Vudu's unique selling point is that unlike most other VOD services, it does not require a computer or cable box, only access to a broadband internet connection. Because of this, setup is a breeze--it's a self-contained solution which reviewers from Wired and Gizmodo to the New York Times have raved about.
Vudu has over 13,000 films to choose from, and this number is growing rapidly. Vudu has struck deals with every major studio and more than 20 independent and international distributors to bring this about.
The films are streamed over a broadband ethernet connection (a wireless adapter costs another $99) with MPEG-4 video and Dolby Digital Plus audio--much better than many of the competitors. Vudu recommends an internet speed of 2 Mbps--they note that if you ISP claims it has 3 Mbps it should work. Standard definition films are then upscaled to High Resolution (HD--an imperfect process compared to native HD productions, but better than DVD quality--see upscaling DVD players which can do this to enhance your existing DVDs). These can even be output at full HD (1080p) if you have a newer TV that supports that resolution.
The genius of the Vudu is that all the units create a large peer to peer network (P2P), with each box used to serve content to other boxes. To allow you to start playing a film in an instant rather than waiting for buffering as with every other VOD service, the Vudu box is pre-loaded with the start of each film, so it then has some time to start streaming the rest while this plays. This solution is the simplest, and best way for non-technophiles to gain access to the burgeoning VOD content. Of course, the Hollywood studios love Vudu, as it avoids the whole computer issue (with its many hackers and pirates) entirely. So it's a win-win situation all around. The main obstacle is the steep price for the Vudu box ($149) and the mainstream consumer's reluctance to add another box under his pr her TV.
The remote that comes with the box is RF, so it will go through walls and such, but the problem is that standard IR universal remotes cannot "learn" its functions--an IR receiver kit costs another $39. Likewise, the lack of a wireless capability is disappointing; you shouldn't have to shell out $99 to accomplish this. That said, another major plus is that the box actually comes with an HDMI cable, which is rare.
Vudu was conceptualized in 2004, and a team of technology veterans from companies like Tivo, WebTV and others worked in stealth mode for before unveiling the service in spring 2007 and going on sale in September of that year. The product continues to win awards--Best Product by Digital Home, and Best of Retailvision, spring 2008. In early 2008, they launched the Vudu XL, with a terabyte of memory, IR and RF remote function, and others features for use in high-end home theaters. In 2010, Vudu was acquired by Walmart, seen as a means of challanging Netflix's domination of the movie rental market.
Vudu's customer service is exemplary--including a phone number for technical problems. There are even reports on the net that when people have had problems and disconnected their box, the company independently contacted them and offered to replace the defective box and replace the previously downloaded films for free. There is also a vibrant forum hosted on the Vudu site where you can get advice.
Vudu does have adult film support, though the Adult Video Network, which can only be accessed if activated by the account holder on the Vudu website. Even then, there are parental control passcode that users can set. Vudu content only works in the United States, because of licensing agreements with the studios, but you can travel and take your Vudu box with you--there's even a carrying case.
Dissemination: The actual Vudu box costs only $149 (this has plummetted from $399 in January 2008 at launch to $299 later that year). Of course, even this lower price tag, and consumers' reluctance to add another box under their TV, is slowing expansion of this superlative service down.
Of course, the simplicity leads to some limitations. Unlike some of the other services, you cannot transfer or view Vudu content on other devices (unless you move the box and hook it up to another TV, not really practical, and certainly not mobile.) And of course, the Vudu hard drive can only hold so much (250GB). What happens when it's filled? Granted, at 1+ GB per standard definition film, perhaps four times as much for HD, this could take a long time, but still. Hopefully some sort of expansion will be available in future years.
In 2009, Vudu shifted from focus on the Vudu box to being more of a service provider, with their streaming equpment embedded in certain DVD players and TVs such as LG Electronics, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Toshiba and VIZIO.
Prices: After you buy the Vudu box, there are no subscriptions or long-term commitments, only pay per view fees when you want to purchase a film. There is also a 30-day money-back guarentee on the box.
Standard definition movies "rent" or stream for $.99 to $3.99, high definition (full 1080p resolution) films rent for for $3.99 to $5.99. TV episodes can be purchased for $1.99, and moves can be downloaded and purchased for $4.99 to $19.99. There is no monthly subscription or contract.
And they do have sales, for instance in August 2008 Vudu announced a 99 cent summer blockbuster special. They also introduced 99 for 99--99 blockbusters which will rotate through the year and all be available for 99 cents.