Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Have Seen the Future and It's Name Is "Little Miss Sunshine"

but this isn't about that funny, quirky movie that Peggy and I watched last night. It's about how we watched it. Four days ago, TiVo sent me an email letting me know that their partnership with Amazon was out of beta, and I could now start ordering movies through Amazon for either rental or purchase. They even threw in a $15 gift certificate as bait... not that it was needed.

So, I did the sign-up, hooking my TiVo account into my Amazon account, bopped over to Amazon's weirdly named "Unbox" section, found "Little Miss Sunshine," and voilà, over in the right hand corner of the movie description page was an option to download to our TiVo for $3.99. One click brought a summary message that the download would start within 15 minutes, and 5 minutes later the little blue light on the TiVo glowed on.

Convenience? No muss, no fuss. No trip to Blockbuster. No waiting for a Netflix DVD in the mail. No hassle of returning the DVD.

Picture quality? TiVo says, "Unbox videos watched on a TiVo are of better quality than videos recorded at the Best Quality setting on a TiVo Series2™ DVR." Based on what we saw, I'd agree with that.

Download time? TiVo says an average hour download for the average movie on a broadband-connected recorder. Our TiVo is connected through a 801.G wireless adapter to an older 801.b router, and it took close to two hours for "Little Miss Sunshine"(1.9 GB) to download.

Is it perfect? Nope. Peggy pointed out that it's definitely not video-on-demand and doesn't promote spontaneity, which is how we tend to watch movies. For newer movies, there's a complicated "blackout" formula, which can even affect movies you buy (rather than rent) through Unbox. From the TiVo FAQ:

"Due to restrictions from the video rights holders, most newly released movies will occasionally become temporarily unavailable for re-download from Your Media Library—even after they’ve already been purchased.

During this "Pay-TV Blackout Window" certain programs will be temporarily unavailable from the Unbox catalog and Your Media Library. This happens during the program’s run on a pay-cable channel.

The video will be automatically replaced and made available to you through Your Media Library once the "Pay-TV Blackout Window" has ended."
The whole rental thing is a little more confusing than it needs to be, and isn't clarified through the various TiVo/Amazon FAQs. I think that you have a 30-day window to watch a downloaded video (UPDATE: The 30-day limit is correct), but couldn't tell from our download of LMS, since the notification also seemed to be tied somehow into the Blackout Window.

I also think that once a movie is started, it has to be finished within a 24-hour period, but I could be wrong about that one. It seems like a stupid requirement if it is a requirement. (UPDATE: Unfortunately the idiotic, "movie must be finished within 24-hours after starting" requirement is correct. "Why?" is another matter.)

In theory, I like the idea of having all of our purchased movies available on Amazon, in our ongoing battle to lessen the "too much shit" clutter around the house. In practice, we're going to need downloads - especially when most movies go into hi-def - a helluva lot faster than 1-2 hours per movie. If we're in the mood for Casablanca, we're going to want it then and there.

But, it's a great first step towards the El Dorado of that old Qwest "Motel" commercial, where the person renting the room is advised "every movie ever made in every language, anytime, day or night" is available.

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