Last week, Vudu (now available for $295) rolled out system software 1.2 in conjunction with HD movie rentals. For the instant playback touted by Vudu, you’ll need about 4Mbps download throughput. Unfortunately, the bedroom segment of my LAN is experiencing some sort of bottleneck. According to a Vudu engineer who pulled my logs, my session was capping out at 2.6Mbps – resulting in frequent buffering pauses during The Italian Job. (For comparison, my laptop reports about 17Mbps wirelessly to router via Speedtest.net.)
I was pleased with the picture quality and, if memory serves, find it comparable to the Xbox 360 download service. However, Gizmodo really took one for the team by watching Transformers three times (the horror!) to conduct a brief picture quality analysis (above). I can’t say I’m surprised with their findings – while Vudu offers 1080 resolution , the compression needed to squeeze that content into 4Mbps down won’t compare to a Blu-ray or HD DVD offering… Nor should it.
Services like Vudu are about providing instant gratification and given the broadband speeds across the US, this situation will not improve in the near future. Lately, I’ve been using the phrase “higher def” to refer to this sort of content – it may technically be “high def” resolution if we’re counting pixels, but no one would call it picture-perfect. Though it’s certainly a step up from standard definition.
Back to Vudu… New release HD rentals run $5.99, while new release SD rentals are $3.99. Which is comparable to the Xbox 360 ($6) and the delayed Apple TV update ($5). Of course, all these guys face the toughest competition from cable-co VOD/PPV, not each other.