|Vudu Media Server|
|Home Theater Media Servers Video Servers|
|Written by Jim Swantko|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2008|
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With over 120,000,000 Apple iPods sold to date, most people have a pretty solid idea of what a media server is, even if the term media server isn’t an everyday part of the American lexicon yet. Apple brought video to the iPod and YouTube has brought video to the masses, but DVD remains the all-powerful king for movies late in 2008, even with the rise of the high-definition Blu-ray format. While many are willing wait for slow load times on Blu-ray players and funky HDMI connections, others (historically with tons of money) could buy a closed-ended system like Kaleidescape for upwards of $30,000 in order to get a slick, reliable broadcast of SD (yes, I said $30,000 for standard definition) video throughout their homes. Now there are new options on the market that are getting some buzz. Enter Vudu.
To be fully forthright, I had never heard of Vudu before I was asked to review their media server, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At first glance, the Vudu server appeared similar to Apple TV, although it is designed more for the moviegoer than for the iPod generation, since it doesn’t offer things like podcasts or music downloads. However, it does seem to have faster access to HD movies, which start instantly, while Apple states that there may be a short wait before viewing starts of HD content.
When I received the Vudu box in the mail, I was very surprised at just how little clutter there was inside it. The system consists of a small black box that is a bit larger than a wireless router and weighs a little over four pounds. The shipment also contained a small odd-shaped remote, a power supply, batteries and several cables, including an HDMI interconnect, which I was very happy to see. The front of the box has two LEDs, which indicate power and Internet connectivity, as well as a card slot location for your Vudu membership card, which contains your account information.
The rear of the unit has one Ethernet and one USB port for connectivity. It should be noted that wireless Internet connectivity is an option if you use a power line adaptor or an Ethernet wireless bridge and 802.11G as a minimum. The back panel provides all the standard audio outputs, which include coax and optical digital, as well as RCA analog. A single HDMI v1.1 port, a single component video, S-video and composite video round out the video outputs. However, if you are still using composite or S-video connections, there is little chance you even know what the Internet is and I recommend you stick to VHS.
The included literature stated that Vudu has developed a distributed network model to allow for instantaneous delivery of movies across the Internet to your TV. I must say that I was skeptical, considering how slow my Internet connection seems to be at times; I’m certainly not downloading full-length HD movies. The Vudu box contains a relatively large 250 GB internal hard drive, which is enough to permanently store approximately 50 full-length movies. It should be noted that this space is not affected by rentals.
In theory, the Vudu system replaces your video disc player and frees up all the space that you dedicate to disc storage. It also eliminates the chances of damaging any disks you own. Now consider that, with the Vudu server, you will never need to step foot in another video store again. No need to wait for the mailman to bring you a movie, either. You sit in the comfort of your own living room and browse the movie selections. When you see one you like, press a button and it instantly starts playing. Is that enough convenience for you? To me, it sounds just about perfect.
You are probably wondering what all this convenience is going to cost you. The unit sells for $295 and the service is completely voluntary, meaning it has zero activation or subscription fees. You simply pay for the movies that you want to rent or own. Rented movies are viewable for as many times as you would like for a 24-hour period and range in cost from $0.99 to $3.99 for standard definition and $3.99 to $5.99 for high definition. There are some independent films that allow for a 48-hour viewing window. Movie purchases range from $4.99 to $19.99 and rentals from $3.99 for HD classics to $5.99 for HD new releases. These remain on the unit’s hard drive permanently. There are also several TV shows that are available for $1.99 per episode. Payment is done through an online account, which is accessible through the Vudu website. Vudu accepts all major credit cards and allows you to preload the account with $20, $50 or $100. As movies are rented or purchased, the balance is debited until your account reaches $5. Then the preload amount is replenished from your card.