So what exactly is this VUDU box that I speak of?

The short version is that it is a stand alone unit that will stream standard and high definition movies straight from the internet right to your TV, instantly on demand, without you ever having to leave the comfort of your couch. Though that statement is correct, it only scratches the surface of what the VUDU box has to offer. Let's take a closer look at this newest entrant into the set top box market.

Let's first talk about the type of content that is offered. VUDU currently has a selection of over 5,000 standard definition titles and over 100 high definition titles available for rent and/or purchase. These not only include movies but full seasons of some of the most popular television series as well. VUDU has support from all the major motion picture studios that include Lionsgate, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. Studios. In addition, they have also partnered with independent and international distributors such as Arts Alliance America, Associated Television, Echelon Entertainment, Educational Adventures, Eros Entertainment, Film Chest, First Look Studios, Granada, Image Entertainment, Kino International, Media Blasters, Palm Pictures, PBS, Tai Seng Entertainment, Think Film, Vanguard Films, and Wolfe Video. Through these partnerships VUDU has managed to have content available the same day as its DVD release.

The quality of the content, whether judged alone or compared against its competitors, is top notch. The standard definition content is easily on par with that of a standard DVD. In regard to the high definition content, VUDU supports 1080p/24 via an HDMI connection to a compatible TV. In addition, VUDU also supports Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround for both standard and HD content. The combination of these two great features allows VUDU to create an impressive and immersive viewing experience.

So we have all this content but what does it cost to watch and what kind of subscription is there? The good news is that there is no subscription at all. VUDU is a pay as you go system where any rentals or purchases you make get automatically deducted from your VUDU account. A rental ranges $0.99 to $5.99 with the higher being an HD rental. Purchases range from $4.99 to $24.99, again with the higher being HD. All that VUDU asks is that you keep a positive balance in our account. So let me clarify that and walk through the process. When you set up your account, you are asked to set an initial charge to a credit card. The minimum is $20 but it can be set higher. So you now have a positive balance of $20. Every purchase or rental you make deducts from that balance. Once you deplete that amount your account automatically replenishes to a positive amount of $20 with another charge to your card. If unchecked, it could be very easy for someone unaware to quickly rack up some serious charges. Luckily VUDU's parental control can not only lock out viewing of certain content but renting and purchasing as well.

The unit is controlled with a very sleek RF remote control. The remote has five buttons and a wheel like you would have on your mouse. Navigation is done by scrolling with the wheel and is very quick and accurate. VUDU has also partnered with third party control manufacturers such as Control4, Crestron, Logitech, NetStreams, Philips, Universal Electronics, and Universal Remote Control, Inc. The user interface is very easy to navigate with multiple search criteria. Searches can be done by title, genre, actor, director, rating, release date, and more. A user-friendly interface is vital to this unit as with over 5,000 titles from today to pre-1950 one can easily get caught up in just "seeing what's on". A good example is selecting I Am Legend starring Will Smith, and after previewing it, selecting "Similar Movies" with a click of the wheel and then checking out the original version with Vincent Price titled The Last Man on Earth that was released in 1964.

The standard VUDU unit can hold up to 50 standard definition movie purchases and unlimited rentals. However, the flagship model, recommended for larger media systems, is the VUDU XL and can hold up to 500 standard definition movies and unlimited rentals. Selections are managed with a Wish List and My Movies pages. You can also archive most movies to free up space on your unit. Archiving allows you to download the title again in future without having to pay again. This feature applies to most movies but not to television shows at this time.

Lastly, VUDU says that they are producing with the future in mind and that the box you purchase today will not be the same one that you have 6 months from now. Of course it will physically be the same but inside the unit will not be. VUDU is constantly updating and improving their product. In this past six months VUDU has made numerous improvements and added many features to their box. These included additional genres to search by, interface additions, more suggested viewing options, and the ability of the earlier mentioned archiving feature to name just a few.

VUDU is poised to make a run for success against some very established brands and they do not show any signs of backing down. They are free from any format restrictions or compatibility issues such as with Blu-ray and the dying HD DVD. They do not have any vested interests in a particular studio as other competitors do to skew their marketing. Their product and sales support are aggressive in finding solutions. VUDU does not have all the features of some of its competitors. It may not have music channels, be able to play a photo slide show, or connect you to My Space, but it can play movies and it does it well. And who knows what the next update may bring. Six months ago no one thought instant viewing of HD movies could be supported, and now it is a reality. VUDU may be the dark horse but with its convenience, quantity, and most important feature, its quality, it might just take the lead in the final turn.

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