Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Vudu that you do

So well, it makes me want to shoop shoop shoop.

I've heard of this streaming service called Vudu primarily from listening to the Filmspotting: SVU (Streaming Video Unit) podcast, in which it's frequently mentioned as one of the places you can get such-and-such a film online. But like some of the other names of streaming services I don't recognize (Crackle), I didn't know what distinguished it or how it worked, and I kind of assumed there would be something difficult about -- some obstacle that left me disinclined to try it.

And I probably -- definitely -- wouldn't have tried it if Netflix carried Mississippi Burning. See, I'm watching Alan Parker's 1988 film as part of a project I'm doing for another blog, but the bright green Save button on Netflix left me scratching my head about how I'd get it to my eyeballs.

Then I remembered the handy website, which allows you to type in any movie name and get an immediate report about where the movie is available for streaming. Vudu came up when I searched for Mississippi Burning.

"How hard can it be?"

Not very, it turns out, but it did come with an annoying marketing red herring.

See, when I went to the Vudu website, I was met with an advert telling me that I'd get ten free movies when I signed up for the service. Since signing up for the service is free, I thought they must be really desperate to get people to use it. It seemed too good to be true, but I dove in and signed up as quickly as I could.

On the Mississippi Burning page, I saw that I could rent it in any of three formats: Standard for $2.99, HD for $3.99 and something called HDX (I don't know what that is, and I can't be bothered to look it up) for $4.99. I had entered my credit card number as part of the signup, and I expected there to be some indication that I could use one of my ten free movies to buy Mississippi Burning. When that clearly wasn't happening, I decided to go to the help section.

At which point I determined that it's not any ten movies, it's a specific package of ten. They could have teased me one step further by having them be ten downright awful movies, but they're really not. The biggest problem with these ten movies is that I've already seen most of them: Behind Enemy Lines, Ghost, Lethal Weapon, Never Been Kissed, Paranormal Activity, The Perfect Storm, The Producers (2005), Psycho (1998), Valentine's Day and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. Of the three I haven't seen (Behind Enemy Lines, Psycho and Wrong Turn 2), it's possible I will eventually watch use Vudu to watch Psycho, but I won't be prioritizing it any time soon. I'm told that these movies change, so if you sign up for Vudu three weeks from now, you may get something different.

The real advantage Vudu has in terms of my own setup is that I can watch it easily on either of our TVs. We have an LG BluRay player in our living room and our bedroom, and both have Vudu as option. That's no given, since I think Netflix may be the only other service that appears on both players. So it worked quite nicely to fire up Mississippi Burning on Wednesday night in our bedroom, and as a measure of how gripping I found it, I didn't start to fall asleep until the very end of the two-plus-hour movie, and only then because it was approaching 11. (The comfort of the bed usually knocks me out much earlier than that. In fact, last night, I fell asleep during the opening credits of the TV show I was trying to watch.)

Verdict on Vudu? Now that I've done the "hard part" of signing up, I will definitely use it again. Sure, my first option will always be Netflix streaming, because I get that free as part of our monthly subscription. But it's refreshing to know that the streaming universe doesn't begin and end with Netflix. As I've found more and more holes in the Netflix catalogue the more I look, it's nice to know that there are other reasonably priced services out there that can fill those holes.

Next week: I see what the deal is with Crackle, because that's the only way I can watch Ishtar, the first movie in my Famous Flops series.


Travis McClain said...

Vudu is owned by Walmart, and believe it or not but according to my friend with the fancy pants, high-tech home theater system (including an HD projector), Vudu a/v quality is the best in the streaming world.

HDX is some version of HD, but I forget what it is about that X that makes it so special.

One nice thing about Vudu being owned by Walmart is that there are often offers on Blu-rays and DVDs sold at Walmart that include Vudu credit. Sometimes there are strings attached (choose a movie from a pre-selected pool), sometimes it's a straight-up application of $X to your account you can spend however you want.

You can (and should) go ahead and create an UltraViolet account now and link your Vudu and UV accounts. In the future, whenever you buy a Blu-ray or DVD with a UV digital copy, you'll be able to access those via your Vudu app and stream directly to your TV.

"Why would I want to stream a digital copy of a movie that I clearly already own in this hypothetical?" you ask.

One nice thing is that you can access your UV library (via your Vudu app, among others) wherever you go. Your library becomes a whole lot more portable.

The big draw to UV is that you can link up to six different people's accounts, and their libraries are shared with one another. My group already has nearly 50 movies in our collective UV library.

One last nicety: Some movies were only ever released on pan & scan DVD. Their digital streaming counterparts are, however, in the proper aspect ratios. With Walmart's Disc-to-Digital service, you can take your DVD to your nearest Walmart and pay $2 to unlock the Vudu version. They slap a sticker on the disc indicating you've used it, but Best Buy's CinemaNow is beta testing an at-home version where you pop in your DVD into your disc drive and once it reads the disc, it allows you to purchase the digital version straight from your own computer. Easy peasy.

(Downside: CinemaNow requires that you authorize it to access "your entire computer". That made me uneasy, so once I finished, I uninstalled the program.)

Link your CinemaNow account to your UV account and even though you've bought the digital version from Best Buy, you should be able to stream your purchase through your Vudu library.

The sign-up/connect-all-accounts phase is tedious, but once it's all in place, the UltraViolet system is awful handy.

Vancetastic said...

I am shamed by your knowledge of things. You would have made a much better reporter than I did. When I was a journalist, I hated research. I try to think that doesn't make me lazy.

I haven't gotten involved in UltraViolet yet, in part because I'm not out trying to watch a movie on any of my devices very often. If I traveled more for work or something I'm sure it would be great.

I'm kind of bummed that you told me that Vudu is Walmart, because I'm philosophically opposed to Walmart. Oh well. I'll try to forget you told me. ;-)

Travis McClain said...

Conducting research was pretty much unavoidable in the course of earning my degree in history. Thankfully, it's come naturally to me since childhood. I've always been inquisitive.

Plus, I actually use UltraViolet and related services myself. I don't have much use for streaming my own movies, of course, but it's nice to have access to the content added by the other five members in my UV group.