Amazon Unbox on TiVo: If I Unbox my TiVo, can I still send it back?

The long-awaited partnership between TiVo and’s “Unboxed” video service finally launched, after weeks and weeks of promises.

I’ve been really excited about this service. Ever since my daughter was born, I’ve pretty much fallen off the planet, Hollywood-wise. So I’m just stoked at the possibility of just jumping online and renting a movie on a whim when the kiddo happens to go to sleep early.

Anyhow, here’s how Unbox + TiVo works: I can go to, browse their selection of downloadable and rentable movies, pick the one(s) I want, and they’ll automagically download to my TiVo. Slick! Not only that, but they gave me a $15 credit to play with the service just for signing up! How nice!

I think this is a great model. I can browse the store from a rich interface (my laptop, which has a keyboard and easy links to IMDB) and pick my movies, and can even do that when I’m not at my house. So I can pick a movie while I’m at work, and watch it at night once I get home. That convenience is well worth the premium price that Amazon charges for these rentals. ($2-$4 per rental, or $15 to buy a movie.)

Now, buying movies this way doesn’t appeal to me too much. There’s DRM, so I can ONLY play them on my TiVo or on a PC (Amazon’s video player isn’t Mac compatible), and that’s not good. But for a rental, I couldn’t care less if there’s DRM. I just want to watch it and then be done with it.

But here I am browsing their selection, and I can’t seem to find anything that I’d like to download.

First I looked for “Borat,” a movie I really want to see. They have it, but I can’t rent it. I don’t want to watch it for $15, so that’s out. I search for “The Departed,” and I find that I can buy it or… um… I can not rent it. What the hell?

But hey, there’s TV shows! So I search for my favorites: Scrubs? Nope. House? Nope. Hmm… What about “Heroes,” I’ve been curious about that show, it’d be great to watch a couple episodes with my $15 credit! Err… nope. Not there.

By now, I’m already turned off by this service. I normally consider Amazon an excellent retailer. I have a Prime account with them, I buy groceries from them, and do about all my X-Mas shopping on as well. I love ‘em. But this download store… not so much. Not only is the selection hit-or-miss, but they make it hard for me to do what I want. I mean, they have hundreds of videos, but they’re all different, and not just by pricing. Some are purchase only, some are rental only, and some don’t even offer a TiVo download, it seems! And then there’s the huge quantity of videos that aren’t available and don’t have prices but are still, inexplicably, clogging up my search results.

So instead of paying a premium price for a hassle-free download, I get tons of hassle and I get to pay a hefty premium.

Nope. I’m going to Buffalo Video and I’m going to slap down a cool dollar for a rental. Sure, it’s an extra drive, but the selection’s bigger and I know the movie will play on my DVD player.

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Written on March 7, 2007