Amazon’s Video Streaming Service Goes Live – As A Trial

I mentioned Amazon’s planned video streaming service earlier this morning in my post about YouTube on TiVo, and now I see that, coincidentally, Amazon is releasing it to “a limited number of invited customers” starting today, according to The New York Times.

The new streaming service will apparently be called Amazon Video on Demand, and it will be distinct from Amazon Unbox, Amazon’s purchase and rental download service. The Times reports Amazon will have 40,000 titles available for instant streaming. I don’t see the new service as a replacement for Amazon Unbox, but rather a compliment. After all, you will need an active Internet connection to stream video on the new service. Unbox allows you to download video to watch later, off-line – such as on your laptop while on a plane, or on a PMP while traveling. And it is a fairly open secret that Amazon intends to offer HD content through Unbox, and true HD content does not lend itself to streaming on today’s networks. Streaming vs. downloads vs. physical media (DVD/BD) really lay along a convenience vs. quality curve, as a generalization. Streaming is instant gratification, but the lowest quality. Downloads take longer, but will generally offer higher bit rates and hence higher quality. And physical media, in the form of DVD, offers yet higher bit rates. As well as extras, often times audio formats not found on downloads or streams (5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS), additional languages, subtitles, etc. But with the inconvenience of a wait to receive the media. And Blu-ray is at the end of the scale with the highest bit rates, full 1080p HD, often 7.1 lossless audio, etc. All of these options compliment each other and will appeal to different users, or under different circumstances to the same user. (I myself buy a number of Blu-ray discs and love the quality. I also still buy some DVDs, though less now with BD. But I also use Amazon Unbox through my TiVo to check out movies I don’t have as strong an interest in, or impulse rentals due to sales, etc.)

Currently, aside from a PC, Amazon has a deal with Sony to make the streaming content available via Sony Bravia HDTVs. Today that requires the Sony Bravia Internet Video link, which is a $300 add-on. But in the future Sony is expected to build the Internet connectivity directly into new models in the Bravia line. Amazon says they’ll pursue relationships with other TV and Internet device vendors. Which, of course, begs the obvious question – what about their current flagship CE partner, TiVo?

While TiVo isn’t mentioned in the article, I really have to believe this is in the works. TiVo releases H.264 and video streaming support, and they just happen to do so on the same day Amazon makes their streaming service available to the first users? TiVo and Amazon already have a relationship with Unbox, an apparently very successful one, so you know they had to discuss the streaming service early on. With the infrastructure in place with 9.4, TiVo could throw the switch at any time just by updating the HME application that is used for all of the broadband video options. No further software update would be required in the field. I think it is a safe bet that we’ll see Amazon Video on Demand on the Series3 & TiVo HD in the future, perhaps the near future.

Picked up via EngadgetHD.

UPDATE: I went looking around Amazon to see if there was any information on the streaming trial, and on the Amazon Unbox page there was a link in the upper right to sign up for the beta. It says space is limited, so I’d jump on it, don’t procrastinate.

And just to fully confirm that Unbox downloads are not going anywhere:

The goal of this Beta is to test our new instant streaming feature. Don’t want to wait for your video to download? Want to avoid downloading additional software? Want to watch Unbox videos on a Mac? Amazon Video On Demand is the solution to these common customer requests. Purchase or rent a video and you will have instant streaming access to your video from any PC or Mac. All of the existing Unbox functionality remains. You can continue to download your videos for offline playback on a PC or TiVo.

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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  • Dave Zatz

    The Amazon rep in the NYT article says they’ll offer both streaming AND downloads. This is essentially an expansion and rebranding of their videos services. There’s some chatter of the TCF, people worried Amazon won’t be available on TiVo going forward. TiVo has confirmed for me that is NOT the case.

  • Dave Zatz

    PS MZ, I think the direct citation effectively breaks your NDA. ;)

  • MegaZone

    People jumping at shadows. It isn’t helped by some blogs phrasing it like the streaming service is replacing Unbox. Wired did that, as did some others. I’ve seen confusion about that now in a few forums and on a few blogs. It wouldn’t make any sense for them to dump downloads and go strictly streaming – the downloads support PMPs and people taking laptops on the road and flights, for example. They’re complimentary, and offering both is a competitive advantage over services that do just downloads (iTunes) or just streaming (Netflix).

    As for the quote – I thought that was just sign up information, didn’t think of it as special beta info. It isn’t anything not already said in public anyway.

  • Glenn

    Agreed we’re not going to see streaming HD. Its going to be a download option at best. Progressive download where you can sometimes watch it as it downloads, but that’s as close as we’re going to get. PC World’s review suggested that the Unbox streaming was smaller/less detailed than NetFlix Watch Now, which suggests it might not even look that good blown up to TV size. We’ll have to wait and see of course.

    Is there any evidence that Unbox streaming is using h.264? They could easily be using Silverlight or Flash or some Microsoft WMV/VC-1 codec, though the latter isn’t likely since it apparently works on Macs…

  • MegaZone

    I haven’t seen anything that definitely says it is H.264, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t. Right now there are pretty much only two candidate codecs – H.264 and VC-1. And H.264 is the absolutely dominant codec. Since Amazon has said they’re looking to partner with TV and Internet vendors, it is very doubtful they’d use anything that wasn’t a major codec – no lesser used codecs. And since H.264 is widely implemented in newer gear it is the logical choice.

    Remember, Silverlight and Flash are frameworks, not codecs. There are codecs under the covers. Flash has support for several codecs – VP6, Spark, Wildform, and even H.264. Silverlight is, of course, built on Windows Media – it supports WMV1, WMV2, WMV3, WMVA, and WMVC1 (aka VC-1) for video, and WMA7, WMA8, WMA9, and MP3 for audio. There have been many rumors to the effect that MS will add H.264 support to Silverlight, and I think they should if only because H.264 is the dominant codec for online video and a global standard accepted by ISO and the ITU (Yes, VC-1 is set by the SMPTE, not really the same level as ISO or ITU).

    But, even if not, the decoder in the S3 and HD also handles VC-1 – if TiVo enables it in software, of course.

  • Glenn

    Thanks, Mega. I agree with the analysis, and the fact that h.264 is the most likely, but that doesn’t mean its the one they picked. I can imagine a business decision could be made because Microsoft goosed things a little (promo $, free stuff), to get them to support Silverlight. I’ll note for example that Netflix streaming uses VC-1. Microsoft implemented Silverlight on both Macs and PCs (though Netflix doesn’t work on Macs, interesting…), and a Silverlight implementation for Linux is coming from the open source community. VC-1 is very similar to h.264, and nearly its equal on quality. As you say of course h.264 has the momentum, at least in hardware/ASIC implementations…

  • MegaZone

    You can start a religious war over H.264 vs. VC-1. Lots of video compressionists will argue that one is superior to the other for various reasons. Just saying VC-1 is nearly equal to H.264 will set some H.264 adherents frothing. ;-) I agree that they’re not that dissimilar in the big picture. And Moonlight for Linux is an interesting project. But I don’t see VC-1 getting the same level of broad support as MPEG-4/H.264 has, certainly not in the near term.