Back in April we first heard about the new startup, Vudu, and their self-named set-top box for broadband video. Well, now it looks like they’re ready to ship. The New York Times, Yahoo! News, and USA Today all have articles on Vudu.
Personally, I’m impressed as a geek by their BitTorrent-like technology, but I’m not impressed by it as a product. It is yet another set-top box you need to buy and put in your entertainment center – for $399, not cheap. And you need a reliable high-speed Internet connection since it downloads movies on-demand. Low-end DSL and cable modem services may not be fast enough, and dial-up is, of course, right out – you need downloads of at least 2Mbps. You’ll also need to be sure your broadband provider doesn’t have usage limits since you’re Vudu will be downloading a lot of data – and uploading it as well.
Uploading? Yes. Vudu works like BitTorrent, peer-to-peer (P2P). When you select a movie to watch your Vudu box begins downloading it. But it doesn’t just download from Vudu’s central servers, but it will download portions of the film from other Vudu units out there that have already downloaded the film. The more Vudu boxes which have the film, the faster your box can pull the pieces together. So your Vudu will also be a node on the Vudu P2P network, serving data to other users.
Of course, the $400 for the box just gets you the box. You have to pay for the content as well. Movie rentals range from $.99 to $3.99 – with Hollywood blockbusters and new releases toward the high end of the range, and nth-tier direct-to-video releases at the low end -as you’d expect. Vudu also offers purchases for $4.99 to $19.99. Vudu is launching with a library of roughly 5,000 titles. Current content is all SD, though the Vudu will up-convert content to pseudo-HD via its HDMI connection. Vudu plans to offer real HD content in the future.
I just don’t think it is worth it. You can get a TiVo and have a premium DVR – with access to Amazon Unbox downloads. And the TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD will also up-convert content over HDMI – and Unbox is reportedly going to offer HD content in the future as well. Alternatively, Microsoft offers downloads, including HD, for the Xbox 360. And you can get a 360 for less than a Vudu – and you’d have a game box which can also be a DVD player – and HD DVD with an add-on. Sony will also be launching a download service for the PlayStation3, which will likely include HD content. The PS3 is a little more than the Vudu, but you also get a great game platform – which also plays (and up-converts) DVD as well as playing Blu-ray. And then there is Apple TV, which provides another platform for getting downloaded content on your TV, with more capabilities than the Vudu. And, of course, Netflix is always an option.
Based on the price and the narrow feature set, I just think there are better options.