Practical Technology

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Will a Cheap Vudu be a Successful Vudu?


Apple TV is hardily the only player in the IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) game. One other significant player, Vudu has a similar product, the eponymous Vudu Box.

The Box, which had been going for about $395 and includes a 250GB hard drive, has been dropped to $295. This is, doubtlessly, a direct response to Apple repricing of the Apple TV. Today, the 40GB Apple TV goes for $229 and the 160GB Apple TV will run you $329.

Comparing the two is an interesting exercise. On the one hand, the Vudu supports HD (high definition) all the way up to the top of the line 1080p HD, while Apple TV can only support 720p HD. Until recently, you had to use a Mac or a PC with iTunes to place movies or TV episodes on an Apple TV. Any day now a new firmware upgrade will enable you to download rented or bought video directly to the Apple TV. Vudu has always come with direct to the TV functionality.

The one technical advantage the Apple TV does have is that it comes with 802.11g/n Wi-Fi already installed. For Vudu, you need to either cable it up with Ethernet, or buy a separate Wi-Fi bridge, like the Linksys WET54G , to hook it up to your home Wi-Fi network. Since bridges aren’t cheap, the WET54G’s street price-tag of almost $90 is typical, many users will find the Vudu costing them more than the 160GB Apple TV.

In terms of film libraries, Apple and Vudu appear to offer about the same number of titles. Like Apple, Vudu has deals with most, if not all, the significant movie studios. Both companies have already announced their intention to expand their movie vaults as much as possible. They also both offer rentals and/or purchases depending on what terms for each movie the studios demand. Their pricing is also similar per film, although at SD (standard definition), Apple appears to be a dollar cheaper per film rental.

It appears to be a very close rate between the two. For me, however, there’s one big, enormous difference. There’s no way you can get your own video from your DVDs, PC or what-have-you from your computer to the Vudu. With Vudu, if you don’t rent or buy from Vudu, you’re not going to be watching anything. I am never comfortable about any technology that I can only use with one vendor.

A related problem is that while the Vudu’s 250GB is quite roomy, it’s the only room you’ve got. If, like me, you have a large video library, 250GBs doesn’t begin to cut it. While my Apple TV has only 40GBs on it, thanks to iTunes and my network, I have access to over a Terabyte of video storage room. And, if that’s not enough, I just add another external storage device, say the Iomega 33720 with FireWire and USB 2.0 for speedy video transfers and a Terabyte of more space, and I’m ready to go.

Of course, if you’re someone who always rents, and never buys or records videos from broadcasts, then this last point isn’t going to matter. But, if you want to say have the complete first three seasons of House MD at your beck and call, then the Vudu is not for you.

By the end of February, Vudu has announced that it will be shipping the VUDU XL, a high-end version of the VUDU box, which is designed for integration into high-end home theaters. The XL will also come with a high-end price of $999 and have a 1TB hard drive. Again, though, for now at least, you won’t be able to expand the Vudu’s storage, grab video from anywhere else other than Vudu, or use a Wi-Fi network.

The wining media-extender, for me, continues to be the Apple TV.

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