Would you like to watch movies and TV streamed directly to your tablet? A new app called Amazon Instant Video for iPad will let you do that. Getting started with it can be annoying, but you'll probably be happy with the quality of video streaming once things get under way. So is the app worth the download?
Amazon's streaming video services compete against others that include the likes of Netflix, HBO, and Hulu Plus. Beyond viewing Amazon's vast store of streaming content on a PC or a PlayStation or Roku box, for example, you can now get it sent straight to the iPad. Even though you'll need Amazon's app to view the movies and TV, you'll still have to resort to a browser in order to rent or purchase the content.
Amazon Instant Video for the iPad is a free download from Apple's App Store. (Amazon Instant Video is also available for Amazon's Kindle Fire, but not yet for other Android OS devices.)
As for the new iPad app, after downloading it, you can install it on your iPad quite easily just by hitting the "Install" button. Launching the app brings you to a sign-in screen for your Amazon account. After you sign in, you'll see a screen listing all the movies and TV shows that you can watch on Amazon Prime.
However, there's not a clue given as to how to rent or buy a video, or how to actually do anything but see screens full of what's available on Prime. Furthermore, Amazon doesn't seem to recognize the fact that not all Amazon subscribers are Prime subscribers. I do have an Amazon account, but not an Amazon Prime account -- nor do I want one a $79 per year. Still, if you're willing to pay $79 for a Prime account, everything on Amazon Instant Video is free.
Tapping the screen brought up several icons on the bottom: a "Home" icon which returned me to the unhelpful opening screen, and "Watchlist" and "Library" icons. which told me that I had no content in either.
To figure out what was going on, I had to turn to another resource. Through Google Search, I eventually located an FAQ section on Amazon that deals with Instant Video. These pages point out that you can't rent or buy videos by using the iPad app. Instead, you need to purchase/rent the video on Amazon's Web site and place into a Watchlist. Also according to the FAQ, you can then watch the video on pretty much any device that can access the site (and that has the ability to contact the Amazon Watchlist).
Now knowing what else to do, I located a video with lots of action (Lockout, staring Guy Pierce), as this type of video tends to stress a media player more than one with lesser movement onscreen. I then rented it through my browser.
Lo and behold, Lockout did show up in my video library when I again signed in using my iPad. However, I found the need to switch back and forth between the app and the browser to be a very clumsy and unintuitive way of handling the overall video rental/purchase and streaming process.
I have to lay the blame on Apple for this, as it won't allow companies like Amazon to sell things in their iOS apps without coughing up 30% of the proceeds. The apps aren't even allowed to suggest ways to get content unless Apple gets its cut.
Once through the renting/buying process, the streamed video turned out to be of very decent quality, For the most part, watching the rented video was pretty much the same as watching a video downloaded and played back directly from the iPad, rather than streamed over the Internet.
Tapping the screen brings up a set of controls that are similar to those found in any media player. These include a play/pause button, fast forward and a volume control. There's also the familiar timeline showing how far along in the movie you are. As with most media players, you can drag the present time marker to the left to return to an earlier part of the movie.
One interesting feature is an icon which looks like a partial circle with a left facing arrowhead and the number "30" in the center. Tapping this brings you back 30 seconds, a useful thing if you've gotten distracted for a moment or if you want to see a snippet of a movie again.
Many users have reported stuttering or hesitations when watching streaming video over the Internet. This problem is is not at all unique to Amazon, and it can happen with almost any device at one time or another. I didn't experience this situation at all with Amazon's app for the iPad. Once, though, at about 14 minutes into the movie, the image froze, and the video buffered for almost 30 seconds.
I can't say, however, that Amazon Instant Video for the iPad was to blame for this. When that kind of lengthy video buffering occurs, it's pretty much impossible to determine where the problem lies: whether it's the app, the Internet connection and bandwidth, or an overloaded server on the vendor's end of the stream.
I did get one crash: the very first time I launched the application, it died with an "Instant Video Unexpected Quit" error message. This never happened again, however.
Amazon's Instant Video app works plenty well enough to be worth the download, but only if you frequently rent or buy movies or TV shows from Amazon, you want to watch them on your iPad, and you can get past the clutziness of switching over to your browser to select your content.
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