VUDU – Video On Demand Perfected?

Jan 06 2011

I recently took a look at VUDU’s high-definition (HD) video on demand (VOD) service by viewing Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, Inception. While watching using my Samsung TV’s built-in VUDU app, I experienced something amazing. Was it a dream or a dream realized?

VUDU promotes itself as a premium, instant and “eye-popping” 1080p streaming VOD service with day-and-date release and the most HD titles. VUDU has also recently announced their carriage of 3D content which is welcome in today’s 3D-starved content market. A quick check of their catalog reveals more than 3600 titles available in VUDU’s HDX streaming format.

Note: The pictures here don't capture the true detail offered by VUDU

What is this HDX you ask? HDX is VUDU’s top streaming quality tier featuring 1080p resolution and a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack. Viewing Inception in HDX was eye-opening, to say the least. Internet streaming video, while convenient, is often associated with poor quality video and audio lacking surround. HDX is a bright exception to that notion. HDX has different levels of streams with the minimum being 4.5 mbps and the maximum being 9 mbps. I had the good fortune of watching at the highest HDX bit rate as indicated by the VUDU app.

Over the viewing, there were a couple of instances where the quality degraded slightly for a brief moment, but this is to be expected when streaming (especially at 9 mbps). Otherwise, the picture far exceeded my expectations. The quality was not quite equal to Blu-ray disc (BD), but it was better than broadcast quality and certainly better than DVD. I don’t happen to have Inception on BD (yet) to allow me to perform a side-by-side comparison, but the VUDU HDX quality exhibited fine details such as grains of sand, skin pores, water droplets, etc. The grain structure of the film also seemed intact and there didn’t seem to be any offensive noise reduction resulting in soft images or waxy faces. Some scenes had quite a bit of contrast in the image though without a reference, it is difficult to know whether the HDX stream was lacking some dynamic range or it was the source. The contrast certainly wasn’t offensive and is a technique that is often employed in film and TV. One thing I found during the viewing was that I had no control over my Samsung display’s “Cinema Smooth” mode which provides proper cadence for 24p content which is quite a shame and will hopefully be enabled with an update of the application.

Unfortunately, I do not have a Dolby Digital Plus capable receiver, but I was able to enjoy the Dolby Digital (AC3) soundtrack bitstreamed to my receiver via optical S/PDIF connection. Though I do not know for sure what the audio bit rate was, the soundtrack was consistent with 640kbps AC3 tracks on BD as opposed to the typical lower bitrate DVD AC3 tracks.

 

The VUDU app allows for navigation via chapters and also the typical fast-forward and rewind capabilities. Amazingly, HDX streams only take a few seconds to buffer before playing. Notably absent from non-foreign VUDU titles are subtitles.

It appears VUDU charges $5.99 for most HDX rentals, but they also have some titles as low as 99 cents. The typical rental period lasts 24 hours from the time of purchase so it can be viewed an unlimited number of times during that window of time. There is also a free, 2-minute viewing period to help ensure that the stream can be viewed properly during the viewing session. If $5.99 is too rich for your blood, there are cheaper HD (720p) and standard-definition (SD) offerings.  While VUDU can be found on the PC via Boxee, the offerings are sadly SD only. VUDU compatible devices are listed here.

Considering the state of video and audio quality in Internet streaming video, VUDU certainly appears to be the quality champion and something that I hope other services try to emulate. While my experience wasn’t perfect, it was a lot closer to the dream of high quality streaming than I expected. If you’ve tried VUDU, I’d love to know what you think, so please comment below.

Comments

Hard to argue with the convenience, but $6 a movie is a bit high compared to Netflix or Redbox.

You are not only paying for convenience, but day-and-date. It might be quite some time before receiving a disc from Netflix or finding it at Redbox. Certainly, the minimum time is 28 days from release to disc now.

It should be noted that catalog titles are often less. For example, The Prestige is $3.99 and The Dark Knight is $4.99. There is also a new title everyday offered for 99 cents.

Since VUDU is now owned by Walmart, it will be interesting to see if there are promotions similar to Amazon where a BD can be purchased and shipped, but you can view the instant stream before the disc arrives.

Seriously... I'd probably just head to the theater at that price.

I just went over to vudu and checked it out. 5.99 is pretty steep compared to 1.50 for RedBox. 4.49 is a pretty steep convenience fee. 

I use the RedBoxer app on my Android phone to reserve and find movies. Should I feel bad when I see the person in front of me get denied a title and then I walk up and get that title out of the machine. Smile

Call me crazy, but I'm still a disc in hand kinda guy.  Netflix and Redbox give me all the movies I can handle, and for a lower price.  I've still got movies on my server that are several years old that I'ver never had time to watch so getting a movie the day it's released has never been a dealbreaker for me.  I already have a lot of on-demand movies that I don't have to pay a premium price for.

I don't have a VUDU device at my home, but I've used Sony's PS3, Xbox360, Amazon VOD, Comcast VOD, and AppleTV.  Picture quality of the PS3 and Xbox360 was best, but I can't get real time playback on those systems of HD movies on my 6mbit DSL connection.  AppleTV is my go to choice at $5 for a 720p movie.  The picture quality is very good (broadcast HD quality) and comes with 5.1 surround sound and movies start in 2 minutes or less.  I can wait for movies to arrive by mail from Netflix, but my wife can't, so we watch a lot of female targeted movies on AppleTV and I am very happy with it.  I'd love to get VUDU sometime, but I'm afriad my internet connection isn't fast enough anyways.

You should be able to try VUDU out on your PS3 as it is a supported device. It is supposed to have the newer version of the UI which is coming to other VUDU devices soon as I understand. You should be able to try it out for the first 2 minutes free of charge to see if it works with your connection. You should at least be able to get the 4.5 mbps stream.

All this VOD is really going to hit the crapper as the ISPs continue putting caps on our downloads.  I suppose that's what Hollywood and the broadcasters actually want, though.  "See, Congress?  We tried to give consumers what you said they wanted, but didn't take to it.  Clearly, consumers truly want physical media and subscriptions to cable or satellite."

Yes, but the "Net Neutrality" laws that are currently being talked about give far too much power to the FCC.

 

Thanks for the update on the PS3.  I didn't know it was added.  Now I can do a direct comparison.  I also just got the Logicech IR to Bluetooth converter box and the PS3 just became my defualt Netflix box instead of the Xbox360 and it's $50 a year Gold membership requirement.  I can now disconnect the Xbox since it doesn't get used anymore.

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