If you’re like me, you’ve bought some Amazon Instant Videos of favorite movies and programs when they were on sale, and now you’re a little confused about what you can and can’t do with them. Once you’ve downloaded a video to your PC, can you still download it to your Fire? Once you’ve downloaded it to your Fire, does deleting it to free up space mean it’s gone forever? What’s all this Cloud business, what the heck is Amazon Unbox? And what’s up with the two-download and two-online licensing limits on purchased Amazon Instant Videos?
Today, I spent many an hour experimenting, reading Amazon Instant Video help topics, experimenting with my own Instant Video collection, and on the phone to Amazon customer support (three times) to finally get to the bottom of the purchased Instant Video situation. I can boil it down to five simple topics: Buy, Stream, Download, Backup, and Delete.
Amazon’s “Cloud” is basically a huge, interconnected network of hard drives where Amazon stores its own data, its customers’ data and purchased digital content, and the files of people and businesses who have paid to rent some of the server space for their own uses.
When you buy an Amazon Instant Video, by default, it’s added to Your Video Library, which can be accessed in the Digital Content area of the My Account page when you login to Amazon. Think of Your Video Library like a REAL library: a location where your Instant Videos are permanently stored for you, that allows you to check them out and back in whenever you like.
Streaming your Instant Videos would be like sitting in the library and watching a video that’s being played right there in the building: you’re not actually checking anything out of your Video Library to take with you when you leave. You’re just viewing the content from its current location, and you’ll be leaving it there when you’re done viewing. You can stream videos on your Fire device or to your PC, so long as you’re within range of a wifi or 4G connection. There’s a video player app for the iPad too, but that’s outside the scope of this post.
On the Fire, tap Videos, then Cloud, and navigate to the video you want to watch to select it. On its detail page you’ll have the option to “Play Now”, which means streaming the video, or “Download”, which means actually moving a copy of the video onto your Fire device.
On your PC, you’ll need to install the (totally free) Unbox Video Player program to stream or download your Amazon Instant Videos. You’ll find the Unbox program is similar to iTunes. It displays listings of all your purchased Instant Videos and any current rentals, and gives you the option to “Play Now” or “Download”, just like the Fire.
Edited to Add – You can also stream your Amazon Instant Videos to other internet-capable video devices, like TVs, DVRs (you can download to some DVRs, too), the XBOX 360, PS3, Roku streaming player, and more. Click here to view an entire list of compatible devices.
Streaming is all well and good when you’re connected to wifi or 4G, but what if you want to watch videos at times when connectivity will be unpredictable, or totally absent, like when traveling? For that, you need to download your videos.
On the Fire, navigate to the video you want and click the Download button to download a copy of the video to your device. On your PC, open the Unbox Player program, navigate to the video you want and click the Download button to download a copy of the video to your PC’s hard drive.
You may be wondering what happens when you’re done with the videos you’ve downloaded to your Fire and want to free up space to replace them with different videos. Never fear, I’ll get to that in the Delete section.
If you read the terms and conditions and help pages pertaining to Amazon Instant Videos very closely, as I did today, you’ll find this alarming little snippet:
Due to licensing restrictions, some videos may become unavailable for future download and streaming.
This doesn’t mean videos you’ve purchased could simply disappear from your Video Library, but it does mean that Instant Videos available for streaming and purchase/download today may not always be there on Amazon. It also warns that your use of purchased Instant Videos could be restricted to streaming at some point in the future. It’s kind of like when you buy a DVD or Blu-Ray movie that comes bundled with a digital copy; there’s generally a time limit for you to redeem the digital download, and once that date is past you’re out of luck.
Therefore, I strongly suggest that anytime you purchase an Instant Video, you go to the Unbox program and download a copy to your PC as soon as possible. Then, save a backup copy on an external hard drive or burn backups to disc. In Windows 7 you can find all of your Instant Video files under Libraries > Videos > Amazon Unbox. In earlier versions of Windows, look for the same directory under My Videos. Copy each downloaded video you find there to your backup drive or disc for safekeeping.
Note that backing up is permissible under Amazon’s terms and conditions, and it will ensure that if, at some point in the future, downloading is discontinued for one of your videos and the copy on your Fire and/or PC has been deleted, you can easily restore it to your PC by using the Import option in the Unbox program. Hey, you paid for the right to download a copy when you bought the video; don’t miss the opportunity to do so.
You may know that when you purchase an Amazon Instant Video, you’re given a license to stream two online copies and download two offline copies. But what does that mean?
It means that you can stream an Instant Video you’ve purchased to a maximum of two devices simultaneously (those are the two “online copies”), and that a purchased Instant Video be downloaded to a maximum of two devices at any given time (those are the two “offline copy” licenses). Note that backing up a downloaded Instant Video doesn’t count as another download, and doesn’t impact available download licenses.
With respect to streaming, as soon as a device stops streaming the video, its associated online license is released and again becomes available for use by any of your devices. Online licensing simply limits simultaneous viewing of a single Instant Video to two devices.
With respect to downloads, as soon as you delete a downloaded copy from a device, its associated offline/download license is released and again becomes available for future downloads to any of your devices.
So you can download a movie to your Fire, then delete it from the Fire later on to free up space, and then download it again at any point in the future from the Cloud — provided you’ve left at least one download license for that video available.
If you’re still confused (and this stuff IS confusing), here’s a real-life scenario that will probably clear things up for you.
While browsing the Instant Video Store on his Kindle Fire one day, Dan buys the Instant Videos of all three Lord of the Rings movies and downloads all of them to his device in preparation for an upcoming business trip with a long flight. Later that night, he opens up the Amazon Unbox program on his Windows laptop and downloads all three movies to his computer. He also copies the video files from his computer to an external drive for backup.
At this point, Dan has used both of the available offline/download licenses for each of his Lord of the Rings Instant Videos.
When he returns from his trip, Dan turns on his Kindle Fire and, one at a time, taps and holds on each Lord of the Rings movie, then selects “Delete From Device” from the pop-up menu to remove the movies from his Fire and free up space.
At this point, Dan has freed up one of the two offline/download licenses for each of his Lord of the Rings Instant Videos. The other license for each Instant Video is being used by the copies he downloaded to his laptop’s hard drive.
A year later, Dan is getting ready to travel again, this time to a family reunion. He knows his dad never got around to seeing the Lord of the Rings movies and decides to load them back up onto his Fire for the trip. He turns on his Fire, navigates to Videos > Movies > Cloud, and downloads all three Instant Videos again.
At this point, Dan has again used both of the available offline/download licenses for each of his Lord of the Rings Instant Videos.
Another few months later, Dan’s laptop hard drive fails and he has to buy a new computer. Once he’s got it set up, he downloads and installs a fresh copy of the Unbox Player, then uses the Import option to restore all his purchased Instant Videos from backup and load them all back onto his hard drive.
At this point, Dan is still using both of the available offline/download licenses for each of his Lord of the Rings Instant Videos; restoring from backup did not impact his licensing count in any way. However, if Dan hadn’t backed up his videos, he’d have lost one of the two offline/download licenses for each movie when his hard drive died. Deleting the copies from his Fire would free up one of the two licenses for each movie, but the other license for each would simply be lost since as far as Amazon knows, those licenses were already used when Dan originally downloaded the videos to his (now dead) computer.
DON’T EVER DELETE PURCHASED VIDEOS FROM THE CLOUD
You can delete and re-download your purchased Instant Videos to various devices as many times as you like, so long as you observe the two offline/download license limit and so long as you NEVER DELETE YOUR ORIGINAL PURCHASES FROM YOUR VIDEO LIBRARY ON AMAZON’S CLOUD.
Once you delete an Instant Video from the Cloud, it’s gone forever. The only way to get it back is to purchase another copy. So delete and download as often as you like from your devices, but NEVER delete the Cloud copy.