Friday, September 15, 2006

Amazon Unboxes Crap

It is a little known secret that my father works for Amazon, so I generally buy everything I can from them and root for them when possible.  I remember him telling me a few years back that Amazon was purchasing an amazing amount of storage capacity.  I forget the exact amount he told me, but I told him that it was pretty much a mind boggling amount of storage and that a.) he must be wrong or b.) Amazon is going to rent/sell every video known to man digitally.  I guess it was b).

As I was casually inspecting the Unbox service (before I knew the TOS), I found that I could try any TV show or rental for free the first time with the $1.99 credit.  After quick download and install of the Unbox player I struggled to find a movie I could rent for $1.99.  It turns out that they are differentially pricing rentals depending on how old or popular the movie was.  I finally settled on ‘The Matrix’ because I thought this would be a good test of a feature length film and not some crappy TV show.  The first thing I noticed was the restrictions:

Usage: US customers only. Your rental video can be stored on your PC for 30 days. Once you press play, you have 24 hours to watch the video before it expires”

I might have interpreted this incorrectly, but this seems to me to be saying you can watch it only 1 time in 24 hours.  What happens if I miss something – can I rewind?  Pretty sucky terms at any rate.

I suppose all the terms are really moot since I never got to try the thing anyway.  After selecting ‘The Matrix’ and starting the download process I walked away around 6% downloaded.  I came back several hours later to find… nothing.  The movie was gone from my media library (I never closed the Unbox client) and no trace of it could be found on my hard drive either.  There was $1.99 down the drain (though I didn’t know the extent of it yet).  Naturally, I dug around the Amazon site to determine if I just screwed it up.  I sent an email to support and told them what happened.  I suspected that the damn thing had downloaded, played, and deleted itself unattended while I was away.  Two days later, support finally got back to me that it should not have started automatically and to check to see if it was in my media library (duh, I just said it wasn’t).  After giving me the standard shindig for support, “make sure your PC is Windows XP SP2”, etc., I determined that they are either incompetent, don’t give a damn, or both.  In the meantime, I went back to ‘The Matrix’ page and figured I could click download to my computer again.  After all, my media library confirmed that I had downloaded the file, but had not yet played it…

Well… that was a big mistake.  This time, instead of prompting for CC information and allowing me to preview my order I was about to place, it just charged me another $1.99.  Annoyed, I fired off another email to support with the hypothesis that the exact same thing would happen.  This time however, I was prepared.  I went to the Amazon folder and put a deny ACL on the folder for EVERYONE to prevent them from removing files on me.  I allowed it to get to 22% downloaded and walked away.  I came back an hour or so later and *poof* it was gone again from the media library.  I have no idea if it successfully downloaded or not.  I checked my hard drive and found the 2.68 GB file however on the drive (thanks for my ACL I am sure).  I tried to play it but could not.  I just threw an error and refused to start.  It might not have been completely downloaded since the client preallocates space, but I am not sure.

The next day, Amazon was gracious enough to refund $1.99 for me (and let me know that it was extraordinary for them to do so).  So here is my recap of the cost of this rental:

  • Hours spent trying to download: 3hrs x 2 tries ea. = 6 hrs.
  • Money Spent: $3.98 (to be fair, eventually $0 out of pocket)
  • Tech Support Emails: 3
  • Useful Support Email Responses: 0
  • Number of times I watched ‘The Matrix’: 0

Summary:  Unbox is a filthy piece of crap. The content owners that are responsible for this farce as well as the programmers that made it happen should be beaten severely about head and mouth.