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.
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.