Amazon Heats Up Online Video

As Blockbuster and Netflix battle it out for dominance in the movie rental business, both will have to be looking over their shoulder at Amazon. Amazon has had its “Unbox” service that lets users rent and purchase and download movies, but last week, the company launched its new “Video on Demand” service. Aside from its simple but descriptive title, the service represents a big next step for on-demand online video.

The service streams the content directly to your Web browser, so you don’t have to install any other software (unlike Unbox). You can rent a title or you can purchase it and store it in the “Your Video Library” feature. (If you want to watch your purchases when you’re not connected to the Internet, you’ll still need to use the Unbox feature to download to your PC or a TiVo recorder.) Amazon states that they have more than 40,000 movies and television episodes for purchase or rental, including many of the current network TV shows. Note that not all Amazon titles are available for streaming; some are only available through Unbox.

One nice feature of the service is that you get to preview the first two minutes of any streaming title before you commit to renting or buying it. I checked out a few, and using a FIoS high-bandwidth connection, the image quality looked to be very good, even on a high-resolution computer monitor. I expect that most people will find it suitable for viewing on a TV screen. And if you have a Sony Bravia with Internet Video Link, you can connect to the Amazon service to rent movies or TV episodes and stream them directly to your TV.

If you want to try out the new service, Amazon has a number of free programs that you can stream. Go to www.amazon.com/videoondemand to check it out. You can be sure that the folks at Netflix and Blockbuster are doing just that.