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Amazon Raises The Curtain On Unbox

By: David Utter

The online retailer launched its video service at with content from an array of movie studio and cable channel content creators.

Amazon Raises The Curtain On UnboxAre Amazon (AMZN) customers ready for video downloads? Plenty of people already scour websites like YouTube and others for video content. Google (GOOG) launched a video service that offers free and for-pay content. Yahoo (YHOO) and AOL (TWX) both extensively revamped their video offerings to take advantage of the interest in online films.

With Apple (AAPL) rumored to have its movie download service prepared for launch during the company's special event on September 12th, Amazon appears to be avoiding the customary Apple buzz by getting its Unbox service out this week.

Whatever happens with Unbox won't be due to lack of content. Amazon has plenty of major Hollywood studios providing content on the big-screen side. For TV, Viacom (VIA.B) has a significant presence, with several of its channels providing episodes for purchase.

Amazon did score a little geek credibility by getting Paramount to make Star Trek episodes available exclusively on Unbox. Currently episodes from the original series and from the Scott Bakula-led spinoff 'Enterprise' are available. It would be even better if the well-regarded 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' was available as well.

TV episodes price for $1.99 each, while movie prices vary. 'Rumor Has It' sells for $19.62, while 'V For Vendetta', which recently arrived in stores on DVD, costs $13.87. Cult classic 'Office Space' sells for $13.45.

Unbox is being limited to US customers only with its launch. The download purchase price provides a DVD-quality file for viewing on a PC or TV, and a video file optimized for portable video players. People can keep the purchased video on two PCs and two portable players at the same time.

Unbox also offers a rental option. A rented video can be stored for 30 days on a PC before expiring. Once the play button has been pushed, the viewer has 24 hours to watch the rented movie, after which it will expire.

Amazon's reach and status should help them build interest in Unbox. The compatibility with portable video players could be a boost for companies that make competitors to the iPod, such as Microsoft and its forthcoming Toshiba-built Zune media player.

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