TiVo And Amazon Bring UnBox To The TV Set

Davis Freeberg —  February 7, 2007 — 13 Comments
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We heard early rumblings, but when it comes to TiVo, you never quite know which rumors will turn out to be true. As it turns out though, TiVo and Amazon actually have been in negotiations to bring Unbox to TiVo subscribers and they are almost ready to roll it out. It goes into testing on Wednesday, but initially it will only be in a few hundred homes. In order to use the service, customers will need to first purchase their movies directly from Amazon’s website. Though you can download the movie right to your PC desktop, you can also download the film directly to the TiVo box. Amazon allows you to download 2 copies of any film at a time, but because of the system’s dependence on downloading, it means you’ll still have to wait to see your content. I would have preferred to have access to streaming content instead, especially given that it’s already connected to my TV set, but hopefully we’ll see something like that introduced further down the road. TiVo refused to give a timeline on the broader rollout, but it would certainly make a nice update, if they could enable it at the same time as when they launch TiVoCast for their series 3 boxes.

This is an exciting development for TiVo and is a great feature to be able to offer their subscribers. With Series 3 owners having been forced to give up access to pay per view, the addition of the content helps makes for a better trade off. Amazon’s movie selections is still pretty limited, but hopefully as the studios become more comfortable with internet distribution we’ll see more content show up.


I tried out Amazon’s Unbox service when it first launched, but watching it on my computer and having to wait 6 hours to download a DRM file was a huge turn off. With TiVo, Amazon solves the problem of getting the content to my TV set, but I think they would have even more success if they could offer instant streaming access.

As a heavy movie renter, I’d prefer to see Amazon adopt an all you can eat subscription model instead of a la carte, but until they have more content, I’m probably still better off with a la carte pricing. As the service develops, it will be exciting to watch what content becomes available. I hate catching old reruns on the cable channels because they are always out of order and you’re never sure if you caught every show, but if Amazon starts licensing more television, I’d definetely pay to go back and watch all the A-Teams from the start. Being able to use TiVo not just to fast forward the commercials, but to be able to rewind to the past will be a huge enhancement to service, especially as the content becomes more robust.

The potential for TiVo to be a platform for delivering on demand movies has always been there, but TiVo’s never been good at getting the movie studios to play nice. By partnering with Amazon for the content, TiVo has put themselves into a position where they can take advantage of Amazon’s clout to help bring premium content to their users. When TiVo tried to license films with Netflix two years ago, the studios freaked out. When Netflix couldn’t get the deals in place, the partnership disolved. Hopefully, at some point we’ll see TiVo open up their software so that any internet site that offers films or video content can show up, but in the meantime, bringing Unbox to the TiVo community is a great first step.

Davis Freeberg is a technology enthusiast living in the Bay Area. He enjoys writing about movies, music, and the impact that digital technology is having on traditional media. You can read more of his coverage on technology at www.davisfreeberg.com. Davis owns shares of TiVo and Netflix stock.

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13 responses to TiVo And Amazon Bring UnBox To The TV Set

  1. Any way to get onto a priority list? I’ll pay 1.99 for some missed episodes.

  2. Having just subscribed to Amazone Prime, I’d love to see something special extended to Prime customers… How about free 2-day shipping? Oh, yeah, this is already better.

    Hmmm. How about discounted rentals (all-you-can-eat sounds cool), more than two outstanding at a time, HD movies (for S3 owners)?

    Will TV shows always cost $2 each? Make the shows cheap (or discounted for a series subscription) so we can finally dump cable! :-)

    It’s gonna be an interesting year… Will AppleTV (and maybe even SlingCatcher) get in on this too? How about NetFlix? Blockbuster?

  3. According to Amazon, unbox vids can be watched while downloading – after a brief delay …

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=3748&#download_rate

    TiVoCast is not designed to allow such streamloading, and requires completion of the download before starting to watch.

    I’ll have some more info posted @ http://hdtivo.wordpress.com/ later today.

  4. Michael Portuesi February 7, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Why can’t you buy the movies right on the Tivo? Why do I have to do this from a PC?

    *WHEN* are these people going to learn how to do it right?

  5. There really are severe limitations to what you can do with the HME interface. I am very disappointed with the direction TiVo has taken so far by not integrating TiVoCast content into the old DVR interface.

    While I did not address that today, I have talked about it in the past.

    And, all that said, it would be nice to have an HME app [b]in addition to[/b] the fully functional Web interface. One way or another, that is likely not far off. ;)

  6. Yeah – now THIS is the kind of BIG deal TiVo needs, and the awesome vsibility for Amazon too, that will move this technology forward!

    Some good suggestions here, and there certainly needs to be
    - an ability to buy ON the TiVo
    - higher resolution (if not HD!) for S3 users
    - streaming viewing, not the current state-of-TiVoCast that requires a download to finish!

    I’m eager to try this out, and hopefully Amazon will push prices lower over time. One of my chief beefs with iTunes has been their ridiculous prices … cloning them does NOT augur well!

  7. Michael – I think an ‘on box’ interface is a logical evolution, but give them a break. Let them get it out and working first, why do people always want all the bells and whistles in the 1.0 release? The web interface for Unbox already exists for the PC downloads, adding downloads to a TiVo is the logical next step and the first necessary step for the service. Later they can add an HME-based interface for on box ordering, independent of the underlying service.

    HDTiVo – I disagree about HME being limited. The SDK they use internally is FAR evolved from the public SDK. As seen at CES, the entire cable box software interface is written using the internal HME SDK. I think the current TiVoCast and Guru Guide apps are great, and a lot better than integrating them into the OS. Developing them this way de-couples development of apps from development of the OS. That means they can add new features and update them without tying everything to software update cycles for the OS.

    Schumann – Right now Amazon doesn’t seem to do HD downloads at all. But I think that’s a logical progression for the future on the S3.

    As for streaming and pricing – pricing tends to be dictated by the studios and not the service. That’s why all of these services have nearly identical pricing.

    And streaming sounds great – until you look at the tech. Most people *do not* have broadband that can support streaming video at DVD quality (and forget HD completely). Really, I expect the Unbox downloads to be sub-DVD quality to keep the downloads reasonable. Most DVDs are 5Mbps or higher bitrates, on average, so you’d need downloads at that speed just to keep the download to real time.

    The S3 could do better by using MPEG-4 or VC-1, but the S2/2DT only handles MPEG-2 so that’s a hard limitation. (I still think it was a mistake not to put an MPEG-4/VC-1 decoder in the S2DT.) Since the SD video has to be MPEG-2 for the S2/2DT, it makes sense to use it for the S3. Also, the S3 is a *tiny* fraction of the TiVo user base at this time, so I don’t see them spending a lot to cater to it. If they ever do HD I’m sure they’ll use one of the advanced codecs.

    To do streaming video you end up making a trade off – you accept lower quality video for streaming performance. Personally I’d rather have higher quality and wait for a download.

  8. Awesome awesome awesome. Obviously some glitches at first, and I’m not even certain I’ll use it that much right away, but this is the direction I want/need Tivo to evolve in. In the long run I would expect this to replace NetFlix, since they don’t seem to be going this way.

    Obviously the devils in the details–how much, whats available, how responsive, etc etc. But we’re on the way…

  9. Anything that brings me close to dumping cable is a good thing. I wish they could have been able to do this deal with NetFlix, but if they are able to get the tech working and the price right I’m ready to jump!

  10. This is all just a heaping, steaming pile of dung. The video is “near-DVD quality” and the audio is stereo? Come on….that’s ridiculous.

  11. Lighten up, folks! Like MegaZone said:
    “…give them a break. Let them get it out and working first, why do people always want all the bells and whistles in the 1.0 release?”

    There are some obvious next steps (on-TiVo ordering, HD, Dolby Digital sound, etc.) which hopefully will all come over time as they establish whether there’s a market (i.e. “paying customers”) for the service.

    Now if only there was a way for us to say “by paying for this as an early adopter, I’m not at all suggesting that I’m satisfied with 1.0. I expect that other stuff to come, but am buying now to show my support and encouragement!” :-)

    HD and 5.1 will require an S3, so I understand why they didn’t bother with that for now. Probably makes it easier to secure initial content too (not to mention faster to download).

  12. OK your blog tagline is “blogging the connceted home and digital lifestyle” Don’t you think you should do a little research before you print that “series 3 owners have been forced to give up access to pay per view”.
    That is not true. You have all the PPV options on the Series 3 EXCEPT you can not order it from the box. You order over phone and it shows up on the PPV channels just like it did before CC implemented on box PPV ordering. No it is not as convenient, but it is also not “forced to give it up” as you said. Stop being lazy!

  13. Wendell, stop being a d***head to people you don’t know. Dave (Zatz) is one of the cooler tech early-adopter bloggers, and happens to be a big TiVo proponent.

    Nitpicking over an interpretation & an expression (subjective by definition, to start with!) and insulting someone that spends his own time to bring tech info to readers is really puerile. Grow up & learn to be polite – and maybe your point (which isn’t invalid) would even have made itself!

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