TiVo Amazon Unbox service goes live

I was just checking the TiVo.com website for something else when I noticed the homepage now touts Amazon Unbox and says Now Available! TiVo and Amazon.com offer Amazon Unbox Video Downloads on TiVo service. Learn more. Now Available? It looks like the service is going live today – very likely timed to coincide with the end-of-quarter-and-year financial conference call in the afternoon. Here’s a bonus – if you register for the service by April 30, 2007 you get $15 in free movies and TV shows. So you can try it without any risk. Very nice, TiVo and Amazon, good move.

TiVo has the product page, an overview, a ‘Get Ready’ page, a FAQ, and a troubleshooting guide. Likewise, Amazon has an Amazon Unbox on TiVo page on their site with more information. They also have a complete list of videos currently available for TiVo download and a support page with a FAQ.

It looks like the service is launching with a slightly limited list of titles, but Amazon says they will continue to expand the list of titles. I expect that’s due to the conversion process, it takes time to convert videos into a TiVo-compatible format, so they’re just not going to have thousands of videos ready to go on day one, even if they’ve been converting things for weeks. But it looks like a good start, and I believe Amazon will continue to convert additional content to grow the list.

It is very easy to use. You simply register for the service, which ties your Amazon and TiVo accounts together. Then you can shop for videos via your web browser, and have them downloaded directly to your TiVo. Right now it is not possible to shop for videos directly from the TiVo itself, but I believe we’ll see that added down the road. It would even be possible for a 3rd party to write an HME application that allowed you to browse the Unbox site and then order videos, all with the TiVo remote. (Anyone want to get started on that? ;-) )

I’d love to hear some feedback from people. How easy (or hard) did you find it to use? How do you like the service overall? What do you think of the quality of the videos?

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About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • super_wife

    Hiya. I saw your post and checked out the list at Amazon. We’ve been wanting to see the Illusionist – so I went ahead and gave it a go! It was a snap to link my TiVo account to Amazon’s Unbox!

    I then went to the list of movies/shows again and selected a movie (rental) and this time there was a new box on the left that had my TiVos listed in a dropdown list (download to: ) and a Buy Episode button.

    I was curious as to how they’d handle a rental. As per the instructions – it will download to my Series 2 or Series 3 where it can remain up to 30 days. Once the movie is selected and PLAY is pressed – it must be viewed within 24 hours.

    Hmmm… not too hip on that. Blockbuster lets you rent for a few days at a minimum – not just 24 hours. This also means you have to be careful if you have click-happy kids. I wasn’t sure how they’d handle rentals, but this is interesting.

    It’s been downloading now for probably close to an hour and it’s just nearing 50%. I suspect it will take as long to download as the movie is long. That’s what happens when I copy off my Series 2 to my PC also.

    In any event – the whole process was VERY easy. I’ll update again once I actually complete the download so I can see how it looks on my TiVo.

    I never did see anything about $$, though. I got the $15 credit I suppose? Hmmm – just happened to realize that. (It was supposed to be $3.99)

  • super_wife

    Oh COOL! I just went back (had to check it out more) and saw they have the entire CSI season! When we had our channel duplication/wrong channel changing issue back in November (resolved with newest TiVo update for S3) – we missed a pivotal episode of CSI when Grissom LEFT for his sabbatical! I FOUND it! I’m so jazzed.

    So I went to download this one (bought it for $1.99) just like the previous movie, and I get the message that it’s in queue behind 1 other download. Sweet! It also gives me the option to move it to the top of the queue, or a link to manage my media library. Of course I had to check THAT out.

    The media library leaves something to be desired. It shows a cover picture of whatever I have selected for each TiVo (or ALL), but it’s not clear if any of the items are still downloading or what has/hasn’t completed. You can also display your items in a list, which gives you more info (better) – but it still doesn’t indicate if it’s actually ON the TiVo or not or if it’s currently downloading or in queue or whatever. So this needs some work. (I have the image of the old Napster days when you see the progress bar of downloads in your queue and another window of all your songs in your library already downloaded)

    I didn’t expect that option at all though, so it was a LITTLE neat. The functionality just didn’t meet my expectations, though.

    So far… it’s easy to use – but some areas still need work.

  • super_wife

    One last thing (sorry!) … there are a LOT more titles available. I didn’t realize the first time. This link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=amb_link_3311752_5/102-6961359-5857704?ie=UTF8&node=16261631&field-keywords=tivo shows me over 1,300 results. I’m perusing now. :)

  • scarymike

    Hows the video quality (compared to DVD for example)? And please let us know what size tv you are judging this on.

    Also, can you start watching the movie before its done downloading?


  • scarymike

    It seems some titles don’t have a “rental” option, only a “buy” option. Thats really dissapointing, as I can only see myself using this service as a rental service (lower cost, don’t care to own the movie, and if I did, I’d want it on dvd).

    The departed is one such example: http://www.amazon.com/The-Departed/dp/B000NHPCS0/ref=sr_1_1/102-3566323-4530527?ie=UTF8&s=digital-video&qid=1173282000&sr=1-1

  • super_wife

    I just checked my CSI download and the quality looks good. I don’t think it’s as crisp as my HD recordings off the TV (never thought of that!), but it is pretty good. I have a 51″ wide screen viewing in widescreen format (what is that… 14:1?).

    As for viewing as it downloads – not sure. Since the movie is a “rental” and we HAVE to watch it within 24 hours of pressing Play (I am interested to see how that just “disappears” without my deleting it – I’ll let you know how that works), we didn’t attempt to play it yet.

    The recordings go into an Amazon Unbox folder, and they aren’t listed singly in the Now Playing List, which was interesting! The rental movie has a little flag icon next to it, but the CSI episode (bought, not rented) appears no different than other recordings. Except that it’s in the Amazon Unbox folder only.

    What fun this is! I thought we’d never use this, but the concept and ease is pretty cool. Especially since we have access to the same movies that are at Blockbuster without having to leave the house. We haven’t “rented” anything in eons, and we never thought we would, but now we don’t have to necessarily wait for movies to come out on the movie channels.

    My next test will be to download to my Series 2 (these went to my Series 3) and see if I can pull them off using TiVo Desktop and burn them to DVD without issue.

    Fun stuff!

  • super_wife

    Do you have a Series 2 on a network? I’m going to try downloading a ‘bought’ title and transfer it to my PC to burn to DVD.

    Lord I’m such a geek!

  • mhaithaca

    I’m sure this won’t work using the official tools, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it would work using an “unofficial” one. You should also be able to capture the video using an external DVD recorder, though I suppose there might be a Macrovision signal that would interfere.

  • anonymous

    Great post and point on HME. I’d love this to be just the tip of the iceberg. Blogged more over at NextBlitz:


  • gregtrotter

    So, I linked the accounts. But I screwed up — I linked the wrong account (I linked the one that my short-lived S3 was on, and I was never clear why it was on a different email address).

    So, Amazon says that there’s no DVRs associated with the account. Duh, I realize my mistake. I click the delink option. It doesn’t actually do anything. So, I call Amazon.

    They are able to reproduce the problem, but they can’t figure out how to fix it. They then suggest that I ask TiVo to change my account information to match the bad information in their database.

    I ask them if I had provided a wrong mailing address, would they ask me to move?

    Finally, they decided that it wasn’t their fault, it was TiVos. Which I find very unlikely, since the link information was provided to an Amazon page. And my suspicion was right; TiVo says this is all on Amazon’s end. I called back and got the same story from Amazon again.

    I know that it’s the first day, and part of it was my goof, but it’s pretty clear to me that this product is not ready for prime-time yet if the partners just point fingers at each other and nobody wants to fix anything.

  • anonymous

    Hi gregtrotter,

    What do you mean when you say “I click the delink option. It doesn’t actually do anything.” … I just tried several times and it worked for me [smile] I must be lucky.

    Be sure to be signed in on Amazon with your “S3″ account when you attempt to unlink your Amazon/TiVo accounts.
    Go to this page http://www.amazon.com/gp/video/tivo/ and you should see if this account is still linked or not.

    If you see the “Register Now” button then you’re unlinked, in this case go down to my LINK STEP.

    If you see the message saying that you’re registered (I don’t have it in mind but it must be something along the line that you don’t have any DVR on file) then click on “Did you register with the wrong TiVo account? Cancel and re-register”.

    Once done, the page should show the “Register Now” button, then that means you’ve successfully unlinked your Amazon “S3″ account from your TiVo account. But at that point you’re still signed in on amazon with your “S3″ account. Follow to LINK STEP below.

    on Amazon.com, sign-in with your “real” Amazon account and go to the page http://www.amazon.com/gp/video/tivo/ page and do “Register Now”.

    I hope this helps, I also made the mistake this morning as I was signed in on my wife’s account, so I unlinked/switched amazon accounts and relinked and it worked well.

    Please post back on your status

  • zeigen

    gregtrotter, sorry to hear about the issue. Please e-mail me (estephen@tivo.com) with your contact info and we’ll both fix it and make sure the agents are re-trained on the concept that they are NOT to refer you back and forth to each other.

  • scarymike

    Sucks. Looks like you got a tivo employee who is willing to help you out. Make sure you come back and see all the comments.


  • gregtrotter

    Yeah, I sent him my info, and am happy that it looks like something might happen.

    I should note that my frustration is squarely on Amazon. It does bother me when two companies point at each other, but usually, one of them is completely right to do so, and I am pretty sure that TiVo is correct here. I really got the feeling that Amazon sent me to YiVo because the rep there didn’t know how to fix my problem and he wanted me the hell off his call queue.

    In any event, I am very happy to get that kind of attention, but I’ve pretty much come to expect that from TiVo. The experience I had with the Series 3 (which I wound up returning — because I was tired of the fight with the cableco, even though TiVo hadn’t given up yet) really cememted their good customer service policies, and let me to become a (small) investor. Glad to see the stock is up today. :)

  • megazone

    The 24-hour limitation on rentals is, unfortunately, standard for the industry. Amazon Unbox has that limit for all rentals, not just via TiVo. Movielink, and the other download services have the same limitation.

  • megazone

    Honestly, I’m not impressed by the video quality on my 62″ 1080p DLP. I didn’t expect HD, of course, but I think the quality varies a bit. In generally I’d say it is similar to ‘High’ on a Series2 TiVo. Sometimes better, closer to Best, sometimes maybe a bit worse.

    Acceptable for catching something I’ve missed, or renting some movies, but I do hope that they expand this to offer higher quality downloads. I’d pay a buck more for something really DVD quality – 720x480p. Also, the sound is stereo – which makes sense for the Series2 & Series2DT, as they only output stereo. But if the higher quality option included 5.1 then the DVD-TiVo units and the Series3 could take advantage of it.

    As with TiVoCast, you have to wait for the download to finish to watch it.

  • megazone

    Standard TV is 4:3, widescreen is 16:9.

    Rentals just go away, like a show that is deleted, after the 24-hour window – or the 30-days, whichever happens first.

    Unbox downloads cannot be transferred via MRV or TTG, ever. So no copying to a PC or burning DVDs.

    However, when you purchase a program from Unbox you can download it forever, so you can watch it on the TiVo, delete it, and then download it again in the future if you want to watch it again. Also, purchases can be downloaded twice – so you can download to the TiVo *and* the PC – simultaneously. Also, you can download two copies for portable devices. Basically all the standard Unbox features apply, now with the option to download to the TiVos.

    Rentals, obviously, have more limitations.

  • megazone

    Make sure the title doesn’t have two listings – I see a lot of movies listed twice, once as a rental, once as a purchase. It looks like they have a listing for The Departed as a rental – but it is not currently available. See here.

    This is not unique to the TiVo downloads, looks like a general restriction. When this happens it is often the studio – they don’t want to undercut DVD sales, and may have deals with other rental outlets they can’t compete with for a while.

  • megazone


  • scarymike

    Whats your experience with the aspect ratio? On the community forums, one person claimed that the departed downloaded and was widescreen (but didn’t specify if it was letterboxed or native wide). The amazon site clearly sais the tivo download is 133:1, but that could be the file size dimensions, even if its letter boxed.


  • megazone

    Hmm, I don’t really remember exactly, sorry. I jump back and forth between SD, digital SD, and HD content on my S3 so much that I don’t consciously notice anymore.

  • anonymous

    I just setup (linked) my TiVo and Amazon accounts and selected “The Illussionist” as my first rental, but no where does it seem to have applied the $15 credit. Is there a code or something I need to enter? As far as I can tell it just charged my credit card. thanks… zebtron@gmail.com

  • megazone

    Unfortunately, the Unbox service isn’t setup to display credits. Check your invoice, others report that they get a credit for the cost of the movie, so the total billed is $0.00.

  • gregtrotter

    We’re talking about two different things.

    Your situation was two Amazon accounts and one TiVo account. Mine was one Amazon account and two TiVo accounts.

    The “Cancel and re-register” link is the one that’s not working. Amazon has been able to replicate the problem, but they have not been able to resolve it.

    So, I sit and wait while Amazon attempts to get their act together.

  • dbldbl

    I had to redeem the free 1.99 credit after buying a physical dvd, so lo & behold the advertisement for Amazon + TiVo Unbox on the Amazon page. I installed the Unbox program on a PC before linking the TiVo account, wasn’t sure if I had to redeem the first offer in order to get the $15 credit.

    After downloading the TV show (NUMB3RS) to the PC, I checked for a TiVo logo on the show page so I could get a copy to my box. Although there wasn’t one, the drop-down box showed my boxes available to transfer the show. I guess some shows will have the TiVo logo compatibility eventually; I’m sure there’s some catching up and updating to do.

    The DT S2 box I transferred the show to did not take long to initiate the transferring; it showed on queue after selecting my TiVo box on the Amazon site, but checking the Now Playing screen it seemed like it transferred as if I was selecting a TiVo-to-TiVo transfer. It was really fast. I guess something triggers a purchase instantaneously on the Amazon site to bring up the download right away. I’m comparing this to the online scheduling option; if one needs to program within an hour window, I’m curious if Amazon Unbox purchases are priority versus updated schedules.

    The quality looks really good, on par to the downloaded content from TiVo, like the insider TiVo shows that get automatically downloaded to our boxes. I wasn’t able to view the entire episode as I was interested in reading the INFO on the downloaded program. More soon…

    I’m very impressed so far with this Unbox program!

  • ext_36178

    Registration and linking the accounts went fine. Ordered a series and a movie.

    Since then, clicked download to my TiVo a couple of times. It stays in the download buffer for a while and then disappears. There seems to be no extra traffic towards the TiVo.

    I really wish they provided feedback on both sides of the fence what happens.

  • megazone

    Is there anything in your recording history about the downloads?

  • ext_36178

    There is indeed a line for each attempt.

    Saying: ‘This program was not dowloaded onto this DVR because it was not found’

  • anonymous

    I am a poor soul who still owns a 4:3 analog television. I have the opinion, that the quality of the TV show I downloaded was DVD quality. I do not have an HDTV to see the artifacts, someone might see in HD. I was very pleased with this service. Only took 10-15 minutes to download a 23 minute episode.

  • anonymous

    I experienced the same exact problem on my Series 3 and spoke with a TiVo representative.

    I rebooted the Series 3 and it then pulled both Unbox purchases I made from Amazon in short order. Within approximately five minutes of rebooting, the blue “network download” LED activated on my Series 3 and it performed the downloads.

    Prior to rebooting, the Recording History showed about four attempts within two minutes of each other, each failing with the “file not found” error indication.

    Good luck and enjoy.


  • megazone

    I hate that error, it is kind of a generic “Something fell over”… If it continues to fail I’d contact Amazon and/or TiVo tech support.

  • anonymous

    Sometimes, you start (but cant finish) a movie in 24 hours… how can you save it for later???

    I transferred a rented movie to my PC using TyTool, but the .ty file cant be opened with TyStudio. I normally can play .TY files directly from Windows Media Player or VLC, but the Amazon rented downloads wont play! I also tried streaming it (TivoWebPlus), but it doesnt play either.

    Anyone try this with a purchased unbox title (i.e. not rented)?

  • megazone

    The idea is that you’re not supposed to be able to open them. They’re encrypted.

    Purchases don’t expire and you can re-download them if deleted.

  • zeigen

    99% of the time it means DNS is not working, and we literally could not find the file. Check your DHCP settings in Network setup, check your router, check your ISP, check if other TiVoCast programs download.

  • megazone

    I wish the error messages were more specific like that. Even if it was generic, so as not to spook non-geeks, but had some code number that could be looked up online to get the specifics.

  • anonymous

    i’ve got an 80hr tivo series 2 sony with a fast wireless connect…

    amazon says the dvr is linked, i can buy/rent the program.. it goes into the cue then disappears. if i redownload it the same happens, but it never ends up on my tivo list.

    i’ve called tivo and amazon cust service and the only answer i get is that i have too many season passes– thats crazy i only have 10-15 season passes, tivo constantly deletes stuff as it records new stuff, can this really be the problem?

  • megazone

    Check your recording history to see if it is having an error when downloading.

  • anonymous

    Why doesn’t TiVo or Amazon post a list of “Here’s what it takes to make this work” checklist. And a list of “If you do this or this or this, it won’t work”

  • megazone

    They do have a setup checklist of the steps to configure the systems for Unbox.

    As for what could make it not work – that’d be a nigh-infinitely long list. But the majority of users have standard home networks and won’t be concerned with most of them. For the most part, only the geeks who do things like block outbound network traffic, etc, have issues – and they should be smart enough to figure out what they need to do.

  • anonymous

    how do you find downloading recording history?

  • anonymous

    Same thing happen to me. I have a Tivo HD, hooked up to network, tivo desktop, everything works fine, plenty of room, and I rented a movie and it never arrived. Hit download button on amazon.com at various times, but nothing. And now amazon tells me that my “rental” i never got has expired and won’t give me back my money. I’ve asked them to just extend my rental so I can figure out what is wrong, we’ll see what happens…

    I don’t mind helping them figure out the kinks in this system, which in concept I love and want to use, I just wish they wouldn’t take my money while they I help figure things out.

  • megazone

    On the TiVo under the To Do List, the first entry is View Recording History.

  • megazone

    In your To Do List the first item is View Recording History – look in there to see if there are entries for the failed downloads.

  • anonymous

    I ordered something else. I looked on this list, but didn’t see anything. Odd. I never seem to get unbox videos.

  • megazone

    If it is never getting to the unit there may be something deeper that is the problem.

  • anonymous

    Talked with Tivo, they figured out I’m not getting my unbox videos because I don’t have the latest update for my series 3. I have 8.1 and need 8.3 which is rolling out randomly. So I just need to wait until I’m updated and then I can get my videos.

    If anyone has this problem, check your info and see if you have 8.1. Then you have the same issue.



  • anonymous

    will it to possible to convert video to this .ty format… and leave it stored on your computer…. then play it from any tv in the house that has a tivo box?

  • megazone

    With TiVoToGo you don’t have to do anything with .ty files. You transfer content to a PC as .tivo files, and you can play them on the PC or transfer to another TiVo.

    Unbox content cannot be transferred at all – but purchases (not rentals) can be re-downloaded multiple times to different TiVos or PCs.

  • BrazenHussy

    This is a fabulous service. I would use Amazon Unbox above anything else if I could just RENT THE MOVIES I WANT! Why are the new releases only available to purchase! They could make a stealing if they just put them for rent. Frustrating