Early this morning Amazon’s Unbox service delivered the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 Premiere He That Believeth in Me to my Tivo for $1.89, after it first aired the night before on cable television’s SciFi channel. NBC Universal’s deal provides its programming to Unbox the day after an episode airs.
This is the second time I’ve used Unbox, and I was happy with the result. The show was a bit clearer than it was when I used to watch the SciFi channel on analog cable TV, and it was commercial-free. Waiting one day for the show doesn’t bother me much.
I heard that SciFi allowed you to watch the episode online on their website earlier on Friday, before it aired (!). And you can still watch it there or on hulu. I suppose that will appeal to some. But when I go to the web and start watching the episode, the compression needed for online streaming is obvious. Jerky video with obvious macro blocks is not what I want to see and I certainly don’t want to sit in front of my computer to watch TV. I can hook up my laptop to the television via a video converter, but that is a pain to set up and the visual quality is not nearly as good as watching the Unbox episode on the Tivo.
Previously I had rented the movie Blades of Glory with Unbox on my Tivo, and it too looked fine and was delivered in a timely manner. My Tivo HD allows you to watch a video before it has been completely downloaded, but you still have to wait for enough of the video to be loaded so that you don’t get an interruption while watching.
For someone like me who watches relatively little television, buying TV episodes for download is a welcome alternative to paying much more for a monthly cable subscription. I just wish Galactica was also still available on the Apple TV so I could compare that experience to Unbox.
I presume we’ll have broadcast television and cable television for decades to come. But I expect more and more people will choose to pay to download shows they really want to watch on their own terms. We used to call the prospect of video downloads “convergence” but it really seems more like “divergence” – you can now legally watch shows multiple ways: cable or broadcast TV (which you may well record for convenient viewing with a DVR), online website-based streaming with commercials, downloaded files from Unbox or Apple without commercials, DVD sets after each season, and so forth.
What will be interesting to see is how video downloads affect Blu-Ray. Will folks pony up the money for players and rent or purchase Blu-Ray discs for their superior video and audio quality? Or will many remain content with downloading movies from Apple’s iTunes, Amazon’s Unbox, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 movie downloads, and other online services via some sort of set-top box, gaming console, or DVR?
I do plan on purchasing a Blu-Ray player eventually and renting Blu-Ray movies from Netflix. But the standalone player market is not mature enough yet. Prices are too high and features missing unless one is willing to buy a Sony Playstation. And I don’t want a videogame console that lacks infrared remote control for use with my Logitech Harmony remote. For now I’ll watch some old HD-DVDs and regular Netflix DVDs on my orphaned Toshiba HD-DVD player. Then I’ll rent any recent TV shows I want that aren’t available via over-the-air digital broadcast from Apple’s iTunes on my Apple TV or Amazon’s Unbox on my Tivo.