Product Review: VUDU.
We blow the dust off our product review section to showcase the peer-to-peer streaming service VUDU.
Hello product seekers! It’s been awhile! Many people are already familiar with the big three streaming content providers: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. VUDU is a content provider unique to the industry with a hybrid peer to peer streaming system. Think Napster (but not passe) or any of the many Torrent providers like the Pirate’s Bay (but legal). This allows VUDU to save costs by not having to maintain a massive amount of server banks, but who the hell cares about that?: what can VUDU offer you that would set it apart from the competition?
The Nitty Gritty
VUDU was created in 2007, but really got cooking when Wal-Mart acquired the provider in 2010. Originally marketed as a line of set-top boxes (think Roku or AppleTV,) VUDU has since primarily focused on the app method of distribution, bundling itself with smart TV’s and gaming systems such as Xbox One and Playstation 4 (sorry, no Nintendo Switch, because Nintendo can be as dense as London fog when it comes to what US customers want.)
VUDU is a peer to peer based service, which means that the content you are downloading or streaming to your box is most likely coming from some other VUDU customer that owns/is watching the same content. It is offered in three speed tiers: 1 Mb/sec (delayed viewing,) 2 Mb/sec (instant SD movies,) and 4 Mb/sec (instant HD movies.) It’s output format is MPEG 4 video with Dolby Audio and can output at a resolution anywhere from 480p (which is bad,) all the way up to UHD 2160p (which is almost superfluously good.)
VUDU offers content to rent as well as buy, and with the acquisition by Wal-Mart, they now offer the ULTRAVIOLET program, where you can digitally store UHD versions of blu-ray movies you buy elsewhere (Wal-Mart is banking on that purchase being with them.) Content ranges from TV series to Classic Movies to New Releases. And I mean NEW. Of all the streaming services I’ve tried, VUDU had the best selection of new movies, a few of which had left the theatres maybe a scant few weeks before arriving in the VUDU library. They even had a foreign art-house film that hadn’t even arrived in local theaters! Those brand spanking new movies can often only be purchased, not rented, but it was still pretty impressive.
The content selection was very good. Pretty much anything that isn’t in a dedicated contract with another provider such as Game of Thrones was available. I saw TV hits like Homeland and Ash V. The Evil Dead. Hooray! It has documentaries, action, comedy (including some great oldies like Spaceballs,) and as I’ve mentioned, brand new films like Jack Reacher 2 and Arrival. The only kind of movies you can’t find on VUDU are adult films (read:pornography,) but interestingly enough, they used to offer the Adult Video Network before Wal-Mart came along and sanitized the service.
In addition to the ULTRAVIOLET program, they even let you convert Blu-Rays and DVDs you own to cloud based digital copies. It’s not free to do so, costing anywhere from 2 to 5 bucks a disc, but having anywhere access might be worth it for some. Since it is peer to peer, VUDU has a big incentive to encourage you in building a massive cloud library, and all their incentives pull towards that common goal. They regularly put out sales packs where you can own a bunch of movies that are related to a movie currently in theaters. For example, they are currently offering a sale on the purchase of every Resident Evil movie, in case you wanted to see for yourself why Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was such a disappointment. Speaking of sales….
So, what does it cost?
VUDU isn’t subscription based like Netflix or Hulu. As such it’s pricing model is similar to Amazon Movies (if you aren’t a prime member.) Movie rentals range from $0.99 to $4.99. Movie purchases range from $9.99 to $15.99 for non UHD, but sales are pretty frequent. TV shows appear to be sold by the episode or the season. I couldn’t find a rental pricing structure for TV options, so that might be a turnoff for fans of a good old binge watching session.
Netflix and Hulu have been fairly notorious recently in their move to offer decidedly less movies. Their pivot to favor original series and a heavy line up of TV series has left a void for movie watchers that VUDU is conspicuously courting. They offer a lineup of (mostly classic) movies of all genres for free, as long as you are willing to watch intermittent commercials. It’s very similar to the old basic Hulu membership in that regards.
VUDU in Action
I have tested the service on three separate devices (laptop, Xbox One, PS4), two on high speed broadband, one on a more modest connection. I was able to watch movies in HD on all three with no lag. I have tried the free-to-watch service, and the commercials were pretty easy to tune out and didn’t cut in during crucial times. I’ve only watched one free movie so far though, so your mileage may vary.
If you have any of the big three, and mainly use them for original content, VUDU is going to leave you cold since it lacks its own programs. That being said, since it isn’t a monthly fee service, I’d still recommend checking them out as a supplement.
The big draw for me will most likely be seeing movies that I’d been mildly interested in seeing in theaters. If I can pay almost the same price as a ticket, get access to new movies almost directly after they leave theaters, see it in my home with my own food and drink on my own schedule with no monthly access charge, then we might have the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Expect to see some VUDU content in our upcoming reviews; it was a lifesaver in getting access to a lot of the non-blockbuster Oscar material. As a show of its muscle, nearly all of the nominated films will be on the service in some form by the 14th of February…so available at home before they’re even out of theaters!
Color me intrigued. VUDU has a few distinct features that differentiate itself from the crowd, both good and bad. The price is slightly higher than what you’d pay for Amazon purchases, but they seem to be compensating with how insanely fast they procure new movies. They offer free movies with commercials, so even when money’s tight you can get some enjoyment out of their service. Not having a monthly membership might be a great option for those who go through fits and starts in their desire to consume media. For the die hard collector, being able to move your collection to the cloud might be intriguing, and anyone who uses ULTRAVIOLET should have no reservations adding this app to their devices.