Amazon Unbox Comes to TiVo

Amazon Unbox on TiVo
While I wait for my Apple TV to ship, I was more than happy to try out the new Amazon Unbox on TiVo service.

In short? I was surprised at how easy it was. The DRM is a serious downer, but that’s not something easily avoided in a mass-market service. I’m really looking forward to hooking up my Apple TV, but Amazon and TiVo get kudos for bringing downloaded content to my living room without serious geekery.

I’d heard of Amazon Unbox, launched last September. But it was PC only, and watching a movie at my computer didn’t sound too appealing to me. Sure, I could use a Plays For Sure compliant device, but… I wouldn’t.

TiVo though? I love it. Even though we’ve only got lowly Series 2 boxes sucking down basic cable, even though TiVo has been slipping more and more ads (and that dread DRM) into the system, it still rules the roost. It serves up everything we watch that doesn’t come off a DVD or my wife’s 60GB iPod, and I take great pride in the fact that the concept of “live TV” is completely foreign to my kids.

TiVo’s partnership with Amazon surprised me, and I was skeptical at how it might be implemented. Locked-down Amazon Unbox content on locked-down TiVo systems? That won’t work.
But it does.

Ingredients: A TiVo connected to your home network, broadband internet service, and an Amazon account. No, I didn’t forget the PC… you can use Amazon Unbox on TiVo without involving a computer (which is good for Mac users like me).

To get started, all you need to do is register your TiVo service at Amazon. It took ten seconds, tops, to hop from Amazon through a TiVo Central Online login and back.

And if you register before April 30, 2007, you’ll get $15 to spend on movies and TV shows. That’s enough to buy one current movie release (or to rent half a dozen), or a handful of TV shows. Not bad for a free trial.

The movie and TV selection available to TiVo users isn’t bad. You can buy an episode of “24” for $1.99, rent “Little Miss Sunshine” for $3.99, or buy “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” for $14.99.

Buy for TiVoRenting or buying something is as easy as buying anything else on Amazon, except you have to specify which TiVo box to send it to. Notably, when I rented “Clifford’s Big Red Movie,” I had to proceed as if paying by credit card. but the order confirmation screen confirmed the price was deducted from my $15 credit.

Says Amazon, “You can order a video while at work and it will be ready to watch by the time you get home.” And that’s exactly what I did. I rented my movie at the office, and it was waiting for me in our living room a couple of hours later (taunting my kids, who noticed it pop up on the TiVo).

Purchased (or rented) content appears in the TiVo’s “Now Playing” list in a folder titled “Amazon Unbox.” (I was expecting a separate menu, or even a special icon, but it fits right in next to Anthony Bourdain.) But here’s where DRM rears its ugly head.

A small red flag on the detail screen notes the rented recording “will be kept through Wed. 3/14 at 6:11 pm and will be deleted by Wed. 4/11 at 2:48 pm.” The longest I can keep it — without watching it — is one month.

Clicking through to play it, I’m warned:

“Due to policy set by the copyright holder*, this recording can only be watched within a 24 hour period. A 24 hour timer will begin after you start playing the recording. While the timer is running, you can watch the recording as many times as you want.

The little asterisk directs you here.

Fortunately, the toughest restrictions primarily apply to rented content. You should also be able to buy content and keep it. You can keep a purchased movie on your TiVo, and you can copy it to and watch it on your PC (if you run Windows), too. Most interestingly, Amazon Unbox also provides the equivalent of online storage for your stuff. Movies and shows you buy are kept in your “Media Library” at Amazon, and you can re-download something at any time. Well, almost anytime:

“Please note that due to licensing restrictions certain new release movies are unavailable for re-download for an unspecified period of time starting 90 days after their release date. While these movies can be viewed as often as you like during this window, they cannot be re-downloaded from Your Media Library.”

And on the PC side, TiVoToGo and Multi-Room Viewing features have also been disabled “to meet rights holder requirements.”

I suppose the DRM will be enough to drive most geeks away, but I was impressed with how simple and managable Amazon Unbox on TiVo turned out to be. The gap between the web and the living room suddenly felt much, much smaller.

I can see my mom using it, which is not an insignificant threshold for popular adoption. She can plunk down a couple of bucks for a missed episode of “24” at the office, then watch it after dinner. I can plop a little cartoon treat for my kids on the TiVo without scheduling a recording, buying a DVD, or waiting for Netflix.

And “watch the recording as many times as you want” in a 24-hour period? For my kids, that’s a challenge, not a restriction.

I like it. And now I’m even more impatient to take the Apple TV for a spin. Bringing Amazon to TiVo is nice. But we use iTunes more than Amazon. If we’re going to buy missed episodes of a TV show, we’d rather do it through iTunes.

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1 Response

  1. Jigsaw hc says:

    I tried Amazon Unbox and it worked pretty well. The site could use some help, but the service works fine.

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