Published Jan 18, 2008

The AIG and I are big Battlestar Galactica fans. Don’t laugh; I’ve been saying for years that it’s incredibly well-written, and, given that she’s a professional TV writer, I’d say there’s some evidence I’m right. Anyway, I’ve been catching her up thanks to my DVD collection, but Season 3 isn’t on DVD and Season 4 starts in just 3 months. Getting all the episodes in is hard work. That’s where Amazon Unbox comes in.

I have a few of the season-ending episodes on my Tivo, and the AIG was on-the-ball enough to Tivo a lot of other episodes from a marathon that SciFi was having. But we missed a few others, and what good is a partial season of a show with ongoing plotlines?

Since Unbox can download to Tivo, we decided to try that out.1 Initial setup was trivial for my Tivo Series 2, but Amazon incorrectly told us that the AIG’s Tivo Series 2 was incompatible. Turns out that she had never set it up on the Tivo Web site to Allow Transfers and Video Downloads. (If only the error message had pointed this out! I had to deduce this cause on my own.) Once I checked those two boxes, completing setup was simple.

Unbox movies can only be bought with One-Click, which is reasonable given that there’s no physical item to be delivered and the price is so low (just $2 for the BSG episode). Download of one episode took about 25 minutes, but another took several hours. It’s not obvious why this time difference existed. I also had to initiate a connection to the Tivo servers to start the download; I guess there’s no way to push a download to a Tivo, since the box is used to getting its instructions by dialing in. Unbox is no replacement for true Video on Demand, at least yet.2

The episodes were clear and ad-free. While they auto-set to delete 24 hours after being watched, I was able to manually reset the delete date and kept one episode for a week before deciding to delete it to free up space. Save to VCR did not appear to be disabled, which makes it easy to keep the episode (this is only fair since I bought it, if you ask me).

Would I buy more TV from Unbox? In a second. The AIG — not, by any stretch of the imagination, a geeky woman — actually suggested canceling her Netflix subscription, stating that we rarely watched movies3 and “we could get something off Unbox if we really wanted to see it.” The download wait is at worst shorter than the turnaround for a new movie from Netflix, and I don’t know anybody who still goes into a (non-specialty) movie rental place anymore.

So I’m an Unbox convert. Setup out of the way, it’s user-friendly. I might try putting It’s a Wonderful Life on my laptop next Christmas to make sure I catch it!

1 Surprisingly enough, Battlestar is not on iTunes — just the kind of geeky tool that the show’s demo would probably use. Anyway, Unbox downloads to the Tivo, which is already hooked up to the TV, rather than my laptop, which I’d have to figure out how to do. Score one for Amazon and Tivo (and here’s one good guess why Apple wants us to buy the Apple TV).

2 Although I wouldn’t put it past Time Warner to somehow sniff out Unbox packets and slow them down.

3 True


“suggested canceling her Netflix subscription, stating that we rarely watched movies”

You’re both dead to me!

The only reassurance I can give is that the low rate of movie-watching should be matched, this year, by a higher rate of content posting here. (Not higher quality; you should have learned not to wait for that by now.)