Amazon.com unveiled the Unbox Video Store on Thursday, a direct rival to Apple’s iTunes 24-7 video store, which allows U.S. users to buy or rent TV shows, movies and other video content from the Internet.
Amazon Unbox is offering thousands of DVD-quality videos from over 30 movie and TV studios, which can be stored on up to two PCs and two portable video players at once, the company said. When a user downloads a movie or show, Unbox automatically sends a second download file optimized for Windows Media-compatible portable devices. It also keeps track of media purchases on a personal page at Amazon’s Your Media Library, and acts as a backup, allowing users to download video purchases onto an additional PC.
Users interested in trying Unbox can go to http://www.amazon.com/unbox. Amazon Unbox is offering a $1.99 rebate on a user’s first purchase, enough for one free TV show. But new users will have to enter their credit card information into the system first as part of the registration process, and then download the Amazon Unbox Video Player software.
Unbox is charging between $7.99 and $14.99 for most movies, and rentals of the latest movies for $3.99.
Since it’s for Windows Media devices only, Mac and iPod users need not apply, and some of the PC requirements are fairly hefty, but before you get out your credit card, you should be aware that widespread problems have been reported with Unbox. Here’s a sample:
Tim Thorpe at DailyTech:
DailyTech tried the service with less than pleasant results. First we tried to rent a video from the store, but the software insisted that our hard drive was full even though it also indicated that we had over 40GB free. The client refused to download the content while still charging us for the rental – twice. We then tried purchasing a movie through the service, but the media refused to play in the Unbox client or through Windows Media Player, again charging our credit card. We then contacted Amazon.com about our issues via e-mail and requested the company call us using the call back feature. It has been 36 hours and we have yet to hear from the company or receive a refund.
So, in summary, to be allowed the privilege of purchasing a video that I can’t burn to DVD and can’t watch on my iPod, I have to allow a program to hijack my start-up and force me to login to uninstall it? No way. Sorry, Amazon. I love a lot of what you do, but I will absolutely not recommend this service. Try again.
I figured I’d try to download a video or two for my flight to SF next week. First step, finding some content. Excellent, an old Star Trek episode. Click, purchase, download and install player (which first installed some new version of .NET without asking). Load player, it connects and then nothing. No download. No nothing. It shows but nothing happens. Fifteen minutes of nothing. I click troubleshoot. It tells me it’s checking stuff like DRM. Everything checks out. Message pops up. You have used all licenses for this file. If you want to watch it on this PC, you need to purchase it again. OK. We’re done.
Time to un-install this thing and hope it didn’t screw up my PC in the process.
Gartenberg also notes that not all PlaysForSure Windows Media devices will necessarily work.
Not everyone is reporting problems, but everybody seems to be saying that it has a glitchy feel and it’s clear that you have a nonzero probability of complete failure. Amazon can do better than that and should have. For now, it gets a Thumbs Down.
Update 9/19: Two thumbs down for Unbox:
Amazon.com’s Unbox is a horror show. The Unbox service appears not so much to have been introduced as to have escaped from the laboratory.
Of all the smart and talented people at Amazon, did no one dare say, “Wait, our new service bites! It’s slower than a trip to Blockbuster, more expensive than a DVD, absurdly restrictive on how the consumer uses the movie, delivers lower resolution than a DVD, and requires running a cable from the PC to the TV if you want to watch the movie on something larger than a PC monitor”?
And that’s when it works.