I have been running the Amazon Unbox ad banner atop my site's pages for a while now, but never used the service until recently. Unbox is the name of Amazon's TV and movie download service that went online a few months ago. So in the spirit of using what I advertise, I decided to take the plunge and give Unbox a try. Not that I'm much of a TV or movie buff, but why advertise something I don’t use myself?
I suppose the first thing I should have done was reading the system requirements, but true to my personality I promptly skipped that part and started downloading the Unbox application from Amazon's website. The download and installation went pretty smoothly and soon I had the Amazon logo showing up in the system tray. Next came choosing a title to download, but before doing that I wanted to try a free clip just to see if everything was in order. I scoured Amazon's Web site and then resorted to a number of Google searches, but came up empty-handed. How could this be? I had just installed a program and didn't even know if it was going to work. All Amazon had to do was to provide a short, measly, home-made clip for users to test the program. I guess their plan is to force users to pay for a download just to kick the tires, revenue right out of the gate.
I'm really not that versed in the motion picture field, but the movie prices I saw (in the $15 area) didn't seem so appealing, I'll stick with our Netflix subscription, thank you. Finally I chose an episode of the original Star Trek series for $1.99, cheap enough for a test, but then came two unpleasant surprises. First, the only way to buy the title was with the 1-Click button. Apparently Amazon is going all out for the impulse and buyer's remorse on this one. Second, I had a small amount of money in my gift certificate account, enough to cover this purchase. But unlike the usual purchases where Amazon pulls money out of the gift certificate balance, they went right for the credit card I had on file and hit me with the charge. Annoyed, I wrote an email to their customer service. The next day I received a reply confirming that gift certificate balances can not be applied to Unbox purchases. Why? Other than greed, I couldn't come up with a reason for this absurdity.
After the purchase step was finished, I awaited for my next surprise. I opened the Unbox program and noticed that the nearly 900 meg file was finally being downloaded. As the progress bar passed around the 20% mark, I was given the green light to start the episode and that's when I got my next surprise. Admittedly this one was my own fault. The PC I was using didn't have enough muscle power to play the file. It was playing alright, but very choppy with numerous sound and image interruptions. I thought perhaps things will get better after the file is completely downloaded. No such luck, the episode was unwatchable. So I decided to search the Internet and learn about what exactly Unbox was downloading. I eventually found out that Unbox had downloaded a WMV (Windows Media Movie) file to my hard drive and that was the file the Unbox program was trying to play.
After locating the WMV file in "My Videos" folder, I decided to bypass the Unbox program and play it directly using Windows Medial Player and I had the same bad results. After fruitlessly fiddling with the Windows Media Player's options for some time, I finally decided that the hardware was just not capable of handling this file. To test my theory I copied the WMV file to a faster PC on my home network. The PC is more powerful than the original but has a small display and no speakers, just the PC speaker. Still good enough to check out the playback quality. I fired up Windows Media Player and opened the WMV file. That's when the next surprise hit me in the face, in the form of DRM (Digital Rights Management).
Was I able to resolve the issues and finally watch that Star Trek episode? I'm sure you're at the edge of your seat, begging to find out. I'll continue the Amazon Unbox saga in part 2 of this story.