I’ve tried several Internet-based movie services such as Vongo, Movielink, Netflix and Amazon Unbox. Each has its own pluses and minuses and require a Windows PC in some way (though now you can get some movies from Unbox directly through a TiVo). VUDU’s device and service beats them all with its excellent interface, great video and audio quality, ability to immediately view movies, large—and good—selection of content and no subscription fee. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close.
The $399 box is nice looking and compact. The biggest obstacle to setting up is the need for an Ethernet connection. There’s no built-in Wi-Fi, though you can connect an 802.11g or Draft-N Ethernet adapter to tap into a wireless network. I used IOGEAR’s Turbo Powerline Networking Kit, which uses your home’s electrical wiring for creating a wired network connection. It worked flawlessly and provides plenty of bandwidth to take advantage of the instant playback. I connected to my TV via HDMI (a high-quality HDMI cable was included as well as an Ethernet and composite cables) and then plugged in its compact power supply and turned it on. Don’t have an HDMI? There are component and composite outs for video and optical and coaxial audio jacks.
After a very brief on-screen setup (mostly to acquaint you with the remote and interface and check the Internet connection) I was scrolling fast through the film selection from both indie and major studios and distributors. That brings me to my next point: The remote control. It’s the most comfortable remote I’ve had in my hand in a long time and it uses RF instead of IR, so you need not aim it directly at the unit to use it’s thumb-dial to spin through the movies. The thumb-dial can take some practice, but the controls are easy to figure out and it definitely passes the no-experience-necessary test. Most of that is a credit to the interface, though, which is not only nice to look at but very easy to navigate.
Movies can be rented with prices from .99 cents to $3.99 and again, they’ll stream immediately. However, like other services, you have 30 days to start watching a rental and then 24 hours once you’ve pressed play to finish it. There are titles that can be purchased for anywhere from $4.99 to $19.99, too, and stored permanently on the device’s 250GB hard drive. VUDU requires payment in advance with a credit card in amounts of $20, $50 or $100. As you rent/buy, the account empties until it’s all gone and then the company charges you again for the pre-authorized amount.
It’s kind of a drag that you can’t send the films to other TVs in your home, but it is a tiny box that could be disconnected and hooked up to another TV with little effort. (Of course if there were a built-in wireless adapter, it would be even easier.) Also, for every one movie you want to watch, there are probably 10 you don’t, but that goes for all similar services. VUDU is a film junkie’s dream though, especially if you’re a junkie of means with an HDTV. The $399 for the box plus the rental costs is a big chunk to swallow up front. But, them’s the cost of doin’ business if you want the best in instant, at-home movies that look and sound good on an HDTV. Plus, VUDU promises to continually make ownership worthwhile with more movies and features coming online in the next six months, so you don’t have to worry about obsolescence a year from now.
VUDU [product site]