Amazon Unbox, a video-on-demand service operated by online retailing giant Amazon.com, officially launched in September, 2006. Since then, it has slowly been growing its collection of available movies, encroaching on music-store-turned-video-store iTunes, operated by Apple Inc. and backed by Apple’s media weight and its tight integration with the iPod Video.
Now, the question begs: Which is better? Is Amazon Unbox worth the hype?
Amazon Unbox: A Review
The Video Quality
The biggest question for Amazon is whether its Unbox is able to compete with the video stores in terms of quality. People are always hesitant to watch movies online, since everyone has had a bad experience with streaming video.
However, Amazon.com assures us, Amazon Unbox delivers “DVD quality” movies. Is it true? A DVD has a video bitrate of about 5600 kbit/s, or 4.7 GB per two hours; Amazon Unbox download equals 2500 kbit/s, or 2 GB per two hours. This sounds bad and read s bad on paper, but thanks to Amazon’s encoding, their lower bitrates does look like DVD quality. That’s a good thing!
The Speed: How long does it take to download a video?
Amazon Unbox is video-on-demand, meaning you download the movie that you want to watch. This obviously requires a high-speed broadband connection. With broadband, the average movie takes about seven and a half hours to download. However, you can start watching before you finish downloading.
The Compatibility: What computers and programs does it work with?
Here, Amazon Unbox fails miserably. You are required to use the Amazon Unbox proprietary player or Windows media player, both of which unfortunately only work with Windows XP or Windows Vista.
Diversity and Pricing: How many movies does Amazon Unbox have, and how much does it cost?
Right now, Amazon Unbox lets you watch 1,200 movies, which includes hits like 24 as well as unknown, no-name shows. Prices range from $1.99 to $3.99 to rent, which requires you to finish watching the movie within 24 hours of starting it. If you want to buy a movie, it will cost you $7.99 for an old movie or a scary $14.99 for a new movie (Ratatouille, anyone?).
The Dirt: How does Amazon Unbox compare to Apple’s iTunes Movie Store?
Apple has been selling hit movies from studios like Pixar and Disney for almost a year before Amazon Unbox even came on the scene. Who’s better?
Movie Quality: Winner is iTunes Movie Store
iTunes’ movies are encoded at a very high minimum of 1.5 Mbit/s in high-definition, encoded in H.264.
Movie Selection: Tie between iTunes Movie Store and Amazon Unbox
iTunes sells 500+ movies plus 200+ television shows, which sounds measly compared to the amount that Amazon Unbox sells…until you realize that Unbox’ number is diluted with a lot of obscure titles. iTunes, meanwhile, is the champion of selling hit television shows and popular movies: You can find everything from Desperate Housewives to Lost to Disney Channel shows to the latest Pixar film. However, we’ll also give Unbox some points for offering a wide variety of titles, even if a lot of people haven’t heard of any of them.
Compatibility: Winner is iTunes Movie Store
Amazon’s Unbox video service only works on Windows Vista or Windows XP, locking out millions of Mac users, to say nothing of the millions of PC users who haven’t upgraded their operating system. iTunes, meanwhile, works on both the Mac and the PC.
Final Tally: Winner is the iTunes Music Store
Amazon Unbox still has a lot of work ahead of it for it to even begin to be a challenge to Apple’s giant media warehouse. If you’re looking for an easy and convenient way to watch movies at home, and want to try one of the new video-on-demand services, choose iTunes.
For conventional DVDs, Netflix and Blockbuster both offer videos-by-mail.
You can buy Amazon Unbox here.