Amazon.com Unboxes Online Video Store

Amazon.com today took the wraps off Amazon Unbox, its new digital video download service for Windows which offers DVD-quality movies and television programs from nearly three dozen studio and network partner.

Amazon Unbox makes videos available for either rental or purchase, and operates using Amazon’s own Unbox software available only for Windows XP (Macintosh, Linux, and Windows 2000 or earlier need not apply. And you’ll really want broadband Internet access.) Amazon claims the material offered via Unbox is encoded at 2,500 Kbps using the VC-1 Advanced Codec (an alternative to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC which, it just so happens, is supported by Windows Media Player 9 and later); Amazon says this offers DVD-quality images and triple the video quality of current digital video leaders. At no additional charge, Amazon also includes a second version of the video optimized for playback on Windows Media-compatible portable devices. Amazon’s Unbox software is capable of progressive downloads, so users can begin watching their video before it has been completely transferred to their computers—Amazon says that for users with typical cable broadband connections, customers may be able to start watching video within five minutes of purchase.

"Amazon Unbox offers TV and movie enthusiasts a fast, convenient way to watch thousands of their favorite videos from around the world," said Bill Carr, Amazon.com’s VP of digital media in a statement. "Now Amazon.com customers can choose to get videos delivered to their doorstep from Amazon’s DVD store or choose Amazon Unbox and download DVD-quality picture movies or television shows to their PC."

Amazon Unbox also features Unbox Remoteload, which lets customers purchase video using one PC (say, a PC at work—that that anyone uses office PCs for personal purchases!) and downlad the videos to another PC at home or elsewhere. Amazon will also bundle together purchases in a new Amazon Your Media Library, a personalized part of an Amazon.com customer’s account which organizes media purchases from Amazon, including Books, CDs, DVDs, and (now) Unbox Videos. Users can download Unbox videos to an additional PC from the Amazon Your Media Library if they haven’t already loaded the video on two PCs.

So here’s the catch: while the files representing Amazon Unbox videos can be burned to DVD for storage, there’s no way to burn a standard DVD of videos purchased through Amazon Unbox. Further, the only way you can watch the video is through the Amazon Unbox software, so if you want to push use (say) a Windows Media Center PC to push the video to your home theater, you’ll need to install Unbox on that system as well. But you (probably) won’t be able to push it around to additional systems from there: Amazon Unbox videos are limited to use on two personal computers at the same time, but each of those computers can in turn transfer the video to a single portable device. See Unbox’s Terms of Use for more interesting tidbits.

But if there’s one thing Amazon Unbox gets right, it’s having tons of content available at launch. There’s no point in mentioning specific titles—there are too many—but here’s a taste of the networks and studios involved:

Television Studios
A&E, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, BBC, The Biography Channel, Cartoon Network, CBS, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Discovery Health Channel, Discovery Kids, E! Entertainment Television, Fine Living TV Network, Fox, Fuel TV, FX, HGTV, The History Channel, KBS (Korean Broadcast System), Logo, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, The N, PBS, Speed, Spike, Travel Channel, TV Land, VH1.
Movie Studios
20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM.

See anything missing? Yup: Disney and anything associated with it, like Buena Vista, ABC, and Pixar. You can gbet that has something to do with new Disney board member and largest single shareholder, Steve Jobs.

Amazon Unbox prices television episodes at a very familiar-looking $1.99 apiece, while movies are priced between $7.99 and $14.99. Amazon is inviting customers to try out Unbox by offering selected television episodes for free—or, if customers prefer, taking a $1.99 discount on a higher-priced download.

Your move, Apple!

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