Unboxing The Tivo

While playing around with the new Tivo I noticed that they’ve added the ability for Series 2, Series 3, and HD Tivos to get content directly from Amazon’s Unbox service.  I’d heard about Unbox in the past, but didn’t really pay it much attention, since watching movies on my computer isn’t very appealing when compared to my home theater setup.  I’m also not terribly fond of their DRM scheme, which I’ve heard some horror stories about, so I didn’t want their stuff on my PC. 

But since it’s integrated into the Tivo, I took another look.  They offer both “purchase” (I put this in quotes, because you don’t ever truly own anything with DRM-infested content) and rental downloads.  Because of the DRM I would never consider them for purchase of content, so I investigated their rentals.  The first thing that struck me was the price in relation to what you actually get.  Most rentals were $3.99 or $2.99 and allowed up to 30 days to begin watching, and then either a 24-hour or 7-day viewing period (i.e. after pressing Play you have that amount of time to finish watching or to view it again).  This doesn’t seem like a very good value to me, given that I get unlimited 3-at-a-time DVD rentals for $16.99/month from Netflix.  So I wouldn’t consider Unbox as a regular rental source.

When you view an individual item in Unbox it does tell you the aspect ratio and the download size, which is helpful.  But I noticed that none of the items I viewed were available in 5.1 sound.  This is a big turnoff, especially given the price as compared to a DVD rental.  In fact, I almost gave up at this point.  However, I realized that most older classic movies were never made for surround sound, and would be fine in regular stereo. 

I decided to give it a try and registered my Tivo account with Unbox, which was fairly painless.  Once done, I decided to rent Psycho as a test of the service.  It was fairly easy to order, and the Tivo began downloading within just a few minutes (the HD has a blue light on the front to indicate a download is in progress).  I didn’t carefully time it, as I was busy with other tasks, but it seemed to take about 2 hours (which is faster than the listing on Amazon, but slower than I’d expected, given the FIOS connection; however it was still acceptable for a 2.5GB download). 

Once downloaded I sat down to watch the movie and was impressed with the picture quality.  It seemed to be pretty close to DVD quality, and I saw no pixellation, drop-outs, or pauses.  However, when I pressed Play on the remote, the DRM reared its ugly head again and Tivo had me confirm that I understood that I had 24 hours from the first time I pressed Play to finish the movie (and/or to watch it again).  Once done, the Tivo put a flashing flag next to the entry in the Now Playing list to indicate that the timer had been activated and that the entry would disappear after 24 hours.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll be using Unbox much.  I suppose that if I were to get a last-minute itch to watch a classic movie or something where I didn’t care about surround sound, I might be inclined to rent something from Unbox.  Otherwise, I’ll stick to DVDs from Netflix.

1 Comment

  1. Phelps says:

    I was in teh beta, so I got to try for free, and had about the same reaction.  I’ll wait and see if Netflix gets thier “view now” thing working on TiVo.