Amazon has already become the first choice for many bibliophiles who no longer find the trips to the local bookstores necessary. Now, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is trying to replicate the successful experiment with couch potatoes as well, and yesterday launched a new online store of TV shows and movies called Amazon Video on Demand, or VoD for short. Currently in beta stage and available to a few select users, the service is expected to be available to the general public within a few months.
This is not the first venture of Amazon in the realm of movie distribution through Internet. Amazon already has Amazon Unbox, a video download store that was launched in September 2006. However, it proved to be a disappointment with its requirement of special software installations and being restricted to work only Windows PCs and TiVo set-top boxes.
However, Amazon's VOD will not be an extension of Amazon Unbox, but a totally new service. Practically, the customers of Amazon's Video On Demand will be able to choose from 40,000 movies and television programs. They can start watch their favourite shows immediately after completing the order because they stream, just like programs on a cable video-on-demand service.
This feature makes Amazon VoD different from most Internet video stores, like Apple iTunes and Amazon Unbox which require users to download files to their hard drives. To make the new service more enticing, the first two minutes of all movies and TV shows will begin playing for users on Amazon.com immediately when they visit a title's product page on the digital video store.
Moreover, video streaming does not necessitate watching the entire show at one go. Even without downloading to a local machine, a user will be able to store the purchased material in Amazon's ''Video Library'', and return to watch it later, even from a different machine.
''For the first time, this is drop dead simple,'' said Bill Carr, Amazon's vice president for digital media. ''Our goal is to create an immersive experience where people can't help but get caught up in how exciting it is to simply watch a movie right from Amazon.com with a click of the button.''
Amazon has tied up with Sony Electronics to place its Internet video store on the Sony Bravia line of high-definition televisions. Amazon VoD will be accessible through the Sony Bravia Internet Video link, a $300 tower-shaped device that funnels Web video directly to Sony's high-definition televisions. In the future Sony intends to embed it as a standard feature. Sony Pictures will offer the new Will Smith movie "Hancock" for free to all Internet-connected Bravias before the movie's DVD release in November.
Amazon will have some formidable rivals if it hopes to dominate the emerging world of digital video. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Netflix are all looking to capture the coveted real estate in the living room as well. Apple has had the most success with video on its iTunes video store and its Apple TV set-top box. It recently added content from several movie studios and introduced video rentals to the service.
It also launched the second version of its eponymous Apple TV, which has new software that ensures a seamless integration with Movie Rentals, allowing movie fans to rent and watch movies right from their widescreen TV, with no computer required. A 40-gigabyte model is sold for only $229, while a 160-gigabyte model costs $329.
Apple has added the movies to its iTunes catalog in September 2006, but due to the lack of initial support from the movies studios, the business was going slowly, compared to the sales of digital music. However, earlier this year Steve Jobs managed to convince all the major Hollywood studios to join iTunes and last month Apple said that iTunes customers are buying 50,000 movies per day.
Earlier this year, Netflix unveiled a 5-inch-by-5-inch device, made by Roku, that streams more than 10,000 movies and TV shows from the Netflix library, through an ethernet or Wi-Fi connection.
Users can fast-forward and rewind the video streams with a remote control. The box was sold through Roku's site and earlier this month Tim Twerdahl, Roku's vice president of consumer products, said that the initial shipment was sold out in three weeks.
Netflix by Roku is priced at $99 and it grants access to only 10,000 titles of the Netflix's 100,000 movies. Along with the Roku device, two other Netflix players with added features like DVD or Blu-ray playback are expected to launch in the second half of 2008, from manufacturers including Korea's LG Electronics with whom Netflix partnered in January.
Meanwhile, Microsoft recently announced its new collaboration with Netflix that will allow its console to stream shows and movies directly on TVs. This new service is intended to complement the already-made available Xbox Live Video Marketplace, rather than to replace it. Those lucky Xbox owners who had already subscribed to Netflix and currently have an Xbox LIVE Gold account will get the service for free.