Amazon UnBox On My TiVo

So, many of you may have heard the news that Ama­zon opened up their Unbox for TiVo ser­vice today. This was way ahead of any­thing I expect­ed, as I just fig­ured it would be sort of like the vapor-agree­ment TiVo had with Net­flix. How­ev­er, the ser­vice was up and run­ning not very long at all after the ini­tial announce­ment, just two months ago. Once again, TiVo some­how man­ages to not only sur­vive, but sur­prise me and just about every­one else.

I signed up for the account ear­li­er today, which took no more effort than going to a page on Ama­zon and enter­ing your e‑mail and pass­word asso­ci­at­ed with my TiVo account1. For the next month or so, Ama­zon is even giv­ing a $15 cred­it for TiVo users who sign up. That’s pret­ty entic­ing for some­thing that is eas­i­er to sign up for than most web 2.0 services.

Unbox For TiVo

I was actu­al­ly some­what sur­prised to see just how nice the offer­ings were at Ama­zon. Not all of the Unbox store is able to be down­loaded to a Tivo (yet), but I imag­ine that’s not going to take long. It does­n’t appear that any major net­works or stu­dios are real­ly hold­ing out just yet. There are movies, which may be pur­chased or rent­ed, with prices between $8 and $16 to buy and around $4 to rent. I have no idea how long a “rental” lasts on the TiVo, but I’d guess three to four days from the time the down­load begins.

I saw quite a few shows that I enjoy (although I not­ed that it seems the iTunes store cur­rent­ly has more offer­ings, with some of the pop­u­lar ABC shows being a big hole at Ama­zon right now). I end­ed up just down­load­ing an episode of Arrest­ed Devel­op­ment since I have the DVD’s and had even record­ed some episodes on the TiVo a while ago (all of Sea­sons 1 and 2 are avail­able, I chose Episode 4 “Good Grief” from Sea­son 2). I fig­ured this would allow me to be able to make a fair com­par­i­son for qual­i­ty. Pur­chas­ing was pain­less with Ama­zon’s patent­ed2 One-click pur­chase. All I had to do was select which TiVo box to send the down­load to from a pull down menu (it had found both of them by name from my account after I pro­vid­ed my infor­ma­tion; yes, we have to Tivo box­es. Don’t judge us.). I select­ed our “Sun­room” unit so I could watch the show while on the tread­mill (seri­ous­ly, stop judg­ing me. I mean it.). Ama­zon states that the down­load begin and appear in the “Now Play­ing” list on the TiVo unit select­ed with­in 15 min­utes. Well, it was more like 30–40 min­utes. Fur­ther, it took anoth­er hour or so for it to be avail­able to watch3, and this was only a 22 minute pro­gram. I’m assum­ing that increas­es to a few hours for a fea­ture film (rental or purchase).

screenshots of Amazon Unbox on my TiVo

Screen­shots of the TiVo menus under the “Now Play­ing” sec­tion of the TiVo.

Quality in the Unbox

I did­n’t have a lot of expec­ta­tions for the qual­i­ty of the video to be hon­est. How­ev­er, I was glad to see I had under­es­ti­mat­ed the qual­i­ty some­what. It was at least as good as the “high” qual­i­ty record­ing set­ting on the TiVo itself. Of course, we only have stan­dard def­i­n­i­tion TiVos on our SD tele­vi­sion sets. All the same, I don’t think it is going to dis­ap­point the aver­age Series 2 Tivo owner.

Now, you are not able to trans­fer the show to anoth­er TiVo or to a TiVo Desk­top serv­er on your net­work. I’m not going to say it’s impos­si­ble to get the video file off of there, but the effort such a thing would require would­n’t be at all worth it. There does­n’t appear to be any time lim­it or expi­ra­tion date on pur­chas­es pro­grams or movies, though. Again, I’m not sure how the rental option works.

Screenshot of Unbox Video

G.O.B. per­form­ing mag­ic is mag­ic to me. While this screen pho­to is pret­ty bad, the actu­al qual­i­ty of the pic­ture is real­ly good; stan­dard def­i­n­i­tion with no notice­able arti­facts or com­pres­sion issues.

Some Potential in the Unbox

I’m going to say it: this is the first true imple­men­ta­tion of con­sumer-friend­ly IPTV. It for sure isn’t the first or even the most ide­al method of hav­ing con­tent brought via the inter­net to your tele­vi­sion. How­ev­er, pro­vid­ed one has both a net­worked TiVo and an Ama­zon account, it is remark­ably easy to use (in typ­i­cal TiVo fash­ion). Short of set­ting up a secure home net­work, which isn’t always the eas­i­est thing in the world, vir­tu­al­ly any­one could be watch­ing down­loaded con­tent from the com­fort of their liv­ing room in no time. TiVo and Ama­zon beat Apple to the mar­ket on this one and only time will tell if they can gain and keep some of the mar­ket share as a result.

Is this the Net­flix or the iTMS killer? Prob­a­bly not. Ama­zon, while known for hav­ing pos­si­bly the largest media cat­a­log on the plan­et, may not yet have access or agree­ments in place to pro­vide all that media to the con­sumer int his fash­ion. As we have seen time and time again, that is prov­ing to be the killer step in the race to pro­vide con­tent in this mar­ket. Cer­tain­ly, TiVo and Ama­zon have put togeth­er an fair­ly impres­sive offer­ing here, though. If they could have a set month­ly fee for rentals and open up more of Ama­zon’s vast cat­a­log, I imag­ine Angela and I would eas­i­ly choose this over Net­flix (sor­ry, as much as I love Net­flix, their agree­ment with TiVo for this exact same ser­vice fiz­zled). I have no doubt that the Apple TV will eas­i­ly rival TiVo in qual­i­ty of inter­face and ease of use. The prices for the con­tent to buy are the same between Ama­zon and iTMS right now, but Apple has yet to do any sort of rental ser­vices. Is IPTV rental, or what we once called pay-per-view and Com­cast now calls On-Demand, some­thing con­sumers real­ly want? If it is seen as pay­ing an month­ly fee to have lim­it­less access to a near­ly bot­tom­less library of video enter­tain­ment, the quite pos­si­bly it is.

I had essen­tial­ly no expec­ta­tions of the Ama­zon Unbox for TiVo ser­vice and so I was hon­est­ly pleased to see just how easy it is to use and the lev­el of qual­i­ty it has. There are no doubt DRM demons wait­ing to spoil my fun here. Fur­ther, in a mar­ket where con­tent is every­thing, get­ting media own­ers to allow them to use this is going to be the real race. Who­ev­er ends up on top, hav­ing both Ama­zon and Apple in our liv­ing rooms is going to help con­sumers in the end.

  1. Of course, I already have our TiVo’s con­nect­ed to the home net­work which has a broad­band con­nec­tion. It would cer­tain­ly take some­one with a brand new TiVo more than the 30 sec­onds it took me. []
  2. World’s lamest patent? Prob­a­bly. []
  3. Unlike trans­fers between TiVo units over a home net­work, you can­not begin watch­ing a Unbox down­load until it is entire­ly fin­ished. Frankly, I’d say this is a wise thing since inter­net down­load speeds can be wonky on a file this large and it is very frus­trat­ing to have a video pause for some net­work lag. []

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.


  1. I just use my cable com­pa­nies DVR for now. But this Unboxed fea­ture sure does look inter­est­ing enough to con­sid­er a Tivo.

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