This time last year, most of us would have predicted that Blu-ray and HD-DVD would still be going at it, but even with a victor now declared in the high definition format war, digital downloads and streaming content are ruling the roost, just as Michael Bay prophesized (minus the corporate conspiracy theory). Hoping to become king of the digital hill, Amazon.com is introducing a new online store of TV shows and movies.
What's that you say, Unbox isn't new? That's right, but this isn't Unbox. Amazon Video on Demand departs from the company's first attempt at offering a digital video download service, and this time around, customers will not be required to download special software to the watch programs they buy. And in another departure from Unbox, the new service will extend support beyond just Windows PCs and TiVo set-top boxes.
Catalog and Studio Support
Customers of Amazon's new store will have access to roughly 40,000 movies and television shows from the get-go, which is roughly four times as big as Netflix's catalog of streaming titles. That number looks to get even bigger, as films and TV shows from nearly all the major studios and television networks are available to Amazon's customers, save for Disney and ABC.
Start Watching Right Away, at Home or Away!
In addition to a robust catalog of titles, just as with Unbox, customers can begin watching purchased content immediately after ordering instead of waiting for the download to complete. But unlike Unbox and other similar services, the first two minutes of all movies and TV shows will start playing whenever a customer visits a title's product page.
Even better, customers won't be tied to a specific location, nor will they need to download a purchased video to a hard drive. Instead, viewers can store a selection in their online video library (dubbed "Your Video Library"), so you can begin watching an episode at home, stop it midway through, and then pick up again where you left off once you get to work. In the words of the Guinness guys, 'Brilliant! '
High Definition or Bust
Whether or not high definition content will be offered from the beginning remains to be seen, but on a promising note, Amazon has cut a deal with Sony Electronics to place its Internet video store on the Sony Bravia line of HDTVs. Not only does that hint at offering HD content, but as the New York Times Online puts it, Amazon can be seen "pursuing the technology and media world's holy grail -- an internet pipeline to the TV."
What about the Competition?
Despite everything Amazon's Video on Demand has going for it, the road to digital dominance won't be an easy one. Netflix, whose streaming service was once viewed as a perk, now looks to pounce on the mainstream market. Even though it sports a much smaller catalog, Netflix recently announced a partnership with Microsoft that will give its subscribers the ability to stream videos to their Xbox 360 console, and it isn't charging anything extra for the bodacious update. And for those who don't own or plan to purchase an Xbox 360, Roku's $99 set-top box provides an affordable incentive to keep subscribers from migrating elsewhere.
Netflix isn't the only one Amazon needs to worry about either. Apple's iTunes video store can be considered a contender, along with several others that have begun saturating the marketplace. Still, between the name recognition, a large catalog, studio support, and what looks to be a nifty interface, Amazon appears to have a lot going for it.
A limited number of Amazon.com customers will receive invitations to test drive the new beta service before Amazon blows the doors wide open later this summer. The question is, can Amazon Video on Demand succeed where Unbox hasn't?