Vudu’s Almost Here (and overpriced)


We’ve talked about Vudu before – the upstart, P2P video rental (or purchase) box that’s been getting decent press. My main concern has always been: How are they going to price it? Originally, I heard we’d see Apple TV prices. Then in June, when Vudu visited the Digital Experience event in NYC, a couple of people whispered to me it’d be closer to $500. As it turns out, Vudu will be shipping later this month at $400 – plus per movie fees.

No matter how good Vudu is, for $400 wouldn’t you rather have an Xbox 360? Movie rentals and much more. Maybe the interface isn’t as slick or maybe the library isn’t as large (for now), but wouldn’t you rather have true HD flicks on a multi-function device rather than upscaled 480p on a dedicated box? For about $400 you could also pick up a HD DVD or Blu-ray player and let Netflix continue to send you discs at higher resolutions. Not to mention, we all suspect Sony will be bringing movie downloads to the PS3 and perhaps Unbox (via TiVo) will go HD next year. Of course the biggest gotcha is that the cable and satellite providers all offer video on demand. Again the libraries aren’t as large, but you don’t have to pay $400 just to browse the aisles.


On the technical end, the most interesting Vudu feature isn’t the P2P connection (why should I share my bandwidth?), but the unique remote control. It’s small, simple, and sexy. It also has a scroll wheel, which strikes me as very efficient. However, even the remote has a gotcha – RF only. Meaning, while you can hide Vudu in a cabinet, you’re not going to control it with most universal remotes. But with that scroll wheel, maybe you wouldn’t want to anyway.

The embargo has passed and several sites chime in…

NY Times: Vudu is a clear win if you, like 30 million other Americans, make several trips to the video store each month. It’s also great if you like pay-per-view but wish you had a better selection. Vudu may not be a Netflix killer, though, unless you think Vudu’s instant access is more important than Netflix’s much larger selection (more than 70,000 movies).

USA Today: A similar pricing scheme was a chief reason I didn’t recommend a somewhat similar on-demand service called MovieBeam, reviewed here a year-and-a-half ago. It then cost $200 for a box to rent flicks, albeit for a far slimmer selection of movies.

CNET: Sticklers that we are, we’d like to see it be an even better deal: more available content; lower pricing; and more functionality. That said, the Vudu is light-years ahead of earlier similar attempts in this arena, offering better content than Akimbo and far better quality and selection than MovieBeam. It’s the first dedicated Internet video-on-demand unit that delivers a worthwhile combination of content, convenience, and quality at a reasonable price.

Gizmodo: Normally I don’t whine about high prices, but I think $400 is a little too much for a box that doesn’t come with any free content. There’s never been a better case for the razor-and-blades model. With a pricetag like that, Vudu is certainly not going to scare the bejeezus out of Blockbuster Video—not nearly as much as it rightly should.

NewTeeVee: Vudu has yet to roll out their box at retail, and I’ll be watching very closely to see whether these boxes all work as well as the one I’ve been using this past week. As we all know, new services tend to have performance issues once mass rollouts happen, as we saw with Joost’s entry into wider beta. And even with the smoothness of the service’s performance, I still have problems with pretty much all Internet VOD service limited usage rights – including Vudu’s.

10 thoughts on “Vudu’s Almost Here (and overpriced)”

  1. What a joke, who would pay $400 for this? It’s like the Apple TV without the kool-aid and without being able to also use the content on your iPod.

    Really, what’s the point?

  2. Also without a brick & mortar retail presence (at least no initially), it’s going to be an uphill battle. Heck, even Moviebeam had a Best Buy end cap and they still couldn’t find success.

  3. With HD online transfer on the horizon for XBox360, PS3, and TiVo/Unbox, paying $400 for a box that doesn’t do anything else is ridiculous. When I first saw the price, I thought it was a joke. It’s certainly not worth paying $400 just so you don’t have to drive to the video store. Who made up their business plan that convinced them that this will work?

  4. The studios’ insistence on the 24 hour rental limit is going to kill whatever (slim) chance this product had to succeed. I used my $15 Unbox credit and have watched a few $.99 videos on Tivo, but would never pay $3.99 when there is a 50/50 chance the baby will wake up (or whatever) after I start watching.

  5. Ben,

    My standards go down when the product is free. And frankly, it ain’t THAT bad. In my estimatation, equivalent to digital cable and better than analog.

  6. I just met with these guys at CEDIA today, and they said that they’re really not sure how users will use the product — rent, buy, etc. When I asked how they thought they would succeed where others have failed, they said the user experience and studio partnerships would help.

  7. MC & Ben, I enjoyed Unbox on TiVo while we still had the SD set in the bedroom. Now that we’re 16:9 and HD in every room, we won’t be using it. 99 cents is great, but I’d rather pay the $4-$6 for something with better video quality. Vudu’s best bet is to take their interface and content partnerships and provide an embedded service within someone else’s set-top box or television. I read or heard somewhere a month or so back that they may actually be exploring that angle.

    Jason, I saw them a few months ago, and the interface does look rich (though I haven’t lived with it). While they have lined up many studios, those partnerships won’t be exclusive… The rent/buy issue won’t entirely be up to Vudu – studios decide which movies get which rights, and as we’ve seen with other services it seems entirely random. Though I assume most folks will prefer renting.

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