Now that I’ve played around with the Roku for a few weeks I decided to check out the Amazon Video on Demand (or VOD) store. Amazon offers fairly new movies for “rental” or “purchase,” and through the magic of Roku these rentals get automatically billed to your Amazon account. They have content for standard-definition as well as high-definition. I checked out a few of their free offerings (an HD promo for The Office) and was impressed by the quality.
So far it sounds good, right? The problem is that I didn’t see much in the way of movies I wanted to see. “Rental” prices are $2.99 and up for shows, which I think is a bit steep, considering you can only view them for a limited time.
And don’t get me started about the “purchase” option. That supposedly gives you unlimited views of a movie as long as you continue to abide by Amazon’s terms of service, at which point Amazon can decide to keep your money in exchange for nothing. That video library you thought you were building vanishes instantly.
Looking a little further into what you get when you “purchase” a movie, I discovered that you don’t actually own anything. Several rules are placed on how you can use the movie you “purchased.” Sure, you can download your movie but you can only watch it on four devices (two portable, two non-portable). And these devices have to be “approved devices.” This means devices which run Microsoft’s DRM crap. And nevermind if you have one of these devices which can display HD movies: the version you’re allowed to load is standard definition only.
Oh, and sorry, Apple owners! Not only can’t you watch movies on your iPhone or iPod, Amazon’s Unbox video player is not available for Macs. If you’ve got a Mac and want to watch the movie offline, you’re screwed. iPod or iPhone owners not only can’t watch streaming content, they can’t watch downloaded content, either.
Don’t like the movie you just purchased? Tough! You can’t return it, and, because you don’t really own it, you can’t sell it to someone else. It’s not like a book, or a bona-fide DVD in this regard. Your movie is “non-transferable.”
All of this depends on your home Internet connection being stable and that your local evil cable company won’t jack up your cable rates when it decides to meter its customers’ bandwidth. Again, that video library you put money into has just become worthless. And the streaming version is compressed to the extreme to fit down the crowded Internet tubes. You won’t be getting DVD quality for your money.
So, for all of this trouble what do you pay for this rights-restricted, “purchased” video? A price very close to what an actual DVD would cost. For all the rights you give up, and all the compromises you make with a “purchase” of a video-on-demand, you get no price break. In some cases, you actually pay more than for the actual DVD. For instance, Shrek Forever After is $14.99 as an Amazon VOD purchase, but Amazon sells the DVD version for $13.99. How does this make sense?
I don’t mind watching streaming movies on Netflix because I can watch any movie in Netflix’s streaming library any time I want as many times as I want. I might even be willing to watch some movies on Amazon VOD if they’re really appealing to me, but “purchasing” them through Amazon VOD is just stupid.
If I want to own a DVD, I will consider buying a new one but most likely I will search the second-hand sources like Craigslist or SecondSpin.Com. I will then own a DVD that I can legally do whatever I want with. I can rip it and legally place it on my home media server. I can legally put it on my iPod and take it anywhere. When I get tired of the DVD, I can legally put it up for sale (after I delete any copies, of course). None of this can be done with a “purchased’ VOD.
For now, I’ll pass on Amazon Video on Demand. I just don’t find it compelling.