Vudu: Set-Top Box for Movies

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Vudu is a small company that is tackling an age-old problem: how to get movies onto your TV without stuttering, buffering, or forcing you to walk to the mailbox. The solution? P2P.

The Vudu box will store the beginnings of movies you might enjoy watching and then methodically — and quickly — download bits of the movie from peers on the Vudu network. “But wait,” you say, “Don’t there need to be lots of peers on the…” Ssshhh! Don’t tell that to Vudu!

Yes, there need to be lots of peers on the network, which is where I think this product will falter. I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but I could see Vudu becoming a patent farm and the technology ending up in Comcast boxes before I see a standalone business of delivering movies a la TiVo.

In fact, Vudu seems themselves as a modern day, swashbuckling TiVo. I think this is wrong. TiVo let you grab stuff that you already had — live TV — and play with it. That job has traditionally fallen to the Hitachis and JVCs of the world. It was analogous to the VCR and folks got that and bought TiVos by the millions. Cable companies are no good at video storage. It’s alien to them and they’re unable to stomach that their customers might want to skip through channels. So they’ve stayed out of the market or released relatively underpowered devices.

Vudu is stomping right on the provider’s home turf. Apple TV and its ilk are still OK — those are time shifting devices and if you think 100% of Apple TV users are watching ITMS content on their TVs, you’re deluded. There’s a reason the first hack was to get it to play DivX, and it wasn’t because someone didn’t have the foresight to record their kids’ bris in MPEG4.

But video-on-demand is a pipeline issue. The cable companies don’t want anything but their own services taking up massive bandwidth, and P2P or no, you’re going to have lots of up- and downstream in this device.

Vudu will sell a few boxes, the network effect with break them, and their technology will appear in the Comcast Pioneer SuperOnDemand Set-Top Box. I like start ups as much as the next fella, but this ain’t it.

Vudu casts its spell on Hollywood [NYTimes]

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