Amazon VOD Launches on the Roku

After much anticipation, Amazon (s AMZN) VOD finally landed on the Roku player this morning, expanding the capabilities of the $99 set-top box beyond Netflix (s NFLX). Roku owners will have access to Amazon’s VOD library of more than 40,000 titles, including the ability to purchase or rent new release movies the same day as their DVD release.

We’ve been playing around with the Amazon VOD beta, and it is pretty slick. Like Netflix Watch Instantly, the content is streamed so there are no downloads, with videos stored at Amazon in your Video Library. Movie rentals cost $3.99 for new releases and last for 24 hours; TV shows are for purchase only and cost $1.99.

All content is streamed in standard definition right now, but it looks quite good (if a little fuzzy around the edges) and is the same as the standard-definition quality on Netflix movies — well, on the higher-quality Netflix SD movies (phew, some of those are real eyesores).

Setup is easy, just register your Roku box with your Amazon account and add a PIN. Once that’s done you can browse movies through the Roku, select what you want, enter your PIN and start watching right away. Since rentals and purchases live in your video library, you can start watching a movie on your PC and finish it on the Roku (or vice versa).

The major downside is the current UI setup on the Roku side. It only offers side-scrolling as a way to get through titles, so if the list is lengthy, there is no way to skip around. Additionally, the sound on a couple of the titles I rented came in really soft so I had to jack up the volume quite a bit just to hear it.

Despite the lack of HD, the Amazon/Netflix combo is a nice one-two punch making the Roku well worth the $99. Bored? Fire up the box and rent a new release through Amazon, or if you’re in the mood for something slightly older, switch over to your Netflix subscription. And there will be more options to come. Roku says in 2009 it will accelerate the number of content partners available on the box (rumor has it YouTube is on its way).