Where’s the HD Amazon VOD?


As you may have read, Roku pulled the trigger on Amazon VOD this week. And I was supremely depressed to learn that the HD-capable Roku Player ($99) is only serving standard definition Amazon video-on-demand titles at this time. While Amazon’s library is quite large (40,000+ titles), including many of the new releases not available via the Netflix service, it’s unlikely I’ll spend “real money” on SD content. (As opposed to the “free” streaming included in my Netflix DVD rental plan.) So, in 2009, where the heck is Amazon VOD in HD?

The first official confirmation of Amazon HD VOD came from TiVo last May:

Unbox, the content-downloading service TiVo started with Internet retail leader Amazon.com last year, can’t process HD content, though the companies will announce HD capabilities “in the not too distant future,” Mr. Denney said.

And, in fact, one of my TiVo moles had told me Amazon HD VOD was headed into beta but had been pulled back for some reason. It seems inevitable that this service goes HD (one day…), so there must be technical or licensing issues at play. More recently, in December, TiVo flipped a bit and accidentally revealed an Amazon VOD “Available in High Definition” menu item.

Come January, at CES, we started to see some concrete evidence directly from Amazon that HD content is on the way. First, a Gizmodo photograph of a Vizio Yahoo Widget-ized set shows an Iron Man HD rental ($4.99). Then, just last night, I discovered a January post on Amazon’s very own End User blog essentially pre-announcing “Amazon Video on Demand HD Downloads” with video proof:

Given all this evidence, Amazon VOD in HD is obviously under development and pretty far along (at least on the Yahoo Widget platform). But the question remains the same… Where is it?

7 thoughts on “Where’s the HD Amazon VOD?”

  1. I suspect they are still working out the bugs on Cloud Front. Really beta just launch a few weeks ago, new code still being written;


    The millisecond they get CloudFront working, HD will be live, IMHO.

    …if its not that, it’s stomach churning sales people from the big studios violently haggling for 1/10,000th of a penny more in fees per download, threatening to sick the MPAA on Amazon, “Cease & Desist”, etc. Barf.

    **End of transmission**

  2. I thought I would mind the lack of HD — but I really didn’t. The picture was good enough and worth the convenience. More importantly, picture quality is not something my wife cares about. At all. So Amazon will be getting plenty of my money, I predict.

  3. I will have to give it a shot. On TiVo, the video’s been re-encoded from what Amazon serves as PC downloads. It’s often been letterboxed AND pillarboxed, with some stuttering during pans. Perhaps it’s better on the Roku box. But for about the same money, I’d rather have HD. Which means Xbox or Vudu in my household.

  4. I love HD but I don’t understand why this makes you ‘supremely depressed’. My HD TV does wonderful upscaling (and its 6 years old). While I can tell the difference between upscaled SD and HD, most people who come over and watch movies at my place can’t tell the difference and enjoy upscaled SD.

    As for me, I pay $1 more when AppleTV offers an HD version of a movie. However, if the price started to get beyond a $1 difference I’d likely just get the SD version. And if its a movie I really want to see and there isn’t an HD version availalbe, I’m usually quite fine with the SD version.

    For me, depth of library is much more important than HD availability – that is assuming decent SD quality. HD will come over time – especially as average broadband speeds across the U.S. increase over time.

    But, alas, I’m speaking from a whole other perspective when I’m happy to have ANY content available to us second-class Canadian citizens. You folks in the U.S. are spoiled with your gazillion video on demand over the Internet options.

    Appreciate what you have, knowing the rest of the world has only a small fraction of what you take for granted available to them


  5. Supremely depressed because in 2009, there shouldn’t be new services that are SD-only. It’s lame. And as someone with several other movie options, it means they’re not going to see my money. If I’m paying, I’ll opt for the higher def content every time. For someone who only owns a Roku, doesn’t have a cable box with HD VOD (or a Vudu, PS3, Xbox 360, AppleTV), I’m sure it’s a fine solution.

    As far as US content options versus International… We have what we have, because we’re willing to spend more as a nation. I’ve seen first hand the apathetic response when a TiVo or Sling is introduced in Canada. There’s a very small segment of the population like you up there, Dale. I feel your pain, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take a half-assed solution from Amazon or Hulu for granted.

  6. I’ve gotten confirmation from one of my moles (thank you!) that Amazon VOD *in HD* is currently being beta tested on TiVo. The initial selection sounds like a lot of Fox and NBC television content, with a small selection of HD movie rentals. Picture quality is supposedly VERY good and 5.1 audio is included. My tipster believes the bitrate is ~5Mbps, displays at 1920×1080, and is encoded as VC1.

  7. Canadians are no less or more apethetic than Americans in their desire for cool technology options and content delivery.

    The only TiVo available in Canada is the S2. It’s been declining in the U.S. for the same reason it doesn’t sell like gangbusters in Canada – its an analogue solution in a digitral world.

    As for sling, that is an extremely niche product. The population of Canada is the same as the population in California. I don’t know what the sell-through rates are in California but I suspect they’d be similar for the same lenght of time this niche product was/is in the market.

    The REAL problem is the lack of an integrated North American regulatory system. Most of that IS CANADA’S fault, I grant you that. But its Canada’s fault due to the decision of Parliamentarians and lobbyists in Canada that protect Canadian content (books, movies, TV shows, magazines, radio) at all costs. Canadians are constantly forced to pay for and consume Canadian content they do not want as a result of the broadcast, telcom and other regulatory regimes that have grown up around protecting Canadian content over the last century. It’s ridiculous.

    Another big problem is the content industry’s historic pattern of licensing by geography. License rights for movies, TV shows and all forms of cultural IP have been sliced and diced by national border for longer than we’ve been alive. It’s a very hard industry norm to break. All the license holders in every country have a strong incentive to maintain their control of the content in their respective nation – making it enormously difficult for media delivery companies like Netflix, TiVo, Microsoft, Sony, Amazon etc. to get global distribution rights – hell, its near impossible.

    So we continue to have a system where American’s get everything first because the license rights the media delivery people get are only for the U.S. To get rights outside the U.S. they’d have to separately negotiate deals with the license holders in every other nation – something they seem to be unwilling or unable to do.

    To date, the only decent media on demand provider in Canada is Apple – its the only company with the size and clout to get it done.

    So, lots of our pain is self imposed by the people we have elected into office. But its not for apathetic consumes. We want the same content options Americans take for granted. How/if we’ll ever get from here to there is another question.


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