Sunday, June 22, 2008

Amazon Unbox review

Not being able to wait for the Season 4 DVD of Battlestar Galactica, I decided to try Amazon's Unbox video download service. My choices were:

  • Stream for free on - I'd already considered this, but streaming video usually blows in terms of quality. I didn't want a YouTube experience while watching this, and I was happy to pay for it.

  • Download from iTunes - I'm biased against iTunes, iPod and i-anything for various reasons.

  • Download from Amazon - No better than iTunes really. Still DRMed, proprietary, etc. However, I wouldn't need to download that pig of a resource hog iTunes, and the Amazon Unbox videos can be played in Windows Media Player or other players.

As expected, it wasn't a perfect experience. First, the videos are only available via Amazon's One Click. I've never used this before, but basically once you check the videos you want, the only button you're presented with is the One Click button. No shopping cart, no confirmation or anything. I was puzzed at the lack of a shopping cart, so since that was the only option, I clicked it, and shortly thereafter my credit card was charged. Not cool. Not cool at all. I hadn't even downloaded the video yet, and already I'd paid for it. Bastards. Next step was to download the Unbox player.

The Unbox player wouldn't install. Everytime I downloaded and executed it, I'd get and error along the lines of this version of Media Player Libraries not compatible with this version of Media Player. Fcuking great, I've payed for the video and it won't work. One thing I'd have to say in favor of iTunes is that no matter what, it probably "just works." Since I'm paid to make computers work for a living, I downloaded the Unbox player executable instead of running it, downloaded and installed the latest version of Media Player, rebooted, then ran the Unbox executable again. This time it installed properly, and showed that I had the video waiting to be downloaded. I downloaded the video, and it showed up as a standard .WMV file that could be played in Media Player as well as the Unbox player. Sweet.

Last night we watched the first two episodes. I hooked up my computer to a wide-screen flat TV via the S-video out. Not having to deal with streaming video, I didn't need a reliable wireless internet connection, no did I need to run Cat 5 through the house. No skips, no pauses while "caching" or any of that crap - the entire 860MB file was sitting on my hard drive. I played it with Media Player, and used the Media Player's settings to output as full screen, put the sound out to the stereo, and sat back to watch. The output was no different than a DVD to my eyes, and the sound was great as well.

In summary, after some frustrating set up experiences and unsavory purchasing options, my goal was accomplished: to have a good video-watching experience and catch up on this season of BSG now. It was the least unattractive option for accomplishing that goal, and I'll continue to use the service for BSG. $1.99 per episode is reasonable for the privilege of not having to endure commercials and being able to watch it whenever I please. The service also allows you to download to your TiVo or to a portable media player if you're into that. I'd recommend the service with reservations.