Vudu Video Store In A Box, A Review In Pictures

1_opener.jpgRather than just tell you what's great (and terrible) about the hot new Vudu video-on-demand box, I thought I'd show you, so come on...

2_box_open.jpgThe setup experience is so amazingly simple, it makes TiVo look complex. (Of course, compared to what this simple, broadband-connected video server does, TiVo is complex.

3_some_assembly.jpgSpeaking of TiVo, Vudu's remote is incredible, with five buttons and a clickable jog dial that you can intuit in record time. It's weird how quickly you can use it without looking. By the way, the remote is RF, not IR, so you don't have to point it at the box for it to work. 4_sexy_remote.jpg 5_setup_on_console.jpgOne of Vudu's setbacks is that it is, alas, a set-top box. In a world where game consoles and cable boxes are inevitable, this box, though small, still presents a stacking challenge. 6_look_on_console.jpgBut there is a cool solution: since Vudu's remote is RF, and talks to that little metal antenna you see at the back of the box, you can stash the box anywhere that you'd stash any device with a video processor and a spinning 250GB hard drive. Like a cabinet drawer... 7_setup_in_drawer.jpgHiding it away (with or without my cat Wade) means one less thing you have to look at. While we can thank the RF remote for this, an RF remote does mean one more thing (*cough*PS3 Blu-ray remote*cough*) that you can't replace with a standard universal. 8_cleaner_look.jpgThe home screen, which pops on 20 seconds after you first power up, and is instantly on in most occasions, is a nice example of how organized the Vudu interface is. 9_home_screen.jpgThough it's the home screen that you see when you first get started, there are some tweaking options, should you dig into them. I loved the overscan adjustment—you'd be shocked how helpful it is. 10_tweak_if_want.jpgWhen you scroll through the constantly changing promoted movies on the home screen, you can see which ones are for rent... 11_rent_only.jpg...and which ones you can buy. 12_rent_or_buy.jpgI found that most studio films at this time are rentals, mostly at $3.99. There are plenty of foreign and/or "special interest" movies you can buy, and some of those that you can rent for less, say $1.99. Frankly, the rental aspect of this proprietary box appeals much more than the ownership one.

There are many easy ways to hunt for a movie in Vudu. The genre search is fun, because you can select more than one genre to find interesting combinations like Sci-Fi Documentary... 13_multi_genre_browse.jpg...and yes, Gay & Lesbian Horror. (You know you were curious.) 14_yes_gay_horror.jpgYou can search for a director or actor by name. In this search of Spielberg, you can get a sense that the Vudu catalog is not totally up to snuff. Yes, that is the entire Vudu Spielberg collection. 16_spielberg.jpgSome actors and directors are missing entirely. Being a Back To The Future fan, I had to search for Robert Zemeckis, but typing in his name, or even just ZEME, yielded zilch. 17_no_zemeckis.jpgMy main criticism with the Vudu is that while there are plenty of extra-sweet options like these... 18_decent_browse_choices.jpg...there just aren't enough good hits when you go searching. Here's a clue: in a search for "Coppola," Sofia had two movies, and Francis Ford had 3, none of which were the Godfather.

The good news is, Vudu has designed an excellent interface and a very satisfying alternative platform for delivering movies. I love browsing and watching movies on this thing—the instant gratification is awesome!

As we told you before, the system operates with both a central server and a P2P network, balancing each other to ensure an instant on-demand experience. During my week-long testing over both DSL and cable connections, I never once had more than a tiny video hiccup, and though you can't fast-forward straight away, the video can get to be 20 or 30 minutes ahead of you as you continue watching, so eventually fast-forwarding is an option.

And the picture looks stupendous. Even though the source material is (currently) 480p, that little box upscales that stuff to your desired resolution. In both 720p and 1080p tests, it looked great, perhaps better than a DVD. Here's a look, though even Ben Stiller getting slapped by a monkey doesn't truly do this thing justice: 15_looks_good.jpgBeyond my loudly voiced complaints about content, all I can say is, I wish it were a lot cheaper. Yeah, that's right, Vudu is selling these things for $400. So you can pay more money to buy or rent movies from them.

You could save the money by connecting your PC to your TV and renting from CinemaNow or Movielink. At the moment, both have slightly better catalogs, though that will change. Normally I don't whine about high prices, but I think $400 is a little too much for a box that doesn't come with any free content. There's never been a better case for the razor-and-blades model. With a pricetag like that, Vudu is certainly not going to scare the bejeezus out of Blockbuster Video—not nearly as much as it rightly should.


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