Unbox Test Drive

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By Newsman
September 8, 2006

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All of you should try this service, because Amazon's offering a $1.99 instant rebate for your first download. This covers the cost of "buying" one episode of most of the TV shows they offer.

I'm very interested to see if your experience will be like mine, because if it is, most consumers will try once and then never again. Maybe this is an early version that was pressed into release before it was ready, and maybe it'll get better soon.

Here's how it went:
* I went to the Unbox link provided by a previous poster. I noticed that you can browse around the Unbox store for downloadable content, but if you search "All of Amazon" for a title you know is available for download, the downloadable version doesn't come up on the search, just the DVD. Maybe this will eventually change.

* I picked out the show I wanted (a 22-minute Comedy Central stand-up routine). I went through checkout in nearly the usual way, and when I did, I was prompted to download the 4 MB AmazonUnbox installer file.

* That took a few minutes on my cable modem. Then the install routine took a few more. Then, when the player launched, it automatically started downloading my episode. That took at least half an hour (I don't know exactly, because I didn't stick around to watch). The point is, it took longer than its running time to download. This morning when I checked, the episode was showing in the "my videos" folder.

* I double-clicked to play it. It launched in the 4x3-inch window in the Unbox player. I hit full-screen. Much more watchable that way, though the frame rate seems lower than TV, as there's noticeable jerkiness during pans across the crowd. The low-motion footage of the comic talking looked pretty good. Sound was decent. I exited full-screen and opened my e-mail to check for messages, and the program continued to play in the top-left corner of my screen

* Until five minutes into the program, when it stopped for no apparent reason and went back to the frozen first frame of the program that had showed before I initially hit play. I hit play again, and tried to fast-forward to where I had left off. This quickly turned frustrating, because there is only one fast-forward speed, and it's only double or triple the normal play rate (DVD players have several FF speeds, the fastest of which is about 20 or 30 times normal speed, letting you get deep into a movie quickly.) Unbox also has no "next chapter" buttons. Sliding the progress bar sort of worked. I gave up and just hit play.

* The video played to the exact point at which it had choked before -- and choked again (turns out, you can drag the progress bar, but when I tried to drag it past the point of the error, it choked on that). Must be some corrupted frame or packet and inadequate error-recovery. I can't find a way to re-download the same file for free to address the problem.

* I am glad I downloaded this program for free, because otherwise, I'd feel supremely ripped off. Imagine how I'd feel if this occurred 71 minutes into a suspenseful movie I'd paid $14 for.

* I should add that this was my experience on a two-month-old 2 Ghz PC with a fast system bus and a massive hard drive. What would it be like on a slower system? The 22-minute episode created two files on my hard drive: One was a 484 MB .WMV file (Windows Media Player), and the other was the "portable version" which is another 124MB. Files of this size begin to make my 160GB hard drive seem limited. My buddy has filled his laptop HD just with downloaded music.

So anyway, you guys try it yourselves and see if you have any similar problems.


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