The sign-up process was a little tedious. I started on TiVo's site and then was directed to Amazon. Impulsive viewers need not apply. After logging in there and it asked me for my TiVo userid and password. I don't know about you but I have so many userids and passwords it's hard to keep track of them all. Thank goodness for FireFox's password cache and the "forgot your password" link.
Once my TiVo and Amazon accounts were linked, watching something was easy. I simply got a list of the videos that are compatible with TiVo, and clicked on one. I wanted to watch this first episode of this season's "24" series, so I selected "24". Next, Amazon presented me with an episode list (which includes detailed descriptions), and selected the one I wanted.
The next screen allowed me to view a preview of the episode. The Amazon interface was quite snappy, and the resolution of the preview was higher than you might find on, say, YouTube. I spent a little time looking at previews of different episodes, but then came back to buy this one.
For some reason, Amazon required me to sign up for "1-Click" checkout. Normally I prefer the regular checkout mechanism, but this wasn't a big deal.
Once I ordered the video, I encountered the main down-side of the service - you have to wait a while before you can see the show. It took 14 minutes for the TiVo to connect to its server and realize a video was waiting to download. Then the show took another 45 minutes or so to download all of its 832MB (using standard Time Warner cable RoadRunner service and wireless(B) router). The annoying part was that while it was downloading, it wouldn't let me watch the beginning of the show. Impulsive viewers need not apply.
One nice thing about the service is that it keeps track of your media library on the Amazon servers, and lets you re-download anything you own. This came in handy an hour later when I decided I wanted to watch the show on my other TiVo and had to re-download it there. Room-to-room transfers are disallowed.
Once the show was loaded onto the TiVo it appeared in the Now Playing list like everything else. Quality was excellent. Even on my big screen TV I couldn't see any encoding artifacts. While not strictly speaking high definition, it seemed to be approximately the same quality as a progressive DVD player. Considering I watch most of my TV shows on the lowest quality setting to pack as many as I can into the TiVo, I was pleasantly surprised.
Look Ma, no PC
For my second test I wanted to see if I could download a movie without using a PC. I have a Wii hooked up to the TV so I started up its internet browser, logged onto Amazon, and bought a second show through there. The browser locked up afterwards (it is just a beta) but sure enough, one hour later I was able to start the show. So unlike, say, the Apple TV, you're not absolutely required to have a PC to watch something. Hopefully one day they'll hook up an interface through a Java-based TiVo HME program (under Music, Pictures, and More) so then even the browser will be optional.
The selection at Amazon looks good, and promises to only get larger. Most TV show episodes are $1.99, with movies at $3.99. For movies, however, you are only renting, not buying. The movie will expire 24 hours after you first press play, not after you download. So if something comes up before you get around to starting it, you're not penalized.
Amazon is running a promotion whereby if you sign up before the end of April they'll give you $15 to use towards movies and TV shows. That way you can try it without risk. But watch out: once you do, you just might get hooked.