Serious question marks were raised at the start of the week as to whether the service would be able to avoid the pitfalls of previous attempts by other streamers. Amazon is the only game in town for UK viewers who want to tune in to the US Open, but take a look at its main page and you'll see a lot of disgruntled customers. The Guardian yesterday reported that comments had been stopped because they were so negative, but I have to report that when I checked out the page, the comments button was live.
So what is the problem? Well, many news viewers will have noticed something very odd about coverage of the tournament in news bulletins. The early exit of any Brit not named Andy Murray was reported on as normal, but the quality of the video showing the action was pretty shocking. The first time I saw a BBC report I thought they were relying on someone's mobile phone to send in a report of the action. But the camera angles looked too good -- they looked like the real thing. Surely the quality couldn't be that bad?
We're a nation thoroughly spoiled in sports coverage by Sky, and more recently by BT Sports. High definition is now standard and Ultra HD is beginning to emerge. That's what makes it all the more unusual to watch a stream on Amazon. I found the quality to be a little better than the grainy pictures I had seen on the news when I tuned in to Amazon, but there was a noticeable drop in quality compared to when I stream Premier League football on to my laptop.
The main point is that Amazon probably hasn't done its homework. Tennis fans want to see the action at a time that suits them. Complainants suggest the highlights package is too cursory and there is no way for users to record the action.
One can only imagine there must be some reason why Amazon isn't offering full replays of games that happened in a different time zone. It's hard to think what it might be. Take a look at Amazon Prime and it's full of thumbnails for shows. Why can't the tennis coverage feature thumbnails for games that happened earlier in the day in their entirety?
The other obvious tech advance Amazon could consider would be to bring over the technology from its movie service that allows users to press a button and find out who is in the starring roles. Why not offer the same feature so users can find out who's playing? What is the head-to-head record for the pair -- is one a big server, does the other have an awesome backhand? Those details would be incredibly simple to provide.
There is a choice of live courts, but users have to come out of the feed they are on to go back in on another game, opening up the media player again. This could be a lot slicker.
However, as for the one-star reviews. I've got to say Amazon doesn't deserve this. The streaming quality is just a tad under an established sports broadcaster, when watched live rather than converted onto newscaster screens, and the camera work and commentary are just as good as before.
There are a couple of obvious tricks here they are missing. Entire games available on demand, once they have been played, would be an obvious step and a "who's playing" button would be a useful addition, particularly in the early rounds where some unknowns are taking on the big stars.
Apart from that, however, don't believe the hype. It's really not that bad a service. A couple of improvements aside, it's not far off what you'd expect from Sky, albeit it without the link to a recording device to commit the entire day's play to silicon for review later.
Could do better, yes. But the one-star reviews are harsh for Amazon's first incursion into streaming a major sporting event in the UK.