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Tuesday, 01 July 2008
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Vudu Media Server
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Setting up the Vudu system couldn’t get much easier. You simply plug in your Internet connection to the back of the box, connect the box to your TV and power it on. I used the HDMI interface with the Vudu-supplied cable to connect it to my Sony 1080p SXRD rear-projection set.

The Vudu system walks you step by step through the set-up process, which is not much more than waiting for the system to update. It then gives you a quick walk-through of how to use the remote control, which is by far the coolest remote I’ve ever seen, as well as a great method of browsing for movies. The remote fits perfectly in your hand and is the shape you would get if you held a piece of soft clay and squeezed it. Your thumb lands on top of the roller wheel, which moves the pointer around on the screen. When you found what you’re after, you press down on the wheel to select. The remote also has a back button to move you back to where you came from, as well as a button marked “Vudu” that takes you back to the main screen. The remote rounds out with a combination play/pause button, a power button and a button marked “more,” which gives additional info.

The main screen offers five sub-menus, which include “most watched,” “new to Vudu,” “explore catalog,” “my Vudu” and “info and settings.” “Most watched” brings up a list of the top 100 movies for the week. The movies are not simply listed by name, but also displayed as you would see the title on a DVD box, including graphics. As you roll the pointer over each title, a snapshot of the DVD box comes up and gives a description of the movie, as well as some metadata, which includes how people have rated the movie, release date, genre and movie length. Click again and the cast is displayed. Click on a cast member and instantly all the movies they appear in are displayed. Use the back button to get back to where you were. You can also watch the trailer for the movie before making the purchase. I used this list more than any other, since I seem to share the taste of other Vudu users and like their top 100 picks.

The next menu is called “new to Vudu” and, as you would expect, it lists the latest titles to be released and also has a list of upcoming releases.
The third option is “explore catalog.” This allows you to search for movies by genre and also to create highly customized searches, based on criteria like title, release date, MPAA rating, critics rating, movie studio, actor/director, language and display resolution. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had playing with these searches.
The “my Vudu” menu holds programs that you have purchased or rented and allows you to delete or archive them. The last option is “info and settings,” which is exactly what you think it is. Here you can check on service quality and you can even limit the amount of bandwidth that you allow Vudu to use.  Parental controls allow you to filter what types of movies can be rented and places a password on the account so your kids can’t go crazy and rent 20 movies in a day.

Music and Movies
My first selection was No Country for Old Men (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), which tells the story of a sadistic killer who relentlessly hunts down the main character after he accidentally gets involved in a drug deal gone bad. This was a standard-resolution movie. It started the instant I pressed play. I was expecting some delay while the movie buffered, but there was absolutely none. The picture was as clear as any DVD that has ever been displayed on my screen with the various players I’ve used, which range from Oppo to Esoteric brands. Sound quality was superb as well. I was able to pause, fast forward and rewind to my heart’s content, with no glitches at all.

The next movie I watched was the fact-based Into the Wild (Paramount Home Entertainment), which follows the life of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) after college graduation. He has grown bitter and tired of society’s lust for money and lack of honesty and compassion. He continues to isolate himself throughout the film and ultimately decides to strike out alone in the Alaskan wilderness and be one with nature. He quickly realizes that survival is much harder than he anticipated and ultimately pays the ultimate price for his decision. The scenes are breathtaking and Vudu delivered all of it with striking clarity.

I decided to try one of the HD offerings. What better to illustrate the beauty that HD offers than Saw IV (Lionsgate)? This time, I was sure that there would be a delay, as the additional data needed for HD content was loaded. I was wrong. Again, the film started instantly. The picture was every bit as good as what I get from my Playstation3 Blu-ray player. Incisions oozed blood with clarity normally found only in an operating room. The sound of saws cutting bone and limbs snapping was realistic enough to make my wife leave the room. I did notice that I couldn’t fast forward very far past where I was in the film. As the film continued to play, the movie must have buffered more and allowed me more flexibility in how far forward I could go. This wasn’t really an issue to me, as I always watch movies straight through.

I was bored one night, so I started browsing through the catalog to see how deep it went and was happily surprised to see old Lost in Space TV episodes available. I grew up on this show and watching it really brought back some good memories. Some other series worth noting include 24, NYPD Blue, Prison Break and Family Guy. If you can’t find something on Vudu to entertain yourself with, then you have other issues.


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