Not to be outdone by whatever iTunes/iPod services Apple’s (AAPL) Steve Jobs could be planning to announce next week, Amazon (AMZN) has rolled out its new Amazon Video on Demand video streaming service. After a quick test, we think it’s the best competition iTunes has seen yet.
Amazon’s new video service picks up where its old one, Unbox, left off — it now works on Macs, for example, and video starts streaming instantly. We just tried it out on a few free episodes of ’30 Rock’, and it works well: Good — not great — video quality and a user interface that, while cluttered, should be familiar to any Amazon shopper.
How does Amazon’s streaming service compare with iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix streaming? Like Apple’s iTunes, Amazon’s service will offer rentals for $3 to $4 and movie purchases for $10 to $15. Most TV episodes seem to cost $2; season packs are also available.
Unlike iTunes, Amazon offers NBC shows — some of the same episodes you’ll be able to watch at Hulu for free, but without the commercials. And its library of 40,000 movies and TV shows blows Netflix’s sorry selection out of the water. Also nice, but not a game changer: It’ll stream to some Sony TVs and TiVo devices, as well as Windows Media centre extender devices, like Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
The downside: Full downloads for offline viewing are still only available for Windows PCs and TiVos, not Macs or Apple TVs. And portable movies still won’t play on any Apple gadgets like iPods or iPhones.
Is this the service that will ignite some sort of Web video revolution, get everyone to connect their PCs to their TVs, and swear off cable and DVDs? Too early to tell, but probably not in its current form — Amazon still hasn’t made it easy enough to watch these streams on most TVs. And we’re still not sure which streaming video business model, if any, will appeal most to consumers — paid streaming vs. ad-supported streaming vs. subscription streaming.
Nor will it likely be able to generate enough revenue or profit to move the needle for Amazon any time soon. But so far, we like what we see from Amazon; this is a big upgrade from Unbox.
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