EngadgetHD has reviewed VUDU, including their support for HD content. And they’re conclusions echo what I’ve said in the past:
We wanted the VUDU to deliver in such a way that HD freaks could really grab hold if those excruciatingly long wait times encountered with Netflix / Blockbuster were pushing them to find an alternative. Unfortunately, we still can’t wholeheartedly recommend the VUDU to those who appreciate high-definition. To be honest, the device still seems grossly overpriced when you consider that the aforementioned rental-by-mail options can be turned on and off on a whim, provide flicks that don’t vanish 24 hours after you hit play for the first time, and have HD libraries that far exceed that found on the VUDU. The primary selling point of this device is its ability to provide absolute instant gratification, but with HD VOD quickly expanding into more markets across the nation — not to mention the smattering of local B&M video stores surrounding most everyone — we’re still left scratching our heads trying to uncover exactly what niche this thing is aiming for.
At the end of the day, our time with the VUDU could be described as generally enjoyable. We were pleased with the interface, thrilled with the ease of use and particularly wowed by the audio quality. Still, those flashes of greatness can’t overcome the subpar HD video quality, high initial cost of ownership and unfortunate rental restrictions. Is the VUDU a unique and nifty gizmo for acquiring HD movies? Unquestionably so. Is it something that’s ready to replace your satisfactory relationship with HD VOD, Netflix / Blockbuster or HD DVD / Blu-ray? Not just yet.
VUDU is expensive for a single-purpose device, especially when video downloads are appearing as features on other devices – Amazon Unbox on TiVo, downloads on Xbox, AppleTV, etc. Sony is talking about adding downloads to the PS3. Netflix is talking about bringing streaming to more platforms, including the 360 and PS3.
And the system they use, caching a small amount of video for instant starts and relying on downloads for the rest, limits their quality. VUDU claims they can support HD downloads with a minimum of 4Mbps. But there is no way they can even come close to Blu-ray (or HD DVD) with bitrates that low. VUDU claims they’re ‘broadcast quality’, but even matching broadcast with bitrates that low would be tough. (Even given their codec advantage – broadcast is MPEG-2, VUDU is MPEG-4/H.264.) And EngadgetHD’s review reflects this.