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"Firefly" Tv Series : Amazon Adds Little to Movie Downloads

Saturday 9 September 2006, by Webmaster

What does Amazon bring to the arena of movie downloads? Not much beyond its big name.

There are a few marginal steps forward in the retail giant’s Unbox service. You can move your videos to selected portable players, though not the most popular one, the iPod. And prices are slightly better than those at Movielink, one of Amazon’s seasoned rivals (I was about to call Movielink an "entrenched" rival, but it’s hard to call a company entrenched when most of its potential customers have never heard of it). Prices at CinemaNow, another longstanding, but barely noticed movie download service, are even lower. Here are a couple examples:

Friends with Money is $19.99 at Movielink, $17.87 at Amazon and $9.99 at CinemaNow. Poseidon is also $19.99 at Movielink. The disaster remake is $14.87 at Amazon and $9.99 at CinemaNow.

Some of the things that Amazon doesn’t offer:

— The ability to burn your movie to a DVD that will play in a living room DVD player. That’s something CinemaNow offers now and that a service called Guba says it will offer.

— The ability to watch your video soon after it starts downloading. At least I couldn’t.

Amazon’s FAQ says it offers progressive downloads, meaning you can start watching your video while the rest downloads in the background. According to the site, someone on a fast cable connection should be enjoying their movie within two-and-a-half minutes of starting their download. But my experience was very different.

I started downloading a 43-minute episode of Firefly on the T1 line here at the palatial PC World offices an hour ago. Amazon’s player software reports that it’ll be another 38 minutes before I can start watching it.

That’s far worse than my previous experiences with Movielink and CinemaNow, where I’ve been able to start watching within about five minutes of starting the download. Actually, it’s worse than going to the video store — by bicycle! At this rate, downloading a full movie from Amazon could be a dead heat with getting it by mail from Netflix. (My boss, Harry McCracken, reports that he started downloading The Candidate at home last night and by this morning it still wasn’t finished.)

It’s certainly unfair to draw concrete conclusions from the first day of Amazon Unbox. Surely, its servers will get speedier and its somewhat paltry selection will grow. But it doesn’t seem like the kind of game-changing service that will suddenly make movie downloads attractive to mainstream viewers — or convince pirates to cut off their Bit Torrent connection.

What will make that radical a change? Could it be Steve Jobs’s next announcement? We’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out.