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- - - - - - - - - - - -=[ Sunday, September 10, 2006 ]=- - - - - - - - - - - -
REVIEW: Amazon Unbox Videos on Xbox 360

Lots of ink has been spilled about Amazon Unbox since its launch last week. Most of it "meh" to negative, although that appears to be dominated by anti-DRM, anti-MS, anti-content-provider sentiment, rather than analysis of what's offered within the constraints that are probably forced on Amazon.

Our interest was around whether or not the DRM'd videos would play through the Xbox 360's Media Center Extender functionality hooked up (wired) to our Windows Media Center 2005 PC (WMCE Roll-up 2). This would be the closest Windows' based functionality to what is widely rumored to be Apple's video-in-the-living-room entry coming next week: a new Airport Express.

So, we trudged forward to pick up Amazon Unbox's Player and were rewarded with a craptacular Microsoft Install experience that may just put us over the edge to Intel-based Macs:
  • The Unbox Player install informed us that it would also be installing MS .Net Framework 2.0 (and will install Windows Media Player 10 if you do not already have it)
  • In the middle of the .Net install, however, the process crapped out with nary an indication as to what went wrong
  • Contacted Amazon Customer support, but got nothing more intelligent that a useless "your file might be corrupted, please download and install again"
  • Figuring a problem in our .Net situation we went to uninstall .Net 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0 Beta, but the system literally refused to uninstall 2.0, claiming apps depended on the install
  • After much MS Knowledge Base research, we discovered that our Microsoft WinFX was causing the gridlock (who knew!?), and proceeded to uninstall it
  • This was followed by a successful un-install of .Net 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0 Beta
  • Fearing the Amazon Unbox installer, we went to download .Net 3.0 RC1 by hand
  • This was rewarded with a successful Amazon Unbox install
  • That, however, was followed by a "can't connect to server" problem when trying to log into Unbox Player
  • Obscurely enough, this was caused by a screwed by Proxy Server setting in Internet Explorer that we found by accident
  • Once that was fixed, Unbox Player logged in and started to download the video we had ordered three days ago (free, courtesy the $1.99-off-your-first-order discount)
After downloading was about 30% finished, the Unbox Player would let us play the video, which looked fine. Quality was decent, although south of the HD quality you might get from the uncompressed broadcast.

We also checked whether Windows Media Player would play back the file, which it did.

That leaves only one thing: Would the video play on the Xbox 360? Naturally this couldn't be as simple as firing up the 360 and putting it in Media Center Extender mode:
  • Turns out the uninstall of .Net 1.1 had screwed up Media Center (it wouldn't run on the PC, and the 360 would not hook up in Extender mode)
  • So, back to re-installing .Net 1.1 (who would think that 3.0 wouldn't roll up all prior features ... unbelievable!)
  • We're back in business, but a few things are squirrely what with installing .Net 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 and 1.1 essentially in reverse order
So, after all this nonsense, did the video run on the Xbox 360? Yes, it did!

BOTTOM LINE: If you have a Windows Media Center PC, an Xbox 360 connected to it, a willingness to suffer through a potentially annoying install process that relies on having just the right .Net Framework on your PC and are not religiously opposed to DRM'ed, on-demand Microsoft video solutions, Amazon Unbox has something for you. Otherwise (and that must be 98.6% of you), stick to your BitTorrent+Videora homebrew, or wait for Apple to do it "right".

REVIEW: Amazon Unbox Videos on Xbox 360
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IMPRESSIONS: 7 Things about 30 Days of XBOX 360
REVIEW: XBOX 360, media-centric features
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