Review: Vudu Software Update

Okay, so it’s been awhile since we’ve tinkered with the Vudu. But even though the hardware hasn’t changed (it’s still a solid movie-renting, P2P set-top box), Vudu has released a firmware update that warrants a second look.

So, what’s the big deal? While folks like us have been jamming our boxes full of high-def content, the Vudu crew has been toiling away at opening the box to developers. The fruit of their labor is the new “Vudu Labs” section added to the home screen. Designed for forthcoming rich internet apps (casual games, anyone?), the section is home to spanking-new YouTube, Flickr and Picasa applications. Though not as buttery smooth as their browser-based cousins, accessing each site’s core functionality was a cinch using the Vudu’s remote-driven interface. And save for the occasional clunky frame rate during a video or “loading” pause while switching photo albums, performance was solid.

But let’s be honest — as cool as it is to watch Afro Ninja fall over on a big screen, a software update isn’t exciting without some added content, right? So, the Vudu crew launched an “On-Demand” section as a counterpart to the “Vudu Labs” update. Content from networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, ESPN and Discovery are all available over the section’s 120 channels. But as promising as this sounds, there’s a King Kamehameha-sized catch. Since the programming is filched from widely available web sources, its offerings lack the polish and selection that come with fully baked licensing agreements (a la Hulu). Put simply, there’s virtually nothing currently in the “On-Demand” section that rivals the ease, performance, or quality of Vudu’s rental and purchase titles. Naturally, that’s the cost of “free.”

In the end, the paucity of dazzling content or features makes this update little more than a deal sweetener. If you’re already sold on the capable Vudu box and its core feature set, then the new additions will likely add to your glee.
But if the device’s newest web-enabled chops still aren’t enough, it might be worthwhile to wait for “Vudu Labs” and its forthcoming apps to hit their stride.   

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