First Look: Amazon Unbox on TivoHD

As I’ve mentioned before we have a TivoHD PVR unit and we LOVE it. It’s one of the few things that we give an unqualified recommendation. It’s great. Best in class. You won’t regret the purchase.

However, one thing that TivoHD can’t accommodate is pay-per-view movies. It’s not so much that Tivo can’t handle it as much as the cable companies don’t currently have the infrastructure to do pay-per-view for any cable card device. It requires two way interactive cable cards that aren’t yet rolled out. This is a bit of a drag since my wife used to use pay-per-view enough to make me wince every time I saw the cable bill.

This past weekend we found something that takes the place of pay-per-view on Tivo….Amazon Unbox. It’s a movie download service from Amazon that runs from the web or right inside the Tivo HD unit. Sunday morning we signed up and started downloading “Evan Almighty.” We watched it later in the day. It worked like a charm.

This movie cost $3.99 although the pricing seems to vary by title. You can “rent” the movie for 24 hours or “buy” it outright. Once you start watching a rented movie you have 24 hours to see it before the system will retire it. I suppose if you buy a title it can reside on the Tivo permanently.  If you delete it from the Tivo unit you can download it again within the prescribed time periods.

We didn’t time the download but I did notice that it pinned my DSL connection for a while. Amazon says, “With a fast broadband connection (5 Mbps), a movie can download in about an hour, while a 1-hour TV episode can download in about 30 minutes. However, on a slower broadband connection (less than 1Mbps), a movie can take up to 5 hours.”

Tivo features progressive playback. This means that you can start a movie downloading, wait few minutes to let it get started, then start watching from the beginning. If the download is progressing faster than real-time you’ll never notice the download going on. If not the you’ll be forced to wait once your watching has exhausted the downloaded material. This is just like the older process of of copying shows from one Tivo to another over the old, slow network connection.

There certainly seem to be a large range of titles available, much better than the Netflix on demand service that we have also tried one time. Also a much greater selection than the Comcast pay-per-view service.

The video quality is the same as we’d expect from Tivo in SD. That is to say, pretty good. I hope that Amazon considers offering HD titles some time soon.

I hope that this proves to be a decent revenue stream for Tivo. They deserve it.