Fortune: Amazon Unbox movie service ‘unfun,’ a horror show, two thumbs down

“’s Unbox is a horror show. The Unbox service appears not so much to have been introduced as to have escaped from the laboratory,” Peter Lewis reports for Fortune.

Lewis reports, “Of all the smart and talented people at Amazon, did no one dare say, ‘Wait, our new service bites! It’s slower than a trip to Blockbuster, more expensive than a DVD, absurdly restrictive on how the consumer uses the movie, delivers lower resolution than a DVD, and requires running a cable from the PC to the TV if you want to watch the movie on something larger than a PC monitor?'”

“Unbox works only with Microsoft (Charts) Windows computers. Amazon says the recommended configuration is a Windows XP computer with 1GB of system memory, a 2.4-gigahertz or faster processor, a 5.1-channel sound card, a DirectX-compliant video card, and a broadband connection capable of sustaining download speeds of 1.5 kilobits per second. You’ll have to set up an account if you don’t have one already, then download and install the Amazon Unbox Video Player and other software to be able to use the movie download service,” Lewis reports. “Assuming you pass those Unbox requirements, the real unfun begins.”

Lewis reports, “Unlike Apple, which tried to establish uniform prices for digital movie downloads, Amazon appears to allow the studios to set pricing. Here are some examples:

• “Office Space” is $13.45.
• “The Matrix” is $9.77.
• “V for Vendetta” is $13.87.
• “Brokeback Mountain” is $14.99.
• “Rebel Without a Cause” is $23.99.

Lewis reports, “By the way, while I could download the James Dean classic “Rebel Without a Cause” from Unbox for $23.99, Amazon also offers to sell it to me as a special 2-volume DVD set, which includes extra documentaries and features, for $19.99.”

Lewis reports, “None of the navigation controls on the Unbox Video Player worked, other than “pause” and “stop.” I could not select scenes, fast-forward, reverse or do anything but play the movie start to finish… And then there’s ‘Plays for Sure.’ The Unbox download service actually delivers two files to the computer, one that plays on a computer (although only in the Unbox Video Player), and a second, smaller file that will play on a small variety of Windows “Plays for Sure” portable media players, not including, of course, the most popular one. (It ‘Will Not Play for Sure’ on the Apple iPod.) Plays for Sure is Microsoft’s tag for devices that support Microsoft’s digital rights management scheme. But Amazon seems less sure. According to the Amazon notes, ‘If your device is Plays for Sure compliant it may work.'”

Full review, a funny read unless you’re responsible for the hideous thing, here.
These reviews are Microsoftian in scope. Amazon, Undo.

Related articles:
Amazon Unbox generates resounding yawns; analyst: ‘too little too early’ – September 11, 2006
CNET Alpha Blog: absolutely do not try Amazon Unbox – September 09, 2006
Analyst: ‘Amazon Unbox – Well that didn’t work at all’ – September 09, 2006
Analysts: Amazon’s ‘Unbox’ to be ‘Unsuccessful’ vs. Apple – September 08, 2006
Cringely: Apple, Amazon, and what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve for next Tuesday – September 08, 2006 launches ‘Amazon Unbox’ DVD-quality video download service with TV shows and movies – September 07, 2006


  1. Wow! That read like a multiple homicide crime scene report.

    “Then comes the meat wagon. Wee-doo-wee-doo-wee-doo. And the medic gets out and says ‘OH MY GOD’ and the new guy is in the corner pukin’ his guts out all because you wanted to save a few pennies . . .”

  2. To Amazon’s credit they did get one thing right – they got studios.

    I tried out iTunes movies and I would gladly buy more (640×480 looks good to me on my non-HDTV) but the content just isn’t there. I hope new studios are added ASAP.

  3. I love Apple, I love iTunes. I download TV I’ve missed, and I download songs, the latest being last night. But I absolutely can not see downloading movies from iTunes or anywhere else. Maybe I’m lacking in imagination, but why would anyone pay $9.99 to $14.99 to download a movie when the DVD on a disc that can be played “anywhere”, is often loaded with extras, and comes in a nice, colorful protective case for only a few dollars more? Plus, there are a large number of DVDs that don’t cost even $9.99. Not to mention that the 640 X 480 quality brings back memories of my first 15″ CRT from 1985.

    Box sets of TV shows, excepting the outrageous pricing of Star Trek-related items are less that $42 most of the time,including shipping, and with extras, nice cases, etc, compared to $43.78 for 22 shows at iTunes.

    I just do not see the point of movie downloads at all, or TV for anything more than an occasional missed show. Anyone have any advantages I’ve overlooked?

  4. Me: They got the studios because they bowed down to them, and look where it got them.

    A big selection that can’t play on anything is useless.

    It’s like our local library. It started using a new service to borrow digital audio books. The service only works with Windows and is not iPod compat. I e-mailed the librarian and said “Why on earth would you pick this service? It’s not compat. with 75 percent of the digital audio players out there.” Librarian’s response was “It had a larger selection.” My response was “Who cares? If the majority of people can’t use it, it’s useless no matter how many titles you have.
    So I then went a level higher, to the county level library service, and asked the same question. Their response was “Just like if a person doesn’t have a DVD player, they can’t use DVDs, if a person doesn’t have a compat. player, they can’t use this service.”
    So my response to THAT was “True enough. But why waste money on a format that most people don’t have? It’s akin to picking Beta over VHS.”

    Same thing applies to Amazon. More selection means nothing if you can’t use it.

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