Amazon Unboxes Digital Video Service

Rob Hof

After watching all day for the rumored debut of Amazon Unbox, the online retailer's much-anticipated digital video download and rental service, I see from a tip on on Alan Taylor's Kokogiak that it's now live. More to come on the details as I get them, but here's the FAQ, which pretty much confirms what we've been hearing. In short, it looks like an easy but (like all the video services) sadly limited offering in terms of viewability on a television, and there's no Apple Mac or iPod support.

Update: Here's my full story.

Update 2: OK, I tried it out. Not an easy task to get started, since I had to download the .Net Framework first, which took two tries and then maybe a half-hour of downloading and installation. But then it worked.

I decided to try getting my one free $1.99 TV show, choosing from a somewhat annoying Ajax-y menu under a Twilight Zone section an episode I remember from my black-and-white television youth: Five Characters in Search of an Exit. Except it's hardly the "on-demand" experience that fans of video downloads talk about. It took at least 10 minutes to download enough to start watching, and more than a half-hour on my home DSL connection for the 25-minute episode.

It played fine, looking nice full-screen. But only on my laptop screen. No S-video output and no DVD burner--so no trip to my TV.

It's a workable offering, but I find it hard to imagine most consumers will find it entirely satisfying, if only because stuff takes so long to download and it's not easy to get it to the big tube. So although I don't think it's quite as disappointing as some folks, like TechDirt's Mike Masnick or Staci and Rafat at PaidContent, it doesn't set my world on fire--yet. I suspect Amazon isn't done, though.

What seems odd to me is how casual Amazon seems to be about publicizing the thing. First, no heads-up from Amazon about when the service would launch, despite repeated phone calls on the rumors. Second, at least on my personalized Amazon page, Unbox gets only a rather small box at the top. Then there's the tiny, hard-to-find link for renting (vs. downloading a permanent copy) a video, which seems to indicate Amazon has low expectations for that part of the service, despite claims to the contrary by Amazon's Bill Carr. Seems like Amazon could take some lessons from Steve Jobs, who has managed to drum up more interest in his iTunes video service a week before it's even launched.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.