Amazon Kindle Fire

Today, Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire tablet.

I watched a few news reports and to summarize:

The Kindle Fire is fast using a dual processor, it can run Android Apps but you gotta get them from Amazon (not a bad thing).

One analyst says it is NOT an iPad killer since the Kindle Fire is a consumer of media not a producer of media / content like the iPad can be.

Makes sense.

However, this same analyst says it can put a dent in Barnes & Noble’s Color Nook.

It works on WiFi only and costs a “reasonable” $199 U.S.  Storage of your media is via the Amazon cloud and they say that is for free.

The Fire will be available in mid-November but they are taking pre-orders now.  When you get it, it will be pre-configured with your Amazon account information…that is cool.

Here are two videos:

–From the techy’s at CNET.com

–Some guy playing with Fire (sorry, I had to say that…)–

You gonna get one?  Comment below!  :-)

Logitech Harmony 650 Remote

Lori could not learn the process I had for watching a movie on the blu-ray or on VUDU.

Geeez what is her problem?  Using a combination of three remotes, 27 button pushes, and moving one wire (just kidding)….it was easy!

She wanted me to write the process down….well, I do not have time to write a book, so get over it.

Luckily, Lifesize (a Division of Logitech), had a contest recently that someone at Lifesize entered one of my blog entries for (Anytime, Anywhere…) and I won 3rd prize!!!!

A Logitech Harmony 650 remote!  How cool is that!  :-)

This remote promises to replace up to 5 remotes!  Well, there ya go….maybe the Harmony 650 can simplify the movie watching process and give Lori the ability to watch movies in case I croak sooner than expected.

My Home Theater Configuration

An old (see this blog entry…one of my very first!) 55 inch Sony projection HDTV (only about 720p resolution, but, still good), an older Bose audio system, a Comcast cable box (HD), an old VUDU box for movies, an old Sony Blu-Ray player, and finally a Black Box HDMI switcher. Lots of old stuff (I really need to start making money again) but everything is working fine.

All of these devices need a separate remote!

Thankfully, I could make the Comcast remote work with the Bose, and the Cable box.

And I figured out a way to keep the TV on line 7 for the Blu-Ray, watching TV, and VUDU so the TV remote is not needed all the time.

<–See the pic for the three remaining remotes I hope to replace with the Harmony 650.

(No wonder why Lori was having such a problem, I am having a hard time keeping it easy to understand here….)

Harmony 650 Remote

OK, so I open the box, and read the directions very carefully….yeah, and if you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona you can buy (thank you, George!).

I did know (from reading the back of the box) that the Harmony 650 could be configured using the Internet assuming you have a Windows or Mac computer and the CORRECT browser (see my browser bitch further down).

Very cool!

Sooooo, I plugged the USB cable (supplied by Logitech) into one of our laptop computers and fired it up.

Oooops, wrong browser (see my browser bitch further down).

I switched to another browser, and I was allowed to enter the devices (very cool by the way) and I was damn surprised that it had VUDU (even though the VUDU is on all the time, and I still am using it’s remote….so far).

After I was done naming my “activities” (Watch TV, Watch Movie, and Watch Movie VUDU) I hit the “Sync” button and waited…..and waited……and waited…..then fell asleep……woke up the next morning, unplugged the remote from the computer and brought it to work.  Arrrghhh…..(see my browser bitch further down).

Syncing at Work

Firing up my new Toshiba laptop, I plugged in the Harmony 650 to finally get it synced.

Shit….wrong browser again (!!!!!!!) (see my browser bitch further down).  So I tried another browser….damn….that did not work either (see my browser bitch further down).  Finally, I used the worst browser known to man and it worked!  Yeah……Arrrghh….(see my browser bitch further down).

Taking the remote home that night, I tried it.  I had to answer a few inane questions on the remote, and it had to try each of my devices again…but, in the end, it WORKED!

Joy to the World!

Using the Remote

This is the best part.

Pick up the remote and the display comes on (motion sensing…cool).  Hit the soft buttons on either side of the “activity” and magically….the correct devices turn on!  WhoooHooo!

Hit the top left button and all the devices turn off!  Wheeeee!

I tried all three of our “activites” and the remote turned on the appropriate devices every time!  Lori tried it and…..drum roll…..it worked for her too!

Life is good!

The Browser Issue

As promised, there is one major issue (major to me anyway).

I had to use the awful, terrible, Internet Explorer browser to finally get the remote synced up and working.  The latest version of IE absolutely sucks….it is just awful.  Terrible.

As a tough little hairy guy with big ears would say:  Total crap, that is.

Logitech REALLY needs to fix that, and get it working with Chrome and Firefox (they say Firefox works, but, not on the version I have…the VERY latest, 6.0).

Conclusion

The browser issue aside, the remote so far is working fine.

It has simplified the process for Lori and it works much better than the Comcast remote (faster, and the button pushes feel better).

I like the Logitech Harmony 650 remote!

Just gotta fix that browser issue and it would be nearly perfect.

So much for that (a few weeks later):  it died.  Arrrghhh……

 

VUDU Adds Glee and Modern Family

 (Our VUDU)

As my loyal reader….you know what I feel about VUDU (and here, and here).   Also see our movie reviews on ForCarol.com, a lot of what we watch is on VUDU.

Now that VUDU is embedded in new TV’s, Blu-Ray players, etc., you no longer need the separate box that we have.  There is also the ability to connect to Facebook, Twitter, and a zillion other features via the Internet.

It ain’t just movies anymore….

Although the user interface has gotten more bloated and harder to use (hint to VUDU designers) this is still the best streaming video service under the sun.  My hope is that is stays that way….note to Wal-Mart:  Hands off!  Let the VUDU folks do what they do better than anyone…

Anyway…on the TV side, the choices kinda stunk.  Until now.  NOW, I see this article that says they are adding “Glee” and “Modern Family”.

OK….this is GREAT news.  We LOVE “Modern Family”, and “Glee”…..well, it is ok too.  :-)

If you have not tried VUDU (’cause you are using Netflix streaming…which actually came after VUDU)…give it a try.

Now that we have Comcast Internet…we can watch HDX movies in real-time….the quality is awesome!

AT&T To Cap DSL Usage

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I was surfing this morning and came across this bit of disturbing news from the good folks at Mashable (and also at Broadband DSL Reports).

AT&T will cap DSL users to 150GB (I assume Bytes…not bits) and Uverse users to 250GB per month.  If you go over that cap more than 3 times you will be charged $10 for every 50GB over.

I sent an email to my favorites, VUDU, and they replied with some byte estimates for me.  Thank you VUDU!

For SD (standard definition which is great for us) you can estimate (depending on the length of the movie but for a typical 2 hour movie) about 1.5GB. For HD the estimate doubles to about 3GB, and for HDX (which is awesome by the way) 8GB.

Soooo, if I watched nothing but HDX movies, I would burn through the 150GB cap after watching 18.75 HDX movies.  Hmmmm, I would be happy with that, but, we use the Internet for sooo much more than movies…

I remember a year or two ago Comcast announcing the same kind of capping…what ever happened to that?  Is that still in effect?  Well, now, DSL users will be getting it.

What does this mean?

Well…..if you are like me, you are watching TV and Movies (all kinds….) via the Internet, or you are a heavy duty gamer or surfer, or you participate in video conferencing, web conferencing, video chat, etc.  The Internet provides a great transport mechanism.

Maybe that will be changing….?

We watch VUDU movies in HDX, HD, or SD all the time (4 to 5 times a month…see ForCarol.com for my short movie reviews).

If I am subject to capping…will that limit the number of movies I watch?  If so, I am not happy about that.

VUDU Review 2

my-vudu

Rating:  5 WaterTowers (still nearly perfect)

After you are done here:  See my original review of VUDU.

This weekend we recieved our new Vudu system.   As you may already know, we love Vudu and we used it for a long time before I actually had to remind Vudu that we had the demo unit.

Life was miserable without Vudu.  Now we have our own, and in the two months or so we have been without it, there have been some cool additions to the service.  Not surprising since they update a lot.

Cool New Features

The first new feature I noticed was the addition of a rating by the “community” in addition to the rating by the “critics”.  In my opinion, the “community” rating means more to me.

The next feature I noticed was “Vudu Labs”.  This is an area where Vudu is testing new applications.  I really love this!  Figure 1 shows a screen shot.

Vudu Labs Experimental Features

Figure 1: Vudu Labs Experimental Features

Within Vudu Labs, we can:

  • View YouTube videos (including our own)
  • View publically available Flickr pictures (again, including our own)
  • Watch special streamed video from categories such as New, Sports, Entertainment and more.  For example, I watched a CNN update for Sunday. Very cool.  :-)
  • There are games.  The old Asteroid game from, I believe, the Atari (how many of you remember that?)  days has been upgraded….and I still lose.  There are also several versions of solitaire.

Adult content has also been added.  I suppose to be totally objective, I will have to review this portion as well.  ;-)  Stay tuned.  What I have seen so far is that Vudu “After Dark” takes you into a different set of tabs.  I believe (I will check and update) that that can be password protected to keep the young’uns away.

Installation

Installation proceeded normally until I got to the page that said it was “Updating Content”  (see figure 2).  I got to that stage pretty late at night and decided to let it run over night.

Updating Content Page

Figure 2: Updating Content Page

Unfortunately, when I woke up it was still on that page.  I pondered what to do and finaly rebooted Vudu.

After the reboot, it found my account, did a bandwidth test, and took only about 10 or 15 minutes to move past the offending page.

TelBitConsulting says:  Not sure if this happens a lot, but, it would have been nice to have the option of getting out of that mode without rebooting.

Updated Diagram

Figure 3 shows the latest schematic.  The video and audio from every component is terrific.

Schematic Diagram of Home Entertainment

Figure 3: Schematic Diagram of Home Entertainment

We now have a full complement of clickers lining up under the TV (Figure 4), and the new Black Box 3 to 1 HMDI interface box is now full.

Clickers Galore

Figure 4: Clickers Galore

I connected the Vudu to port 3 of the Black Box, and to the Cable / Sat audio input on the Bose since my TV inputs have run out.

Summary

We now have our own Vudu.  How cool is that!

Let’s hope that Vudu can stay in business in this awful economy (I have seen some web pages referring to this).  From my point of view, escaping reality by watching movies, is something we all need.  Our own stimulus package.

Vudu ROCKS!!!

Wal-Mart Buys VUDU

You may already know that I think the world of VUDU.

Here is the most recent blog entry written after we received our very own VUDU box (yeah..that was before they were embedded in TV’s and Blu-Ray players…and way before Wal-Mart).

I suppose you could say, I know how to pick ’em!

Sure hope I am right about coworking and the Tracy Virtual Office :-)

What is the point of this entry (other than finally posting something new on my Technical Blog)?

Here is the latest Press Release sent to me by VUDU:

“”Walmart Announces Acquisition of Digital Entertainment Provider, VUDU

Company takes next step to enhance home entertainment
and information delivery options for consumers

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Feb. 22, 2010 — Walmart announced today a definitive agreement to acquire VUDU, Inc., a leading provider of digital technologies and services that enable the delivery of entertainment content directly to broadband high-definition TVs and Blu-ray players. The deal is expected to close within the next few weeks.

VUDU is a revolutionary service, built into a growing number of broadband-ready TVs and Blu-ray players, that delivers instant access to thousands of movies and TV shows directly through the television. Customers with broadband Internet access and an Internet-ready TV or Blu-ray player can rent or purchase movies, typically in high-definition, without needing a connected computer or cable/satellite service. New movies and features will be added continually, enabling customers to enjoy a product that continues to become more robust long after they have left the store.

“The real winner here is the customer,” said Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman for Walmart. “Combining VUDU’s unique digital technology and service with Walmart’s retail expertise and scale will provide customers with unprecedented access to home entertainment options as they migrate to a digital environment.”

VUDU has licensing agreements with almost every major movie studio and dozens of independent and international distributors to offer approximately 16,000 movies, including the largest 1080p library of video on-demand movies available anywhere. Via their broadband Internet connection, users have the ability to rent or buy titles and begin viewing them instantly.

VUDU will continue developing entertainment and information delivery solutions such as VUDU Apps, a platform that delivers hundreds of streaming Internet applications and services to TVs and Blu-ray players with built-in Internet connectivity. VUDU has partnered with some of the leading names in Internet and media entertainment to offer applications on its platform including Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, The New York Times and The Associated Press.

“We are excited about the opportunity to take our company’s vision to the next level,” said Edward Lichty, VUDU executive vice president. “VUDU’s services and Apps platform will give Walmart a powerful new vehicle to offer customers the content they want in a way that expands the frontier of quality, value and convenience.”

VUDU, based in Santa Clara, Calif., will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Walmart. The company is not disclosing financial terms of the agreement as the acquisition is not material to its first quarter earnings for fiscal year 2011.

About Walmart
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT), or “Walmart,” serves customers and members more than 200 million times per week at more than 8,400 retail units under 53 different banners in 15 countries. With fiscal year 2010 sales of $405 billion, Walmart employs more than 2 million associates worldwide. A leader in sustainability, corporate philanthropy and employment opportunity, Walmart ranked first among retailers in Fortune Magazine’s 2009 Most Admired Companies survey. Additional information about Walmart can be found by visiting http://www.walmartstores.com. Online merchandise sales are available at http://www.walmart.com and http://www.samsclub.com.””;

VUDU Integrates Technology

 

VUDU_Logo (2)

Rating:  5 WaterTowers (awesome integration of technologies in the home)

What is VUDU?

VUDU is a device that uses peer-to-peer video streaming to deliver high definition (or standard definition) movies to your TV via the Internet.

As you may know from my previous posts on VUDU, I think it is one of the best technologies to come around in a long time.  It is reliable, relatively inexpensive, very easy to use, and it works extremely well.  It also has that WOW factor that gets my heart pumping.

Example of VUDU User InterfaceExample of VUDU User Interface

Last week, VUDU made a couple of, in my mind, groundbreaking announcements concerning the integration of their technology in home electronics.

LG Announcements

VUDU, Inc.’s industry-leading on-demand high definition (HD) movie service is now available on the BD390 Network Blu-ray Disc player from LG Electronics, giving consumers a whole new way to access the largest on-demand HD library of Hollywood movies in their living rooms, the company announced today.”

LG Blu-Ray Player with VUDU
LG Blu-Ray Player with VUDU

“The VUDU HD entertainment service is now available on LG Electronics broadband HDTVs, the companies announced today.  The VUDU service is available on LG’s LH50 1080p LCD series and PS80 1080p plasma series with “NetCast Entertainment Access.”**

LG HDTV with VUDU
LG HDTV with VUDU

Mitsubishi Announcement

“Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, Inc. (MDEA) today announced it has begun shipping VUDU integrated 1080p flat panel TVs in its Diamond models of Unisen Immersive Sound LCD Televisions. MDEA will provide the consumer the opportunity to experience the seamless delivery of thousands of high definition movies and TV shows.”

249_Solo2_Rt

Summary

You may not have felt the ground shake (and may not feel it even after glancing at this blog entry), but, mark my words……this is something that 10 years from now you will look back on and say:  ”That was the beginning of the end for the stores that rent DVD’s.”

The ability to browse VUDU for a movie (and search for tidbits on the actors, directors, etc) as well as download and watch a movie in high definition is extremely powerful.

I’ve said this before and after using VUDU for over a year now, I will say it again.

VUDU is awesome!

VUDU Price Reduced

next-web

If you have not read my VUDU Review blog, now may be a good time.  

The basic VUDU unit (good enuf for me) is now selling for $149.00.  

Watching movies downloaded from the Internet has never been so easy and so enjoyable.  I gave VUDU 5 WaterTowers a year ago and only recently had to send it back (hey….I finally reminded them I had it, since they did say they would call me if they needed it back).

Not to worry, for $149.00 we are buying one (from Best Buy)!  It should be here in a day or two since, apparently, Tracy, CA is not the hot bed of activity for VUDU’s.  It should be!

I recommend VUDU to anyone reading this….you will not be disappointed.  

When I get it, I’ll post another review, as an update, and also post new schematics which include the Black Box Catalog HDMI 3 to 1 device I got for Christmas.  

Even though we have a Blu-Ray player now, I expect VUDU to be our primary movie watching mechanism.  One seemingly insignificant thing:  We miss searching for an actor or director to see when they were born…VUDU made that easy!

Have a nice weekend!  

I’m gonna take a few days off….and watch some movies!

LG HDTV to Stream NetFlix Movies

good-lg-pic

 

OK, here it comes.  The battle for streaming movies over the Internet has taken the turn that I have been waiting for.

This article on CBS tells us that LG will embed a streaming player in HDTV sets.  No additional box will be needed.  How quickly this is happening!

I have been covering this exciting area of technology from some time and am convinced that the future of watching movies via the Internet is the future.

Note:  If Internet service providers restrict the number of bits users can transfer over their Internet connections, all bets are off.   

TelBitConsulting says:  VUDU, Blockbuster, AppleTV players are all stand-alone devices.  I believe embedded devices will eventually rule.  

See all my posts, including this one, on this topic here.  

Thoughts?

Internet Movies and Blu Ray

next-web

I’ve been thinking.  

A very dangerous thing, I know.  But I was wondering how the likes of VUDU (see my review), AppleTV, the Blockbuster (see my blog entry) and NetFlix (see my blog entry)  streaming video players will effect (hmmm, is that right?  effect, affect?) the life of Blu-Ray.  

A few weeks ago, I posted a more formal written opinion that I have copied below. 

Let me know what you think.

Overview

1. Streaming of movies (and other content) over the Internet will grow in the coming years.

2. High speed digital services to the home (DSL and cable modem) continue to increase.

3. High definition movies can be viewed at home without the need to rent a DVD or Blu-Ray DVD.  

This is an important future direction that could shorten the life of Blu-Ray or at the very least lessen the impact Blu-Ray could have in the home.

Tel Bit Consulting’s View

Several companies are now offering high definition movies over the Internet.  These movies can be viewed on a high definition TV and require only a DSL or cable modem connection to the Internet, and a player.  There are technical issues the homeowner must overcome (for example they will need to bring DSL or Cable Modem Internet connectivity to the Family Room) but, the ability to rent a movie and watch it in high definition two to eight hours after renting it (without the need to go to the store) is compelling.

 

Apple TV came out with a set-top box over a year ago.  Although that required a computer to work properly, the latest versions do not, thus, in my opinion increasing the usability for the average person.  In the past year, more (non-computer based) devices (or players) have been introduced:  VUDU has advanced rapidly from standard definition and a small selection of HD movie titles to a significant number of high definition movies that rival the quality of Blu-Ray (they call their latest HD technology HDX).  More recently, NetFlix, Sony, and Blockbuster have announced players or Internet streaming of movies, or both.  Comcast (and other cable companies) have their own on-demand services.

 

In short, as these new Internet streaming players come into the marketplace, and more movies become available in high definition, the need (or desire) to purchase, or rent, a Blu-Ray DVD could diminish or never reach its full promise. 

 

One stumbling block for Internet streaming of video concerns the fact that Internet providers have been clamping down their connections (i.e. restricting the number of bits).  If that practice remains in place, or increases, that could spell trouble for Internet streaming of movies. 

 

But, if free and open Internet connectivity remains, and Internet streaming technology improves and more widely available, the life of a “Blu-Ray DVD” may be shorter than the life of the old, original “DVD”.

Blockbuster OnDemand Streaming Video Player

Blockbuster has announced a streaming video player made by 2Wire.   This article in Information Week says it competes with Apple TV and NetFlix, but, unfortunately, it completely leaves out the one participant in this space that TelBitConsulting.com uses and loves:  VUDU.

No matter what, the future is clear:  Watching movies via the Internet will happen and may happen, in a big way, faster than I had originally thought.
Gathering some information on the new 2Wire player it looks like it does support HD.  Neither NetFlix nor AppleTV (as far as I understand…can support HD).   It works via a built-in wireless or wired Internet connection.
Here are some specs I grabbed from 2Wire’s Press Release:

Technical Details
In the Box

  • 2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player (8″ x 8″ x 1″)
  • Quick Installation Guide
  • Power Adapter
  • Composite A/V cable (supports SD viewing)
  • Remote Control
  • AAA Batteries

Video and Audio Connections

  • Composite
  • Component*
  • HDMI*
  • Stereo Audio
  • Toslink (digital optical audio)*

Network Connections

  • Ethernet*
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)

*cable must be purchased separately

UPDATE:  TelBitConsulting.com asked 2Wire a few questions (thank you to 2Wire for their prompt reply):

1. What size hard drives are available?

The built-in 8GB of flash memory can store approximately 5 SD or one HD and an assortment of SD movies at a time, depending on the length of the movies.

2. Can you connect an external hard drive to add capacity?

This is not currently an option.

3. Can a person purchase a movie?  If so will it be stored on the person local hard drive?  Is there a backup or archive capability to save the movies in case the hard drive dies?

At this time, you can not purchase movies through the MediaPoint digital media player.

4. Will Blockbuster make HD movies available?  How many movies are currently on the list?  How many are HD?

There are currently over 2,000 movies available through the ONDEMAND service, including a small but growing selection of HD movies. Blockbuster continues to add SD and HD movies to the ONDEMAND library.

5. Does your unit support 1080p?

Not at this time. The 2Wire MediaPoint digital media player currently supports the following: High Definition – 1080i, High Definition – 720p, Standard Definition – 480p, and Standard Definition – 480i.

6. Does your unit support 5.1 or 7.1 audio?

The 2Wire MediaPoint digital media player delivers stereo sound and supports 5.1.

7. If I want to watch an SD movie, how long do I have to wait before it starts?  HD?

This depends on factors that include the speed of your Internet connection and the length of the movie. For example, with a 3 mbps connection, you could begin watching a standard-length SD movie within 30 seconds to one minute after beginning download.

8. What is the size of your unit?

The dimensions of MediaPoint are 8 in. x 8 in. x 1 in – about the size of a box of movie candy.

9. Do you support HDMI out put to the TV?

A composite A/V cable is provided with purchase. The player does support HDMI output, but the cable must be purchased separately. The HDMI Digital A/V output jack provides digital audio and video signals to a compatible HDTV or HD monitor.

10. Are any currently in use?  Can you tell me how many?  (If not, that is ok)

We are very pleased with the sales figures since the launch, but cannot divulge specific numbers.

11. How is the streaming handled?  From a central location only?  Peer-to-Peer?  Other?

Unlike media players that stream movies over the Internet, the 2Wire MediaPoint uses progressive download to let movie fans access high-quality videos, and begin watching them during download. The video and audio quality is consistent, and does not depend on your Internet connection speed.


TelBitConsulting.com says:  If a streaming player does not support HD….forget it.  To introduce a product in 2008 that does not support HD is wrong.  It looks like 2Wire got it right. I know VUDU has it right….

Summary
The new Blockbuster player from 2Wire is significantly different than the VUDU player.  It is interesting to see how different design directions can be taken to solve a problem.
Engineering at it’s best.
For example, the 2 Wire player was designed, it appears, to watch a movie then that movie is gone.  There is some storage capacity but the smallish 8 Gig flash drive will not allow the massive storage that the 1 TB hard drive VUDU can come with.   You cannot “purchase” movies with Blockbuster, but, that is not surprising since Blockbuster is a rental organization.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years….either way, TelBitConsulting.com thinks this is the way people will be watching movies….as long as the Internet connections stay open…
See all my Blog entries on Streaming Video including a V-E-R-Y detailed review of VUDU.

VUDU Introduces HDX

If you have not yet experienced VUDU Internet streaming of movies…..now may be the time.

As you may know, I am a big fan of VUDU and now even more so. Check out my review of VUDU here.

With over 6000 movie titles in Standard Definition and High Definition….VUDU has recently introduced a new high definition technology they call “HDX”.

Since I have an older HDTV (how did time go so fast?) with less resolution, I figured HDX would not give me much improvement over their HD offering or even SD which I consider better than my upconverted DVD player.

I was wrong. HDX is simply astounding.

Since I cannot take a picture (or a movie) that would do it justice (but I gave it a try…see below), the best comparision I can make is this: Go to your nearest Best Buy and watch a full 1080p Blu-Ray movie being played. HDX is just like that! Even on my less than full resolution HDTV, the picture quality is a major step up from HD and worlds better than SD. And our Bose sound system captures the robust audio from HDX like nothing we have yet experienced.

I can’t wait to earn enough $ (remember…starving blogger) to get a full 1080p TV…..hmmmm, anyone need a decent videoconferencing guy?

A look at the VUDU “Most Watched” list shows that people with VUDU agree. The HDX movies are at the top of the most watched list.

The only downfall is that we have to wait about 8 hours for the HDX movie to download. With SD we can watch it instantly, and with HD we have to wait a couple of hours. So some pre-planning on our part is needed. I could always upgrade my Internet service, but, oh rats, starving blogger…..

I know I sound like a VUDU commercial….but….

Our lives with VUDU have changed. We have not gone to Blockbuster in months. We have not purchased a DVD in months. Where we once planned on buying a Blu-Ray player and start a collection of Blu-Ray movies…that plan is on hold. We are perfectly happy with VUDU spending about $5.99 for a movie rental and about $20 for a purchase. What could be better?

Tel Bit Consulting says: Internet video can (will!) change the way the world watches movies. I only hope that the Internet remains open and unrestricted.

Sony will Stream Movies Direct to Your TV

Reading my past blogs on this subject, you know I believe that streaming movies via the Internet will take it’s toll on such old favorites as DVD’s, Blu-Ray, and Blockbuster / Netflix.

Now buried deep in the middle of this article is an announcement by Sony that it will start an Internet streaming service for movies direct to their Bravia TV’s (which to me says that the TV will have this capability built in….I may be wrong). The first movie for this service will be “Hancock” (see trailer below).

Wow! This is a blockbuster.

The innovators in this area VUDU, Apple TV, and, more recently, Netflix all with separate players that connect to a TV might be shaking right now…

And to add to this, Sony is promising most of their devices will connect wireless to the Internet…the prospect of wireless Internet connectivity to your TV is mind boggling.

Pretty soon, every home will have videoconferencing in their TV. Then keeping in touch with family will be a breeze….

More to follow in this I am sure….

Netflix Introduces Streaming Video Player

In all my years in a fledgling industry (videoconferencing) I have seen (and experienced first hand) my fair share of innovative companies that have, for one reason or another, flamed out.

The general trend is as follows: Great idea–>Lots of seed money–>Marketing Hype–>Success–>Failure to keep up with changing technology–>Market share loss–>Out of business. I can name some of the companies…but I won’t…..the list is very long.

My point is: A company cannot rely on it’s bread and butter forever, it must change to continue to thrive (hmmmm, this is why I am a starving blogger and not writing paper “white papers” for gobs of money, what a fool….oh well).

Netflix found their niche. You order a movie, they mail a DVD to your house, you watch it, and send it back. Simple and efficient. But, the end of that model of video delivery is close at hand (and also the need to drive to a store to pick up a DVD).

In the not too distant future, video will be delivered by the Internet (or via cable) using streaming video technology. No doubt that this will happen, it will just be a matter of time.

Yesterday, Netflix announced the availability of a streaming box. This box will cost about $100, will connect to the Internet and your television, and will be able to download movies from a vast collection of Netflix movies, via the Internet, which you can watch on your TV.


Netflix has seen the future, they have admitted they they need to embrace it, and is doing the right thing to stay ahead! Bravo.

The Netflix box is not the first on the market. It is similar to VUDU (which I have reviewed and used extensively, and love), and Apple TV (which, I believe, was first). This technology is still in it’s infancy….over time the players will shake out and new brash start-ups will arrive. To survive….innovation must survive in these companies, and I have no doubt that the companies now involved will continue to innovate.

YeOldeTechy says: Pretty soon (a few years at most) DVD’s will become a thing of the past, the life of Blu-Ray will not be as long as the standard DVD technology was, going to a store to rent a movie, or getting a movie in the mail, will ALL be put into a time capsule as examples of the way things used to be. Move over 8 track tapes and H.320 videoconferencing here comes DVD.

VUDU Evaluation and Review

product_2_edited-1_web

Rating: 5 WaterTowers (nearly perfect)

UPDATE Jan 2015: VUDU is now available on most Blu-Ray players, Smart TV’s, and Chromecast (and I’m sure other streaming devices / services). Wal-Mart bought VUDU a few years back.  

Before you read, you can watch my future Oscar winning documentary on “Using VUDU”. You will not be bored, but, in case you are interested to see what movie I used as an educational demo you can fast forward to minute 2:05 or so.

 Update Jan 2015:  How right on was I?  This was written when Kristen was 16, she is 23 now, and before NetFlix jumped on the streaming video bandwagon.  

Goodbye, Blockbuster and Netflix. It’s been nice knowing you, DVD. Watch your back, Blu-Ray. There is a new kid in town, and that new kid is about to change the world. That new kid is VUDU.

“Dad, do we have to give the VUDU back?, I love it”. This is from my 16 year old daughter, Kristen. I love it as well which shows you that VUDU spans the generations from Kristen’s “Me” to my “Baby Boomer”.

As soon as this poor, retired, starving blogger gathers enough money to buy a VUDU, I will.

TelBitConsulting says: VUDU is the future. Downloading movies via the Internet will change the DVD and Blu-Ray industry as much as downloading music is changing delivery of music by CD. VUDU is extremely easy to use, feature rich, and the video and audio quality is superb.

Quick Look at Some Features

Spending almost two weeks with VUDU we have a great appreciation of several of VUDU’s features.

The search capability is very powerful allowing you to find a movie in one of several different ways. You can search by actor or director, by title, by genre, or you can use the icons at the main menu to search for “HD Titles”, “War Movies”, “Best Picture”, etc. See the picture below where I am ready to search for “Best Picture Winners from 1927 -2007”. Wickedly cool. As I finish up this Blog entry there are 5075 movies in the VUDU database.

oscar-web

Embedded in the search capability are interesting facts on the actors or directors and a quick synopsis of the movie with a rating. See the picture below. You can select an actor or the director and VUDU shows you what movies VUDU has in its database with that actor or director. For example, I can click on Nicolas Cage and see that VUDU has “National Treasure” and several other of his movies. By the way, “Next” is way better than 2 stars. Nicolas Cage rocks.

next-web

The remote is extremely easy to use. Of course I needed directions from Kristen, but, once I got the hang of moving the dial and also pressing the dial to select the chosen option, you can use the dial and 4 buttons to do anything you need. Since the remote is RF (radio frequency) you do not need to point it at the unit. You would not believe how hard that is to get used to.

Almost every movie has a “Preview”. We enjoyed watching many previews and found a few movies we would like to rent by watching the preview.

After finding a movie you can place that movie in your “Wish List”. Once there, you can easily find it again and select it to watch. See picture below.

wish-list-web

The ease of starting a movie. No need to drive to a store, no need to get off the couch find a DVD from your own collection open the DVD player, etc. Simply find the movie and play it. See the Oscar winning documentary at the start of this Blog for a demo.

The video and audio quality are outstanding. In fact, the quality of a standard definition movie surpasses the quality we get with our progressive upload DVD player. The high definition movies are simply tremendous (see picture below). We watched several movies, both high definition and standard, and never once saw an Internet based glitch or slow down (I have DSL).

VUDU has mastered the art of video-on-demand with their “peer-to-peer” technology.

nick-cage-web

 

Need for Improvement

Although VUDU is nearly a perfect product, there is still some room for improvement…..but not much.

I would like to see a built in 802.11G wireless network capability. I would much rather pay for that capability built in at the factory than to purchase an external device for that purpose. To be clear, VUDU allows an external connection to a wireless Ethernet device. But, for this evaluation, I simply made a Cat 5 cable long enuf to connect my hub in the study to the VUDU in the Family Room.

I see VUDU is recommending a “power line” networking device from Linksys. Ah!! Another evaluation for my Blog! But seriously, this is a very cool way to move data around the house. Story: Many years ago, YeOldeTechy designed such a device for his modem (remember modems?), it worked really well, but every time the refrigerator fired up I got a ton of packet losses. Great design, huh?

Concerns

Fundamentally, the VUDU needs to be on all the time since it is part of the peer-to-peer delivery network. However, these days (and into the future) energy costs are increasing at a very rapid rate. Having yet one more electronic device on 24×7 is concerning. VUDU may be a power hog or it may be a power miser, I do not know. All I can request is that future units be designed with power consumption in mind. On the other hand, you do not need to get in your car to visit the rental store, so maybe the green equation tips in favor of VUDU. I suspect it may.

I had a concern about backup. When you purchase a movie now, you have a hard copy of it. I asked that question of VUDU and they will have (starting this week with version 1.3) an archiving capability where you can backup your purchased content to a “VUDU vault” (an email from VUDU tells me this in in Beta as of 3/4/08). If you happen to lose the hard drive, you can then download your vault contents for no cost. Very cool.

This is not VUDU’s fault, but, I like to watch the “special features” that come with a disc.In an email response to my question, VUDU replied with the following: “So far, the studios have not made special features available for digital distribution.It is VUDU’s hope that they will be able to deliver them in the future.”

Cost Comparisons

As far as I can tell, VUDU is not a clear cost saving alternative. All things considered, depending on what you have, or need to purchase, it is pretty much a wash. Let’s look at my particular situation.

My goal is to watch high definition movies. I already have a progressive upload DVD player and a high definition TV. To watch high definition, I would need to replace my “old” DVD player with a Blu-Ray player then rent, or purchase, Blu-Ray movies.

The Blu-Ray player costs about $400 at Best Buy (but I can also spend up to $1000). I could then rent Blu-Ray movies at Blockbuster for $4.99 plus tax or I could purchase Blu-Ray high definition movies at Best Buy for around $29.99.

The VUDU player costs $295.00 with free shipping but I would need to spend the money saved on a permanent Ethernet connection (either wired or wireless) near my TV. The VUDU high definition movies rent for about $5.99 or I can purchase a high definition movie for $24.99. VUDU rentals start about 30 days after they are available for purchase.

The typical rental cost of a VUDU movie is between $2.99 and $3.99 for a standard definition movie (with some really old Westerns going for 50 cents or for free). At Blockbuster we can rent a standard definition movie for $3.99 plus tax.

Depending on the rented movie, you have 24 to 48 hours to watch it. We did a test with “The Waitress” and started to watch it for the second time 5 minutes before it’s expiration. Sure enough, when that 5 minutes expired the movie stopped playing and we saw this on the screen: “The viewing period for this movie has expired”. Darn, those VUDU designers are way too smart.

VUDU sets up an account for a certain value (from your credit card) of your choice. As you watch the movies the rental fee comes out of your account. When the account reaches $5.00, VUDU automatically ups the account to the specified $$.

Future Directions

According to VUDU there will be the ability to connect an external hard drive, via it’s currently unused USB port, to expand the local VUDU capacity (it now has a 250 gig hard drive). VUDU will automatically format that drive. With 1 Terabyte drives now on the market, your movie storage capability will be greatly enhanced with this future capability.

In fact, in the Winter of 2008, VUDU XL will arrive with it’s own internal 1 Terabyte drive. The thought of 2 Terabytes (one internal and one external) just for videos, to me, is mind boggling! I received an email and the VUDU XL with 1TB disk is available now…March 4, 2008 ! Great news.

Summary

I cannot say enough good things about VUDU. This is simply the most outstanding new product I have evaluated since ooVoo. It is good to know that innovation is alive and well and living on Tasman Drive in San Jose. I wish VUDU the best of luck, and who knows, a Tasman neighbor may be interested in you!

I already miss my VUDU…boo hoo.

+++++

Technical Evaluation

The following section is included for the more adventurous, or self hating, individual who likes to get into the nitty-gritty (Dirt Band?) technical stuff. J


Set Up

Refer to the picture of the VUDU back for much of the following discussion.

vudu-back-web

Real Time: Hmmm, the first thing I need is Ethernet to my TV. Since my house is fairly old, I do not have wiring there and I cannot purchase a wireless Ethernet adapter to connect to my wireless router (poor and starving blogger, remember). Sooooo, I will need to find a long piece of cat 5 cable and drag a line through the house. Arrghhh.

Result: I went to Radio Shack and purchased a 100 foot long roll of Cat 5 wire. I had everything else I needed to make a long cable connecting my Ethernet switch in the Study to the VUDU in the family room. Once I did that, I cracked the VUDU box and started the install process.

In the box is almost everything you need to connect the VUDU to the network and to your TV. It has an Ethernet cable which was too short for my evaluation, an HDMI cable, RCA cables and a small RF antenna. It has a sleekly designed remote control and batteries. The hardest part of the installation (other than making the cable and running the line) was installing the batteries in the remote. The cover is darn hard to get off and back on. The RF antenna screws on the back of the VUDU unit, very simple, and then I needed to connect the “coax” output for audio to our Bose sound system.

Before I get too far ahead, I had to do some pre-installation thinking about how to connect the VUDU into my existing home theater (if you can call my kludged mishmash of components a “theater”). After making some drawings, the solution was obvious. All I needed to do was replace my DVD player with the VUDU. After all, that is the point of the VUDU, right? All my videos for the evaluation period were now on the VUDU or in cyberspace. See my drawings below.

Home TV configuration

Home TV configuration 2

 

The picture at the start of this section shows the back of the VUDU. It has component video, S-Video , analog and digital “coax” audio outputs. It has an HDMI connector , an Ethernet 10/100 Mbps port, a USB port (not used in this version, but, will be used in the near future), an I/O port, a switch for 480i and 480p if you are not using the HDMI connection, and power. You can see the RF antenna on the left and the remote sitting on top. The remote is an RF unit and it took a bit time to get out of the habit of pointing the remote at the unit.

The VUDU found an IP address automatically when it was turned on. Unfortunately, it grabbed my printers IP address and I could not get the printer to work after that. Luckily, the VUDU device has a way to manually enter an IP address (and gateway and DNS). I did that and experienced zero network issues ofter that.

Speed Test

I connected my laptop to the end of my new, homemade, super fast Oscar winning, Cat 5 Ethernet cable (where the VUDU would connect) and did a DSL speed evaluation for VUDU from their web site . It is good to do this before purchasing a VUDU to ensure you have a sufficient high speed connection. They recommend at least 2 Mbps downstream, which means you need DSL, Cable modem, or better. Dial up will not work.

Video Quality

Outstanding. It uses MPEG-4 and has resolutions of 1080p/24 (24 frames per second), 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i. I talked about these resolutions in a previous blog entry on HDTV here. The high definition movies are received using Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

The family agrees that the standard definition video is better than DVD’s played back using our Sony DVD player with progressive upload. The picture is significantly clearer. I see no movement effects and have not yet had any problems watching a movie all the way thru without interruption. In other words, the downloading of the movie outpaced watching it.

VUDU offers a free HD version of “The Bourne Identity” but I suspect that the movie is already on the hard drive (I now know it is). As you can see from the picture the quality is terrific.

matt-damon-web

How VUDU Delivers the Video

According to VUDU, they have developed a “hybrid peer-to-peer” delivery network where every VUDU box on the Internet can hold portions of videos available for playback. As you play a movie, you are actually getting the movie from other VUDU boxes. Extremely cool. This concept is essentially the same as I reported in this Blog awhile back for Meraki Internet access. I can only imagine the complexity of the VUDU software. But, even with that, the performance in the two weeks I had the VUDU was absolutely flawless.

VUDU tells me that less than 10% of your disk space is used to hold video’s being watched by others and that VUDU is careful not to overdrive your network if you are using the network for another purpose (like watching a movie or intense computing).

The picture below shows what VUDU thinks of my Internet connection. I did have to wait for the high definition movie to download. Not a problem at all, I just continued with my day while the movie was getting ready.

service-quality-web

Limitations and Requests

I would like to be able to see the hard disk space remaining and some usage stats (BW being used, packet loss, etc) while being used. In the videoconferencing world we can see this kind of information and it is very helpful when questions arise if there are problems.

The RF antenna may be a bit high if you have a location that is tighter. You can turn it sideways if you have to. I did that and it worked fine.

I also set the sensitivity to the remote to “Low” and a lot of the false hits I was getting using the remote went away.

Email Questions and Response from VUDU

Answers to your questions are below. Have a good weekend.

 

1. Is there a way to see how much VUDU disk space has been used?

The current box has room for unlimited rentals and approximately 50 owned movies. The next software release (1.3, due next week) will allow for deletion of previously purchased titles to free space on the drive and, where permitted, archiving of owned titles (currently available for select movies and all TV shows). Archiving transfers owned titles from the box’s hard drive to the “VUDU Vault” where they are stored and may be downloaded again for no additional cost. Further, VUDU is planning to upgrade the box’s software to support off-the-shelf external hard drives and will eventually format the drive and make it an extension of the VUDU box.


2. Do you “pre-position” the content closer to the customer? Or is the video sent from a central location? If central, are your servers in San Jose? How many simultaneous customers can you handle?

Vudu utilizes a hybrid peer to peer system so that every VUDU box—yours, mine, your neighbor’s, etc., contains some pieces of movies that are streamed to other boxes when users want to watch those movies. From VUDU’s side, this means that when they know a big blockbuster movie is coming online, they can pre-position content around the network so there isn’t buffering or too much pull on one specific copy. From the VUDU owner’s point of view, it means you can get access to movies whenever you want – less than 10% of your drive holds these pieces of movies that are streamed to other boxes, so it doesn’t adversely affect your watching behavior. And VUDU is careful not to use your box if you have a heavy network load – e.g. you are watching a movie yourself or doing some super computing in your study.


3. Will the USB port be used for an external hard drive? Will it be plug and play? Will any hard drive manufacturer work?

The VUDU box was designed to be flexible, able to adapt to the changes and improvements we plan to make to the product and service in the future. VUDU intends to introduce software to support off-the-shelf external hard drives for additional storage and will eventually format the drive to make it an extension of the VUDU box.


4. Will you include, do you include, backup software?

Back-up software is not included. VUDU has the ability to reset the box to its factory settings if needed. Software updates are performed automatically through the service.


5. If someone loses their content, do you have a record of that, and the ability to refresh a lost disc?

VUDU has a record of all rentals and purchases made on every box. VUDU’s one-year warranty dictates that should the hard drive fail and content is lost, VUDU will replace that content or offer credits should some titles no longer be available.

 

6. Do you have 24×7 support via telephone? Via email? Via web pages?

VUDU’s Customer Care is available at 1-888-554-VUDU (8838). Hours are Mon-Fri 9 to 7 and Sat-Sun 11-7. They may also be contacted via email at support@vudu.com.


7. Why are some movies “buy only”? Will they be able to be rented in the future?

Whether a title is available for rental and/or purchase is determined by the studios. Generally, new releases are available to own the same day that they’re available on DVD. They become available for rental roughly thirty days later.


8. Do you have the ability to view statistics? Packet loss? BW used? Other stats?…..while the machine is operating?

Users can test their bandwidth and gauge VUDU’s usage of their bandwidth within the Service Quality Screen in Info & Settings. They cannot view statistics or packet loss.

 

9. Will you include “special features” in the future? For example, with a DVD we like to watch the special features….bloopers, how they made the movie, etc.

So far, the studios have not made special features available for digital distribution. It is VUDU’s hope that they will be able to deliver them in the future.

 

10. Are the movie “previews” loaded on the disk or are they downloaded via the Internet in real time as you watch them, like the movies?

Previews are pre-loaded onto the hard drive so they are instantly available. Similarly, the first 20 seconds of every available title is cached to enable instant playback.

Streaming Internet video on your TV

Lately, I have been watching the evolution of Internet streaming to the TV (as part of the evolving “Digital Living Room”). I have looked briefly at VUDU and also Apple TV. As of this writing, both allow direct Internet access to streamed video content (i.e. no computer is needed) and display that video (in either standard or high definition) on your TV.

Yesterday, I was talking with my daughter about watching an episode of “The Office” from Season 4, when an idea hit me like a lightning bolt. “Why can’t I stream the Internet-based video on my TV (Sony HDTV) using my wireless enabled laptop computer (Toshiba)”.

I can!

Here are all the pieces….

1. I have a wireless Linksys router.
2. My Toshiba laptop has wireless capability.
3. My Sony TV Port 2 is in the front of the TV, and it allows input from RCA video and audio and S-video.
4. My Toshiba laptop has an S-video output and a headphone jack for stereo audio.
5. I have purchased a headphone jack to RCA converter at Radio Shack in Tracy.

Here is what I did….it is sooooooo simple, I can’t believe I have not tried this before. I guess, sometimes the simplest solutions are the most easily overlooked…..

Simply plugging in the S-Video and the headphone outputs (red and white) from my laptop into the TV, accessing “The Office” on http://www.nbc.com, then changing the video input on my TV remote to Port 2…..we could watch “The Office” on the TV. Cool. Great quality video and audio…for no additional cost.

I am still looking into VUDU and/or Apple TV, but, for now, I can watch video on my TV, with pretty darn good quality with the stuff I already have in the house!

Sweet.

Video-on-Demand and Blu-Ray

UPDATE:  See my Review of VUDU here.  

Now that Blu-Ray has apparently won the latest format war…how long do you think it will be before the next greatest technology surpasses it?

Not long.

Instead of DVD’s, there will be an ever increasing use of the Internet to download programming to your HDTV. All you will need is a device (or your computer, but, a device either inside your new HDTV or separate is better, IMHO) to connect to the Internet, find the movie you want to watch, download it, and watch it in full high definition.

If your Internet bandwidth is sufficient (DSL or cable modem) the movie will start playing almost immediately per a true “streaming” solution, or it may buffer in memory for awhile then start playing (I believe that is called progressive download).

Hogwash? Mark my words.

Last year, Apple introduced Apple TV. This device works with a wireless connection to your computer allowing downloaded videos to be transferred to the Apple TV device and played on your TV. Pretty cool, but, the computer is needed. It is also not selling well if I read the newspapers correctly. I suspect it was just a bit ahead of it’s time…typical Apple. Update: I was watching Episode 1 of season 4 of “The Office” and wished I had the Apple TV device. I believe I could have sent the Episode from my computer to the Apple TV and watched the stream on our big screen TV. I fully understand, now, how interesting a product this is.

News Break: It appears as though Apple will be renting downloaded movies via iTunes. More information may be forthcoming at MacWorld next week.

Breaking News from MacWorld: Steve Jobs announced today that Apple will provide movies via iTunes and that the Apple TV device (see picture below) will be updated to allow computer free use as well as use with a computer. I, unexpectedly, hit that one on the noggin when I wrote this blog! WooHoo :-)

This year, VUDU and TiVo have recently announced set-top boxes (the VUDU box is pictured at the front of this blog) that connect to the Internet, downloads either rented or purchased movies (in high def or standard def), stores them on the players hard drive, and plays them.

Very cool.

Someday, and maybe sooner than we think, a trip to Blockbuster will be a thing of the past.

I am glad Blu-Ray won the format war (I would have been equally as glad if HD-DVD had won), but, watch out……it may be a short life.

++++
You may know that David Pogue from the NY Times is a favorite of mine. Here he discusses what impact VUDU (and like technology) may have on the DVD business. He also touches on some limitations of the technology (Geee, he got to test it…after all he is more famous than I am….;-)

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