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iTunes vs. Xbox vs. Tivo for Movie Rentals

Dear Reader,

I use iTunes every now and then to rent a movie for my iTouch; usually when I’m traveling. Last night I rented a movie via my XBox 360 from Microsoft and previously, I’ve rented movies from Amazon’s Unbox from my Tivo. Here is a chart laying out the basics of each of the three options. Below it I’ll discuss my thoughts on them.

  XBox 360 iTunes Tivo
Minimum
Hardware Price
$349 $229 $99
HD Yes * Yes No
Monthly Fee $5 $0 $12.95
Movie Price 480 Points (aprox $6.95) $.99 – $3.99 $1.99 – $3.99
Terms Expires 15 days (24 hrs after you click play) Expires 30 days (24 hrs after you click play) Expires 30 days (24 hrs after you click play)
Mobile Device None iPod family Windows Based Laptop

Ok, first my thoughts on each service:

XBox 3060

I love my XBox for gaming; I even use it for watching DVDs. However, I don’t see myself renting many movies from them. First, they are the most expensive option, per-movie for new releases. I bought 500 “points” from them for $6.95 and “3:10 to Yuma” was 480. Maybe it’s cheaper if I buy more points at a time but honestly, I hate the whole points system. Why should I buy up a bunch of points and let MS hold onto my money? Microsoft needs to grow up and let adults use currency for our transactions, this isn’t NeoPets. Finally, while rumors abound of being able to download movies to a portable player (Zune, which I don’t have and probably won’t be getting any time soon), Microsoft doesn’t yet have a strategy in place. You watch it on your XBox…period. Honestly, that’s probably fine for a lot of people, but not for me.

XBox 360 Summary

Reduce the price of movies, let me rent them using hard currency instead of your company scrip, and let me move them to my portable device.

iTunes

I am not an Apple fanboi. There are parts of Apple (like their horrid customer service after the sale) that I deplore and makes me wary of purchasing from them. However, I do believe they have got it right this time around. The Apple TV can be added to any entertainment syste for $329. There are no monthly fees for usage and you can download damn near anything to it. I don’t yet have one but I’m a big enough iTunes fan to see the potential here. I have rented movies from iTunes for my iTouch and can say that the experience is painless. I’ve probably bought 5 movies from them and rented 1. It’s always very easy and the price for rentals isn’t bad. The only negative I have is in the licensing but that really applies to everyone so I’ll save it for a special section below.

ITunes Summary

It’s the winner, hands down. They have cheap hardware, no monthly fees, reasonable prices and a portable device strategy. Really the only downside is the stupid licensing…which I discuss later.

Tivo/Unbox

I’ve had a Tivo since they first came out. I currently have 2 and love moving things between them. When Tivo announced their deal with Amazon unbox, I was excited. I’ve now rented 2 movies from them and overall, I am happy with the experience. The downside is unless you catch them on a special deal, you have to pay a monthly fee for your Tivo service. I waited till they put them on special then bought my HD with Lifetime service so I don’t have a monthly fee. (Given my history with Tivo devices, I do actually save money buying the lifetime.) I have 2 problems with Tivo/Unbox though.

  1. I like the ability to move things to my iTouch. Tivo/Unbox won’t let you do that.
  2. You currently can’t rent HD movies. That’s a huge negative in my book.

You can rent movies and download them to your laptop via Amazon Unbox. This may give some small comfort to travelers. I’ve not tested this though so I don’t know if you can watch the content untethered from the Net. (i.e. in an airplane)

Tivo/Unbox Summary

It’s not a reason to buy a Tivo but if you already have one and can live without HD, it’s a good system.

Wishlist

Ok, here are the things that none of them get right and I wish they would.

NetFlix/Microsoft

Rumor has it that Microsoft and NetFlix may be working on a deal. I don’t see why Microsoft would be interested in this deal as it would kill their rental revenue but if they did, and I could pay my monthly NetFlix fee and have my queue downloaded straight to my XBox, that would rock. They would have to work out the licensing issues as right now I can watch a movie an unlimited number of times and that’s an important feature. This union, if it happened in the right way, may make my XBox the most important piece of equipment in my entertainment system.

Microsoft/iTunes

I’m dreaming here but the best of all worlds would be for Microsoft to cut a deal with Apple and let me use iTunes on my XBox like I can on my PC. This would totally rock because I get Apple’s pricing, downloads to my iTouch AND my XBox too. There are just too many reasons why this won’t happen (the main one is you can’t fit Jobs’ and Gates’ ego in the same room.) but it would be awesome if it did.

Better Licensing Terms

Now that I can rent movies from iTunes, I won’t be buying anymore. Mainly because I can only play them on one of 5 iTunes devices listed on my account. The reason I LIKE DVDs is I can give it to my son, he can take it upstairs and watch it, I can take it over to the neighbors and we can watch it with friends, heck, I can even use Handbreak, rip it and stuff it on my iTouch. This “You have x days to watch it and it expires 24 hours after you press play” is bad. Get rid of it now and I’m much more interested in rentals and downloads.

Summary

Downloads and rentals will kill physical media in the next 2-3 years. Most of that is thanks to Apple and Amazon. Overall, I think this is a good thing. However, I’m one of those weird people who can live without the content produced by the major television and movie studios. There has not been a movie produced in the last ten years that was “must see” for me. So if the hardware/software industry is going to keep treating me like a criminal (with abominations like Vista) and the studios are going to keep trying harder and harder to make me pay for their content each and every time I watch it or for each devices I want to watch it on, I’ll just watch less and less of it. There’s enough good stuff being produced out there independently to keep me entertained. However, if you let me watch my content where ever and whenever I want, I’ll keep paying you.

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=

Are Tivo and LinkedIn run by the same idiots?

Dear Reader,

DISCLAIMER: I have 2 Lifetime Tivo subscriptions and have been a member of LinkedIn since it was in beta.

I know a lot of you out there right now are scratching their heads and wondering what a Networking site and a PVR/DVR have in common. Here is what they have in common, ranks of upper management with closed minds.

Tivo

I was out at tivo.com yesterday and the first thing they did when I hit the page was ask if I would answer a survey after I finished my business. I of course agreed (I’m just that kind of guy) and so when I finished, I filled out the survey.

I gave them the usual answers anyone visiting tivo.com would.

  • 30 seconds is too long to wait for a page to load
  • Your site navigation is goofy
  • Your documentation is incomplete

However, the question they did NOT ask me is “What could we do to make your Tivo more useful to you?” See that’s a question I could write a book on. However, I won’t here, I’ll boil it down into a single concept. “Open it up and let me discover new ways to use it.”

I’m a programmer, when I look at a box like that (or my XBox 360) where the mfgr has obviously gone to great lengths to make sure that I can never run “unapproved” code on it, it just makes me sad. Open it up a bit. Let me build services that can interact with my Tivo. I understand your issues with copyright and I’m not trying to steal content. but hell, it’s a Linux box. Let me write a service that feeds a widget on my blog that shows what I’m watching at the moment. Let me suck down the data on what it’s recording and slice it and dice it myself. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a better way to recommend new shows.

There are hundreds of thousands of ideas for product enhancements that you don’t have to write, we, the hordes of hobbyist programmers and 21 Century tinkerers will make the Tivo an indispensable piece of equipment if you quit locking us out and realize that the Tivo can be so much more than an appliance, it can be a platform.

Oh and it’s ok if you don’t make any money off of each and every service written…make your money on the stuff you do and don’t try to charge me for the privileged of making your device better. Get it together Tivo, if you open up and let us help you, then Hollywood can’t stop you. You can either be the big dog, or stay a whipped puppy.

LinkedIn

These guys still don’t get it. (This is getting to be a regular topic for me.) I’m on LinkedIn and FaceBook both for very different reasons. However, I’m on facebook 3-4 times a day and linkedin 1-2 times a week. See the difference LinkedIn? Pictures in my profile aren’t enough, I want to actually DO SOMETHING with the data I’ve been giving you all these years. We’ve had this discussion before, “Why LinkedIn Sucks (and why I’ll keep using it)”, “LinkedIn Rant – Part II” and you’ve even promised progress but so far…nothing. Open up, let me do what I want with my data and all of a sudden you are useful enough for me to start paying for your service. Have you ever stopped and wondered why you aren’t growing as fast as facebook? It’s not the teens and tweens on facebook, it’s the fact that on facebook, people have freedom to experiment. On LinkedIn, I still can’t write a program that allows me to simply figure out which of my friends know each other…hell on facebook it’s a game!

If Facebook ever wises up and decided that it wants to be the big dog in your yard, you are so toast. Don’t wait for OpenSocial, give me an API and give it to me now. Anything I can do via a web page should be doable from an API. Do that and do it NOW and it’s a good start…it’s only a start but it is a start.

To both tivo and linkedin, I write this post, not because I’m a disgruntled user but because I really like both of you. Both of you however, need a swift kick in the ass to get you moving before you are relegated to the pile of other services I liked once but are now gone. (anyone remember GEnie? I LOVED GEnie!) Come on guys, closed is so last century, open up, let us into the playground and I guarantee that what we create will do more for your bottom line than any overpriced CEO will ever do.

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=