Tuesday, September 12

Amazon's unbox video download service puts it all into perspective

Those predicting that digital movie downloads could be a commercial success in Australia would do well to observe the difficult birth of Amazon unbox, the first offering in this area from the world's most experienced online retailer, Amazon.

Saying it's an uninspiring offering in its first iteration is an understatement. The proprietary unbox application is a clumsy bit of client software that only runs on Windows, installs a bunch of cruft you may not want, and has a few critical privacy issues. Mike Hoefflinger reports (while trying to install it on an Xbox 360 but it's still a Windows Media Center installation) that the installation process was "craptacular"!

It won't work for Apple owners, downloaded videos won't play on a video iPod, and some eary users report having trouble even getting a download to finish in less than 24 hours. This in the Land Of High-Bandwidth Access? How's that going to play in the no-fibre-to-the-node network we limp along with in Australia? Let's not forget that Australian ISPs like to cap your monthly bandwidth, or charge you more if you download too much. At about 1.5GB per movie, download cost would be a factor if you started using unbox frequently in Australia.

Just to complificate things a little more, although you can keep the content on your PC for up to 30 days, once you start viewing it, you have only 24 hours to finish it. Tough luck if you were hoping to watch a bit of it today and the rest later in the week.

If you happen to own a non-Apple portable player (unlikely, but some people apparently do) you'll have to download an additional mobile version of your content to play it on that device.

All of that is important, but the number one problem is more fundamental still: the DRM encoding prevents you from burning the download to DVD so you can watch it in the living room with your 2-3 year old 'legacy' home entertainment system. No, you've got to leave it on the PC in the study, and watch it on a screen so small that the analogue TV exceeded those dimensions in the late 1960s. Good luck convincing the family to watch it in the study with you!

None of these problems are unsolveable for the Australian market, but many of them are intractable, to say the least. Securing a broad and deep content library that doesn't have unreasonable DRM barriers requires considerable leverage in negotiations with Hollywood studios that most Australian companies don't enjoy (just look at the challenges Australian TV networks have negotiating for free-to-air rights.)

Developing a technical solution that works on a broad range of popular devices both in the living room and the computer room requires world-class software development experience and significant testing and support resources.

The lack of high speed bandwidth to the home and the high cost per gigabyte of data over existing networks is a problem, whether you're Telstra (which must forego profit to offer free content downloads) or another ISP (which must pay Telstra for the data and then pass that on to you.)

None of it's insoluble, so it'll all be resolved at some point in the future. Maybe if we pay attention to the hard lessons Amazon's learning on the bleeding edge, the Australian offerings may be better than unbox when they launch.

Disclaimer: I hold shares in www.quickflix.com.au

Technorati Tags: , ,

Buy content through ScooptWords