Amazon is America's largest online retailer. The company's primary business is selling a wide variety of goods — especially books, DVDs and music CDs — that are ordered on their Website and shipped by mail or package delivery services. But they also offer some products that they deliver digitally to customers who have a broadband Internet connection. Included among such products are movies and TV programming, and this part of their business was formerly known as Amazon Unbox, but has now evolved into what is called Amazon Video on Demand. With this service, you pay separately for each title you rent. Prices are generally in the range $0.99 to $3.99.
Unless you have some special equipment and/or connections, you'll have to watch movies and TV shows from Amazon Video on Demand on your computer screen. However, there are ways of watching on your TV screen, including via TiVo DVR, Sony Bravia Internet Video Link, Xbox 360 and Windows Media Center.
Amazon Video on Demand offers two different ways of getting video rentals: (1) you can watch online on a PC or a Mac, or (2) you can download to a PC or a TiVo DVR. With either option, you get the rental for a 24-hour viewing period.
Finding a Title
No matter which of the two ways you get your rental, you begin by going to the Amazon Website and finding a movie you would like to rent. If you know what you want to watch, search for the title, and when you navigate to the page for buying it on DVD, click on "Rent and watch now." If you want to browse titles for rent, you can begin by clicking "Digital Downloads" on the Amazon home page. Then choose "Video on Demand," followed by "Movies to Rent." When you settle on a title you would like to watch, click on "Watch it now."
Within moments the movie you've chosen starts showing on your computer screen. Amazon lets you watch the first couple of minutes free. Just below where the movie shows on your screen, there is a button indicating you want to rent the movie. Click it, and you are led through a series of steps to pay the rental fee.
After you complete the payment procedure, you must choose whether to watch the movie online or to download it to a PC or TiVo DVR.
Renting for Online Viewing
After you've clicked the button indicating you want to watch the rental online, the movie will start showing on your computer screen. If at any point you decide to take a brief break, there's a pause button you can click. If you want to take a long break, you can do that by clicking on Your Video Library.
You can return to the movie anytime within 24 hours of renting it. You do this by getting on the Web and going to the Amazon Video on Demand top-level page. Then click on Your Video Library, and an icon for the movie will be displayed. Click on that icon, and the movie will resume.
Note that when you rent a movie using this method, it's never stored on your computer, and you have to be on the Internet to watch it.
Downloading a Rental
But suppose you want to get a rented movie digitally over the Internet, and you want to watch it later at a time when you're not connected to the Internet. You can do this by downloading an Amazon Video on Demand rental, but you can watch the downloaded movie only on the screen of a Windows PC or on a television with TiVo. You can't watch a downloaded Amazon Video on Demand rental on a Mac or on a portable media device.
To download a rented movie from Amazon Video on Demand, you begin exactly the same as for watching a movie online. However, instead of clicking Watch online, click Download to PC or TiVo DVR. You can watch the downloaded movie as many times as you wish in a continuous 24-hour period within the next 30 days. The clock starts on the 24 hours when you begin to play the movie.
But to watch a downloaded movie on a Windows PC, you have to use software called Unbox Video Player. You can download this software free from Amazon. Unbox Video Player is not compatible with the Macintosh.
- You can choose a title and begin watching it only moments later.
- No need to go to a store — everything is done over the Internet.
- Good selection of titles.
- You can watch rentals online on either a Mac or a PC.
- You don't have to store movies watched online on your computer.
- Unless you have special connections and/or equipment, you have to watch rentals on a computer screen.
- The selection of rental titles is less than that of some of the better brick-and-mortar video stores.
- Downloaded movies can't be watched on a Mac.
- No way is provided for customers to rent movies to watch on portable media devices, including iPod and iPhone.
Amazon Video on Demand has a simple, easy-to-use customer interface and a good selection of titles. The rental service part of it is very well-suited to someone who wants to watch a movie on their PC or Mac screen and is able to stay connected to the Internet while doing so. Such a person can choose a title and begin watching it only moments later.
But if what you want is to rent a copy of a movie so you can watch it later when you're not connected to the Internet, Amazon Video on Demand may not be right for you. This capability isn't supported at all for Mac, iPod or iPhone. It works for a Windows laptop or TiVo, but to use it, you'll probably want to have a very fast Internet connection so the download can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time.
Nevertheless, for people who want to watch movie rentals on a computer screen, the service provided by Amazon Video on Demand should be considered since it is definitely competitive with Blockbuster downloads and Apple's iTunes store.