m still waiting to find out how they do in the following game and perhaps tomorrow or Sunday I’ll watch tonights game.

    My concept of on demand is when I want to watch something I’ll push play and just like a book I’ll pick up where I left off. I do it with sports and movies, so the Amazon plan won’t work.

  3. Mark says:

    My Comcast DVR is the worst TV component on my shelf. I shudder at the fact I pay $10/mo for this hunk of crap. $3hunj for Tivo? Can you get HD on that sucker?

  4. Tim says:

    Surprisingly, Microsoft has beaten Apple to the punch as well — via xBox Live you can rent movies (no purchases available) for about the same prices, and they offer HD versions of some downloads.

    I enjoy buying and owning DVDs, and I buy a lot of music via iTunes, but I’m not jazzed about the idea purchasing dowloaded movies. Perhaps when I get around to building/installing a media center PC (a mac mini probably) that will change, but I don’t know — it would cost thousands of dollaars to be able to store my DVDs digitally.

    Currently they are stored on a $100 bookshelf.

  5. Dave Metcalf says:

    I’m unwilling to shell out the money for Tivo S3. Aside from the obscene hardware cost (which, instead, goes to the monthly diaper bill for two kids), I still have to keep Comcast and all the services necessary to enable Tivo HD: digital package, HD service, and box rental. At best I can save about $9 getting rid of Comcast’s DVR (while I actually do like it, it is getting increasingly unreliable and buggy) but those savings go out the window with cable card rental and Tivo subscription.
    The Amazon service looks tempting, though. Netflix works for us, but it’s tough to get around to watching movies in a week sometimes, let alone the next 24 hours.

    I’m just holding my breath for FiOS. When I see the installation truck rolling down my street I’m going to run out with a blank check in one hand and a shovel in the other.

    In the meantime, I live in Comcast’s backyard, so I’m expecting my area to be among the first to get the Comcast Tivo.

  6. Mike D. says:

    Don: One important detail is that you can actually keep the movie for a month. The 24 hour timer only starts when you begin watching it. Sounds like that might not work for you either though. I would think (and could be wrong) that most movies rented through Blockbuster or Netflix are watching within a 48 period (and probably usually just straight through in the normal 1-3 hours).

    Mark: Yep, the Series 3 Tivo does HD better than any other box I’ve seen.

    Tim: Yep, I would never “buy” a downloaded movie. I don’t even buy downloaded music. I always get the CD and then burn it.

    Dave: Yeah, the initial price of hardware is really the only problem with the S3 Tivo now. I imagine they should be $200-$300 before too long though. I’ve seen previews of the ComcastTivo and while it looks 1000x better than the current Comcast box, it still runs on the same hardware, so who knows. Cross your fingers.

  7. Ruben says:

    I tried this out last week and I LOVED it. I watched The Departed for 15 bucks. The quality was very good.

    Still, the one thing was sorely missing with the purchase…bonus features. After the credits rolled I instinctively hit the menu button to see what else was on the DVD…whoops.

    BEWARE…not all Unbox movies support TiVo. (I found this out the hard way.) That is my only complaint of the Unbox site…it’s difficult to immediately tell which movies are TiVo-compatible. You have to look for the TiVo icon on the detail screen or limit your keyword search to TiVo. It should really be a store within a store, but whatever.

    All in all I was thrilled with the service. It’s what Apple TV should have been…no middleman between the web and your set top.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Hey Mike

    I tried it to, and overall liked it. I think the download should last longer, and hope this changes in the future.

    I can’t tell the quality. I downloaded some ridiculous cheap movie — and it wasl ike some guy made it in his backyard. (Really.) I won’t say what it was called, but the source material was crap, so I can’t blame anything on Amazon.

    But, I loved having the movie delivered to me — it felt really cool. FInally, a good, couch-worthy “over the top” / cable-bypass experience. This is what I’ve been waiting for.

    – Kimberly

  9. Marc Rullo says:

    So, setting aside the purchase option, for $3.99 you can select a movie from a list and have it show up in your TiVo? Aside from the expanded selection of titles, for the most part, this is not much different from purchasing a pay-per-view and having it recorded to TiVo. For average DirecTiVo users, that’s a single click, no broadband connection required, immediate availability, no time limit, same if not better quality, etc. This has been around for years.

    If you happen to have Netflix or Blockbuster and want to supplement that enormous selection, superior quality and bonus features, and mitigate the two day delay with some recently released rentals (and you had to have a TiVo) a simple DirecTiVo or some similar cable/TiVo setup would be the better, no?

    Don’t get me wrong. I get the download idea, and I wouldn’t touch a generic DVR over a TiVo even if it were free. But I’m not sure I could be excited by this service. Not until the price-per-rental and selection can compete will something like this succeed.

  10. Mike D. says:

    Marc: I had a DirecTivo for a few years and I totally loved it. Great machine. The problem with satellite though is that its not real on-demand either. As I remember it, there are a handful of PPV channels you can subscribe to at any given time and a new movie starts every hour or so, so you can watch/record it when it starts. The delay of that doesn’t bother me, but at least a year or two ago, there were only like 10-20 legitimate PPV channels. Now, granted, 50-100 PPV channels would be enough to showcase pretty much every major new release, but the promise of true VOD (whether through cable or through Amazon) is thousands and thousands of titles available 24/7. You just can’t do that with satellite.

  11. Shawn says:

    Gotta love new technology. Apple better hurry up and think of something else ingenious.

  12. Eddie says:

    Does anyone know if the movie can be transfered to you PC via the TiVo Desktop app?

  13. Chris says:

    Been thinking about grabbing Tivo for a very long time now, perhaps this is the push I needed. Thanks for the info Mike!

  14. Jigsaw hc says:

    I really like the Unbox service for use with my TiVo. The site is a pain to just browse through, but if you have a specific movie in line it works fine.

  15. Jason says:

    Wait till ATT launches its Uverse(lightspeed) servioe in full swing later this year. Seems lilke they have deployed it at some places already in Texas region.

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