Amazon Instant Video (formerly Amazon Video On Demand) is an Internet video on demand service offered by Amazon.com in the United States. It offers television shows and films for rental and purchase. The service debuted on September 7, 2006, as Amazon Unbox. On September 4, 2008, the service was rebranded as "Amazon Video on Demand." The Unbox name still refers to the locally installed player, which is now optional. On February 22, 2011, Amazon added access to 5,000 movies and TV shows for Amazon Prime members. On September 4, 2012, Amazon signed a deal with pay-TV channel Epix to feature movies on their streaming service, in a move to rival their competition Netflix.
Customers can download videos to TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs, except those made for use with DirecTV (DirecTiVo). Sony BRAVIA TVs equipped with an Internet Video Link device, and Panasonic VIERA TVs equipped with Viera Cast can also use Amazon VOD directly through the TV's menu system. Consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 3 officially support Amazon Instant Video. Amazon Instant Video is also available on streaming players such as Roku. On May 19, 2012, Amazon Instant Video announced it was available to Xbox 360 users, via Xbox Live. It is not compatible with Apple TV. Amazon Instant Video is also supported on a number of smart TVs such as recent Samsung and LG models, as well as other consoles like the Wii and Wii U, and mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.
The optional Amazon Unbox player lets users download higher-quality copies of videos. The Unbox player is compatible only with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Downloaded films include a full-resolution video file and can include a lower-resolution copy for portable devices. The content can be viewed using the Amazon Unbox Video Player, Windows Media Player, a Windows Media Center Extender such as an Xbox 360, a PlaysForSure portable device. Downloaded videos may be burned to a DVD for storage purposes, but the resulting DVD will not play on a DVD player. However, there is no way to view HD Movies (this does not include HD TV shows and SD Movies) on a PC, even with the Unbox player, unlike HD playback on the Kindle Fire HD, Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, TiVO and other Amazon Instant Video HD compatible devices.
Depending on the device, Amazon supports up to 720p streaming with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, similar to competitors such as Netflix. Where titles are only available for purchase (and not included in a customer's Amazon Prime subscription, the full HD option is often offered at an additional price.
Amazon.com describes the content as "DVD quality." The average video bitrate of an Amazon Unbox download equals 2,500 kbit/s; this means that a two hour movie consumes roughly two gigabytes (2 GB) of storage space. In comparison, a typical DVD averages 5,600 kbit/s, which makes a 2-hour movie about 4.7 GB. However, Amazon uses the VC-1 codec, a more modern codec than MPEG-2, which is used on DVDs. VC-1 achieves a higher quality picture at a smaller file size.
The quality for the TiVo files is advertised as being 2,800 kbit/s and as being "of equal or better quality than videos recorded at the Best Quality setting on a TiVo Series2 DVR."
Due to the large size of the files being downloaded, the service requires a broadband internet connection capable of sustaining transfer speeds of 800 kbit/s. A 2-hour movie may take 7 hours and 20 minutes to download using a 750 kbit/s DSL/cable connection or 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 3.0 Mbit/s DSL/cable connection. Amazon asserts that for customers with an internet connection of 3 Mbit/s or more, any Unbox file will start playing within five minutes. In November 2007, TiVo enabled "progressive download" for Unbox content so that users may watch downloaded files before the download is complete.
While the download versions utilize VC-1 in a WMV container, the format used for streaming HD (both purchased content and Amazon Prime unlimited streaming) is AVC with an average video bitrate of 2,500 kbit/s. On a computer, this encode is streamed in a FLV container.
Customers of Amazon Instant Video need only a web browser with Silverlight to stream videos.
For transfer to portable device, the service requires the installation of a client application which manages playback and the transfer of video to portable devices that bear the Microsoft PlaysForSure certification, such as the Creative Zen or a Portable Media Center.
For use with a TiVo DVR, no client application is needed. The user only needs a broadband enabled (and connected) Series2 or Series3 DVR. DirecTiVo DVRs are not supported.
Use on various TVs and consoles (including Panasonic, LG, Samsung and other TVs) requires a broadband connection. Use on Xbox Live the user needs broadband connected Xbox with Xbox Live Gold membership.
In the first version of Unbox, a background service would launch itself upon system startup to contact the Amazon server to see if there were any new videos to download. Also, the program would attempt to contact the Amazon server when uninstalled. This automatic behavior, which could not be disabled without uninstalling the Unbox application, drew negative reviews for its implicit permission to run arbitrary code as designated by Amazon.com personnel. This is also confirmed in the video player's license agreement. In an upgrade released shortly after launch, thought to be a response to these criticisms, Amazon made "launch on startup" optional, though disabling it necessarily disables the RemoteLoad feature, and makes the program impossible to run in non-administrator computer accounts.
Rented Unbox movies cannot be transferred to a portable device. They can only be viewed on the device to which they are downloaded.
TV Passes purchased in the middle of a television season require the purchase of all previous episodes of the current season. Further, TV Passes are restricted to a single season, and the user isn't notified when new seasons become available, so the user must find out through other means when the new season starts and then manually order it.
Amazon does not support WebM for VP8 support with streaming of Prime HD movie content on computers. Dedicated devices are necessary. This is not a technical problem or bandwidth issue, as VP8 support is available with such plugins and Netflix uses Amazon for their cloud servers.
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