Vudu Comes Full Circle, Launches Streaming Stick

What a long strange trip it’s been. Vudu initially launched in 2006 as a $400 dedicated movie streaming box. The requisite price cuts and pivots followed, including serving up apps like Flickr and then feeding smart televisions, before Walmart swooped in. Since then, the video service has focused on its own mobile and set-top video streaming app … that’s landed on a whole host of set-tops and mobile platforms. And, here we are again, back to a dedicated piece of hardware in the new Vudu Spark. Having launched in Walmart stores just a few weeks ago, at $25, of course I had to pick one up.

Photo Jan 24, 10 01 24 AM

Like other streaming sticks, the Vudu Spark is a small HDMI dongle powered via USB. It looks and feels cheaper than Roku, Chromecast, and the Fire TV Stick. Yet, that shouldn’t concern hidden behind one’s set. But in another possibly related cost cutting measure, unlike its competitors, Walmart does not include an HDMI extension cord or USB power brick should you require one. I found the remote sufficient and surely an improvement over Chromecast, which requires a smartphone to navigate.

On the software side of the house, in my brief time with the Vudu Spark, I’ve come across three different on-screen keyboard layouts and two different Settings areas. So there’s room to tighten up the interface as Walmart expands the Vudu UI to now include hardware management. The rest will be familiar to existing Vudu app customers — there’s a large catalog of movie and television content available for rental or purchase, streaming at up to 1080p and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. Purchased content is synced to one’s UltraViolet library and available to/from other platforms such as Flixter and Walmart will also gladly virtually rip our (supported) discs for content locker access.

Beyond UV, for me, other Vudu selling points have been integrated Rotten Tomatoes ratings and the Jinni recommendation engine. Further, Vudu also seems to run more sales and promos than say video offered up by Apple iTunes. But, the question remains, does it make sense in the current environment to invest in a single purpose streaming solution… despite the low cost. Given Vudu’s availability on so many platforms, including Roku, Chromecast, and TiVo plus solid, similar offerings from Flixster and Amazon, it’s hard to justify the Spark.

24 thoughts on “Vudu Comes Full Circle, Launches Streaming Stick”

  1. Some notes…

    The “Vudu Spark” graphic on the packaging is a sticker that covers “Vudu Spark Video Streaming Stick” — wonder if Roku owns “streaming stick” and this is designed to avoid controversy?

    The Spark is NOT located with the Chromecast or Roku at the Walmart I visited, but rather nestled in amongst the Blu-rays and DVDs. That’s an interesting approach to surface the streaming tech for people who might not have been considering such a thing.

    Although the Spark clocks in at $25, Walmart will issue you a $5 Vudu voucher every month, over four months, each being good for 30 days – assuming you put a credit card on file, which in most cases you would.

    I landed in an endless loop of some sort at first boot, but pulling the USB and reinserting got it up and running, with Spark downloading an immediate update that was mercifully quick to install.

    I do wonder what Walmart’s long term intentions are. Might they ultimately offer their own streaming service like Netflix? Or would they add content partners like a Pandora to Spark?

    Lastly, the Spark remote looks more like the original Amazon Fire TV remote than the Fire TV Stick does. Curious.

  2. “But, the question remains, does it make sense in the current environment to invest in a single purpose streaming solution”

    Of course! You can never have too many single purpose streaming solutions. In fact, I call you out, Dave Zatz, on your appalling lack of these useful items. Where is your Crackle stick? Or PBS stick? Or Weather Channel stick?

    The Roku seems appealing at first. But why bundle all those channels into a single cramped box, when you can give each channel the air to breathe with its own stick?

    (My visit to Walmart today to pick one up was a bit of disaster, though. Between the lines outside stretching around the block and the throngs rioting inside the store to get their hands on one, I kinda wished I’d ordered online.)

  3. “Online sales not yet available… nor is the stick even on the Walmart site. So, line it is.”

    Well, that makes does me feel better about the head gash I suffered in the melee. I’m sure it’ll stop bleeding soon.

  4. Honestly, this makes TOTAL sense to me and could be a nice move on the part of walmart.

    think about it: no disrespect here
    Their shopped demographic around the middle of the bell curve probably sits at the BOTTOM of the nations social economic curves. They don’t have a lot of disposable money for “smart” tv’s (you know who probably sells more DUMB tv’s than anyone in te USA – it’s probably walmart!), getting into the dongle game (should I buy an apple tv, google chromecast, roku, amazon streaming device/stick, etc..

    Walmart OWNS this, so why not just make a stupid cheap, simple to use, keep their in YOUR OWN walled garden of VUDU (which, IMHO is a GREAT service, cheap, easy, easily the BEST picture still, downloads to mobile devices) and simply cover your costs of R&D, manufacture, distro etc., and drive revenue to VUDU…YOUR service.

    There can be/and probably WILL be a promo with say SAM’s club membership, get one FREE with annual subscription for new members etc, or get one for 15$ for current members, etc..

    I think it makes great sense.

  5. iPazzPort Cast could turn your Home HD Screen become a All Media Sharing Center with full screen by Smart phone or tablet. You would find it on amazon from the search of “B00KF8NVWQ”.

  6. 1) a single use dongle is really weird option, considering similarly priced options that give several OTT options.

    2) @tivoboy – you really think Walmart is only patroned by the downtrodden and destitute? That is the funniest and most narcissistic thing I have ever read! I Probably wouldn’t buy a tv there, but absolutely shop for groceries, I wouldn’t purchase a suit and tie there, but you bet I will buy socks and t-shirts.

    Walmarts demographics are pretty broad – but I still don’t see the point of this dongle.

  7. @bradley,

    oh brother.. :-(

    So much for disclaimers and using statistics…I guess I probably should have included the uneducated in those stats..
    btw.. I shop at $WMT too

  8. “So much for disclaimers and using statistics…I guess I probably should have included the uneducated in those stats..”

    I have no real problems with your analysis, as it pertains to Walmart, tivoboy. May or may not be true, but it’s certainly a quite reasonable take.

    However, my sarcasm upthread, as well as Dave’s analysis, is more about the gizmo’s utility to consumers, not Walmart.

    MacKeeper is a very useful utility for the makers of MacKeeper. But for consumers…

  9. I thought about getting several of these late last year when they first showed up at Walmart. Since they were essentially free with the $25 credit for each one. But I already have over two dozen devices with Vudu. Plus Vudu only allows you to have eight devices active at one time. So I didn’t bother getting the several Vudu Sparks. Since it’s always been a pain playing musical devices with Vudu.

  10. Yes I don’t know why tivoboy thinks those are the Walmart demographics. The dozen or so Walmarts I’ve been to have a bunch of $30K, $40K, $50K and higher cars in parking lots. Plus I know a bunch of people that each make six figures and have $500K to $1M homes that go to Walmart regularly.

  11. Let me spell it out for everyone here…

    Walmart has the HIGHEST percentage of shoppers of ALL the big box stores (okay, not dollar tree and family dollar) in the <15K$ <25K <40K <59K household income categories..sometimes 2x what the next best big box store has..

    I'm NOT criticizing these people or their incomes, just quantifying the Walmart shopper and infering that they MAY not buy a 100$ apple tv, or a 100$ fire tv box, or a 99$ roku, and that THIS SHOPPER may was a 25$ dongle (or less) that plugs into what is probably far more likely NOT a smart tv compared to the bestbuy, target, costco, (insert other) shopper here.

    the fact that ALL of us seem to shop at walmart is meaningless. The fact that nearly 60% of walmart shoppers have household incomes of less than 50K$ is..

    wow, this used to be a family place..;-)

  12. The interesting thing for me was seeing the stick with the DVDs and Blurays, which maybe speaks less to finances or more familiarity with digital streaming options. At the one I hit, they had a whole little section with Slingbox and Nexus Player and Chromecast, but there was no Vudu stick there – it was on the rack with movies.

    Speaking of Walmart, I want them to get more inventory of that $188 32″ TCL Roku TV in stock for kitchen and deck use.

  13. “the fact that ALL of us seem to shop at walmart is meaningless.”

    I don’t. I live in a civilization. Y’all living in rural Idaho obviously have different shopping habits.

  14. Walmart’s PR firm reached out and suggested I revise the post to point out the $25 credit resulting in an effectively free Spark. Except, the offer on my box lists it as $20, I don’t love the terms of the promo, and I never actually received a credit nor saw a screen indicating anything like that. She wonders if I had an older box, which would be strange from a new product, and did offer to research my account. But I’ve since sent my wife on a mission to return the stick – I was kind of hoping there was some hidden functionality or at least the hint of something more to come, but nope.

  15. If she’s returning the stick over in Dulles, have her pick up a take-and-bake pizza in the grocery section. Most of those are ~$7 and many come with a $5 VUDU credit insert in the box ;)

  16. Too late – could have nicely augemented the Super Bowl menu. Then again, I’ll pass that Walmart on the way from Orthopedist to Office tomorrow AM. Hm.

  17. Yum… Walmart pizza!

    Doesn’t Luzzo’s deliver to rural Idaho?


    And if you’re really in the mood for Walmart pizza for whatever ungodly reason, isn’t the single purpose Walmart pizza streaming stick a more convenient option?

  18. It’s true we don’t have NY bagels or pizza here – that’s for sure. But anxiously awaiting their Oculus Rift apps.

  19. “and believe it or not, it wasn’t horrible. Not saying it was good, but not horrible”

    I do understand that folks living in rural Idaho have limited options. With a choice between sawdust, lard with gummi bears, and Walmart pizza, I’d probably pick the Walmart pizza too.

    “Chucky, I have no problem buying a Walmart pizza when it’s simple fuel for my kids and their friends as they bounce around the house”

    My snobbishness was actually 98% in jest. And the kid equation eliminates the other 2%. When I was 10yo, my favorite food in the world was Jeno’s frozen mini pizzas.

    However, beware! If you closely examine the ingredients on Walmart pizza, the second ingredient by volume is methamphetamine. I’m not quite sure how that’s legal, but it could well explain the ‘bouncing around the house’, as well as the movie choice. If they start cleaning the baseboards with Brillo for fun, you’ll know why…

  20. Also, pray for us who do live in civilization. Shelly Silver abruptly died about 15 years ahead of when I’d been planning for. For those of you unfamiliar with civilizational politics, there was some unpleasantness in the mid-’70’s that led to NYC surrendering its sovereignty to Albany. We’re in a similar situation to The District vis-a-vis the Feds, but far worse. We don’t even really have ‘home rule’.

    Given all that, since Albany has forever been governed by a triumvirate, the constant presence ever since of Shelly Silver as one of the triumvirs, acting as a firm veto point in defense of NYC’s interests, has been crucial to maintaining civilization here. But now he’s dead, and if he doesn’t get replaced by someone else who will play the same role, (which is by no means a certain thing), we’re looking at the apocalypse.

    Without a NYC veto point in the triumvirate, Albany’s plans include:

    1) Banning all bagels and pizza in the city limits.

    2) Assassinating rent stabilization, which will force us, along with another million or two other folks, to move to rural Idaho.

    3) Treating NYC the way Lansing treated Detroit.

    4) If all else fails, simply nuking the city. As part of the settlement to the aforementioned unpleasantness in the mid-’70’s, Albany was granted a first-strike capability, while NYC was demilitarized. And all it takes is a majority vote in a single obscure Assembly subcommittee to launch the missiles.

    So pray for us. Shelly may have been as personally corrupt as the day is long, but everyone’s long known that. And despite the personal corruption, he’s always faithfully and skillfully done his job protecting the city and its civilization.

    There have always been a handful of politicians I’d figuratively walk through a wall for, if they asked. But Shelly is the only one I’d literally have walked through a wall for…

  21. This looks like a well-meaning effort doomed to failure, only even made possible by Walmart’s coffers. I like Vudu as a service (especially with it’s connectivity to Ultraviolet, making it my go-to for streaming, downloading to devices), but I already own two chromecasts, two TiVos, three TVs and at least four consoles that support It. I’m not sure who the target audience for the device is: it has to be someone who has a TV with a free HDMI connector but is not a smart TV, knows what that is, wants to use vudu and doesn’t want/know how to get another solution on any of their devices.

    I’m sure those customers exist, but are there enough for this to work? A chromecast does the same job better for $10 more and has a national ad campaign. And even the weakest cellphone or table can control it. Roku is everywhere and their older models are dirt cheap (the stick is what, $25 more? Yes, that’s double the price, but that’s not really that much).

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