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Amazon leak offers sneak peek at new video service

Unbox-ed early

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Amazon this week left a few doors open and gave a sneak peek at its new film downloading service to hackers smart enough to uncover the links.

The company has now changed the offending unprotected URLs, but not before it revealed some key details about its new film downloading service.

Referred to as Amazon "Unbox" Video Downloads, the system requires a special downloadable application, which Faultline downloaded, but failed to get to run.

It appears to be based on Microsoft Web Services Framework and acts as a simple staging post, like Apple's iTunes, which connects to the Amazon store and manages downloads, as well as acting as a player for the PC. It is likely that the player is just a skin over Windows Media Player.

There appears to be a 20th Century Fox page and a sci-fi and fantasy page in evidence, featuring the Matrix, Mad Max, Alien vs Predator and the X-Men all priced at between $9.88 and $10.97. The implication being that these were mock up prices, but Amazon is clearly of the same view as Apple, that film pricing should be $9.99 for most films, as downloads to own.

TV series' cost the same as on iTunes, at $1.99 and Amazon appeared to be offering $1.99 off downloads for an introductory period, making them free.

Amazon was advertising that customers could view the videos on their PC, TV or portable player. However, it seems clear that the only video players that are incorporated into the service are Microsoft PlayForSure players, which also means that the service is protected by Windows Media DRM.

The system could have been inadvertently uncovered, but it should be a beta of the service we have been expecting since March 2006 when the fact it was working on this first leaked. Amazon has already been cited as saying that it will launch the service in August, and it only has a week left.

There was no sign on the leaked pages of the existing Amazon recommendation software which helps it sell so much of its books and videos.

Also no clarification was available to just what resolution the service will download videos in. We have pointed out in the past that Apple sells H.264 compressed video requiring 750 Kbps for video, plus 128 kbps for sound, not quite CD quality, aimed at PC and iPod viewing, which are fine for viewing in that way, but a little too low quality for showing on a large TV screen.

We wondered if Amazon will offer slightly more dense TV downloads than this. Although Amazon says the programs are available for viewing on a TV screen, there was no information about how this might be achieved, although once again it is likely to be using Microsoft technology, in its Extender series of products.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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