Hands-On: Amazon Unbox On TiVo, Working Together for Movie Downloading Hijinks

Click to viewThe Amazon Unbox movie download system is now firmly linked up with the TiVo service, and if you have a TiVo Series 2 or Series 3 box, now you can download Amazon Unbox movies right into your Now Playing list just as if they were another TV show or movie. We gave it a try, winding our way through its password protection and DRM (digital rights management) and eagerly awaiting the result.

To use the Unbox On TiVo service you must have both an Amazon account and, of course, a TiVo account. First you make sure your TiVo is enabled for movie downloads at the TiVo site, and then go to the Amazon Unbox area, log into your Amazon account, and if you register for Unbox on TiVo by April 30 of this year you get $15 worth of free movies and TV shows. It's a bit of a pain in the ass making sure you're all registered and signed up on both the TiVo and Amazon sites, but once that unpleasantness is overcome, that's when the fun starts.

There's a wide selection of movies from which to choose, and some of them you can rent for $3.99, while others must be purchased for the ripoff price of $14.99, but that's for a fairly new movie such as Running With Scissors. We decided to first try renting a movie, so we picked out The Illusionist, a $3.99 download.

Hands-On: Amazon Unbox On TiVo, Working Together for Movie Downloading Hijinks



After your first rental, it's a delightfully easy one-click process, where you simply press the "rent now with 1-click" button and then the movie's on its way to your Now Playing queue on the TiVo. Incidentally, you don't need a TiVo to use the Amazon Unbox service, you can download the special DRM-addled Unbox player to your PC and watch its movies there.

Hands-On: Amazon Unbox On TiVo, Working Together for Movie Downloading Hijinks



The site instructs you that your movie will begin downloading to the TiVo within 15 minutes, and sure enough, after about 10 minutes, a blue light appeared on the front of our TiVo Series 3 HD box, one which we'd never seen before and which apparently means there is content that's downloading rather than being recorded.

Hands-On: Amazon Unbox On TiVo, Working Together for Movie Downloading Hijinks



At the same time, in the TiVo interface, instead of a red dot next to The Illusionist on the Now Playing list, there was a blue dot. Alas, TiVo wouldn't let me play back any of that movie until it had been completely downloaded.

Hands-On: Amazon Unbox On TiVo, Working Together for Movie Downloading Hijinks



This is where the DRM comes in, and it's a bit annoying. When you rent a movie, it stays on your system for 30 days, but if you click Play, then the movie will erase itself within 24 hours. Damnit, if I'm paying four dollars I would like to choose what I'm doing with this movie, short of sending it out to the rest of the world. At least with Netflix I can watch part of the movie now and the other part a week from now with no penalty. Plus, for much less than that $4 price I can rent a high-definition Blu-ray or HD DVD movie from Netflix.

Then there's the quality of the movies. It's pretty average-grade standard definition television, letterboxed but not taking up the full screen on our 1080p test equipment. We saw plenty of compression artifacts, and the focus seemed rather soft, but the colors were reasonably saturated and the result was a watchable movie with decent sound. Trouble is, we've been completely spoiled around here with 1080p HD DVD movies, and anything less pales by comparison.

Summing up, once you get all signed up, this is a seamless process that works well, but we were disappointed in the DRM restrictions and the complete lack of high definition choices. Nevertheless, the Amazon Unbox On TiVo service is off to a fair start.

Unbox on TiVo