As most of you know, I am huge movie fan. With that being said, when I got the chance to review the VUDU XL, a set top box that allows you to purchase and rent high definition and standard definition movies, I was super excited. The VUDU XL delivers instant access to over 16,000 Hollywood movies and TV shows with super high quality audio and video to meet the needs of the most demanding home theater enthusiast. You can view my unboxing video here: VUDU XL Unboxing
My first impression of the VUDU XL box is that it seems to be built with very high quality standards. The VUDU XL weighs in at 4.7 lbs which is a pretty significant weight for a device of this manner. Most TV set top boxes weight in at about a pound, the VUDU XL differs because it has an internal 1TB hard drive that can hold around 500 SD. The device comes in at 8.9″ Wide x 2.4″ Tall x 7.3″ Deep, and features a rubber outer finish on the sides with a piano black glossy top finish. The device itself is very beautiful and will fit in nicely with almost any entertainment system. The back of the device features component out, composite out, s-video out, analog audio out, digital coax audio out, optical audio out, HDMI, and a ethernet port. I hooked the device into my home entertainment system using HDMI video and Optical audio out. Video output is available in 480i, 480p, 720i, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The device does not feature built in WiFi, which surprised me, but I am guessing you would want to have a wired connection with this type of device because of the massive amounts data you will be downloading.
The remote control for the VUDU XL is very unique, it features a very exotic design that is surprisingly comfortable in the hand. The remote control features 5 buttons and a scroll wheel. The buttons include a power button, return button, play/pause button, a “more” button, and a VUDU button. The VUDU button works like the Tivo button on the Tivo remote control, you can push it at anytime, and be returned to the main home screen. The scroll wheel works surprisingly well when navigating through the VUDU software interface, which I will go into next. The VUDU remote control also works off of a RF (radio frequency) signal which means the device can be hidden behind a cabinet, because no line of site is needed.
The VUDU XL features a custom VUDU UI that allows you to browse movies in categories, by director or actor, or search for individual titles. The software is supported with beautiful cover art and trailers for most titles. I was very pleased with the VUDU software finding a specific movie is super easy, but what I really liked, is how you can browse different titles visually. When it comes to picking a movie to watch, people are set in their Blockbuster ways. By this, I mean that they like to just browse a wall of covers and see what strikes them as interesting. VUDU does this well by providing lots of nice categories like “New on VUDU” or “Now Playing” and putting focus on the beautiful cover art.
VUDU features its content in SD, HD, or HDX. The thing that really sets this box apart from other downloadable content providers is that the SD and HD versions of movies and TV shows will begin playing immediately, depending on your connection of course. Other internet to TV content providers require you to download the film in its entirety before you can watch it. While the SD and HD can be streamed, the HDX which is the top of the line quality for VUDU does require a download. I was super impressed with the quality of the VUDU video formats. From the SD up through the HDX. The HDX particularly surprised me. It is by far the best quality film I have ever seen from the internet. The audio and video format with the HDX was on par with Blu-Ray which really surprised me. The HDX download time was approximately 4 hours, but it was well worth it when I was wanting to watch an action packed film like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
The rental terms and prices on all content are the norm with all the other services out there. Rentals are available for 24-hours after you begin playing the film or 30 days before you begin to play the film. The prices range from $3.99 up to $5.99 for rentals with purchases going as high as $25.99. Rentals also offer a $1.99 7-day extension after your 24-hour viewing period expires.
VUDU has also recently added some new content to the device through VUDU Labs. In the VUDU labs section, you can browse YouTube, Pandora, Flickr, Picasa, and TV On Demand. This really opens the device to a lot of great new content. Having Pandora on my large speaker home theater system was especially helpful when I was entertaining some friends.
What I Did Not Like
While I am very please with the VUDU XL, there were a couple of things that I didn’t like about the device. First is the level of noise the device puts off. The hard drives inside the device are always spinning (constantly downloading new catalog info) even when the device is off. I have about 10 electrical devices in my living room, and I was able to hear the VUDU XL over all off them. It is not loud enough to interfere when watching content, but you will defiantly notice it when you first enter the quiet room.
The second gripe I have with the device is the content. The content that they offer is great, but it is limited. Some restrictions I noticed really turned me off from the service. For instance the movie “Drag Me To Hell” came out when I was reviewing the device. I was excited to see this movie, so I added it to my wish list. When I finally sat down to watch it, I saw that they had only released it to own, not to rent. It was not available to rent until a month later. I am sure this is the content providers, but it is something VUDU should really try to prevent. Holding users back is not a smart idea, considering they are paying for the device and the content. They should be able to get it on their terms. What I also was hoping to see, was some integration with Hulu and/or Netflix Watch Instantly, but neither of these are offered. The only way a internet to TV device will work, is if it is open to the massive amounts of content that are available. As most companies have learned, closed format software does not work this day in age.
One final thing that turned me away from the device is the price. $499.00 for a home theater device is a lot. The price of 1 TB hard drive is down to close to $100.00 even for the premium drives, so why is this box so expensive? If your device is specific to 1 service, you should try to have it priced as low as possible. I could get a Tivo HD AND PS3 which both offer streaming movies services on top of the main services those devices offer, for way cheaper then this device.
The VUDU XL is a great device, but it doesn’t stand out from the competition. If they added something none of the other streaming devices did, like Hulu support, or even Netflix Watch Instantly, I would be running out to buy it, but for now, my Tivo HD with Amazon On Demand and Netflix Watch Instantly fills the streaming content spot in my home entertainment center. The quality is defiantly the best out of any streaming service, but what the other guys offer works good enough for me.
I will say VUDU is moving in the right direction with their recent decision to offer their software on LG and Mitsubishi devices. I would love to see it on the Tivo HD or the Playstation 3. If they offered it on a device I already have, I would easily use VUDU over the other option (Amazon On Demand or PS3 Store) because it is the best as far as quality, and it is competitive in content pricing.
Disclaimer: By law, I am required to disclose that the product I reviewed above (VUDU XL Box) was issued to me as a review unit. While I am required to disclose any donated or gifted items, I can promise you, that donated or gifted products do not effect the quality of the review I give. All reviews are presented truthfully and ethically from my personal opinion of said product.