Intermittent Issues: I, For One, Welcome Our New Binary Overlords
By Ben Gruchow
November 10, 2016
iTunes was the first on the block with this, launching in 2006 as part of the iTunes 7 software update. The initial offering consisted of 75 movies by Disney and its subsidiaries Pixar, Touchstone, and Miramax. That number is now 75,000, making this provider by a considerable margin the most generous out of any provider listed here. However, this also gives us a case study in the reality that numbers aren’t the whole story. iTunes being what it is, the opportunities for deployment are also the most restrictive out of the providers here - to the extent that unless you own a hardware component of the Apple ecosystem, you’re more or less relegated to viewing content in a Web browser. There’s no native Android app or support for Chromecast. Video quality for an iTunes-purchased film is above-average, although my lack of an Apple TV prevents me from really assessing it in a proper home-theater environment. Bearing this in mind, iTunes appears to be the solution for the individual who values a fluid but closed-off system.
Vudu has inauspicious roots, all told; it achieved real liftoff as a vehicle for UltraViolet HD once Walmart bought the service and began advertising it as a digital-HD standard on all of its in-store offerings - and Walmart, the home of in-house products that exchange quality and durability for price to its logical termination point (generally the point where the coffee table you buy explodes into a desolation of particle board and sawdust once you spill a few drops of water on it), is generally not the starting point for a real winner as far as the cutting edge of technology. Flying in the face of this logic is the reality that Vudu is a real winner. It almost indisputably represents the audiovisual pinnacle of the form for streaming HD at this point in time, due almost entirely to its HDX standard and its capitalization of H.265 in order to offer newer movies in Ultra HD.
Its catalog is also considerably more muscular than any of its streaming competitors save iTunes, and this has to do with the unique position the company finds itself in with regard to the two main digital-HD pay-per-title providers: Disney Digital (which represents Walt Disney Pictures, its subsidiaries, LucasFilm, and Marvel) and Ultraviolet HD (which represents just about every other major studio in existence). Both of these standards are proprietary, and they don’t play well together - i.e. a Disney Digital title cannot be obtained through the Ultraviolet service, and vice versa. Vudu, however, operates a streaming license with both of these standards, and it is the only Ultraviolet or Disney Digital provider to do so (iTunes does allow streaming, but not outside of the Apple ecosystem).
Like iTunes, Vudu offers both rental and sale of most of its movies and TV shows, with prices comparable to what you’d pay for the physical disc. Vudu also chases customers aggressively via constantly updating and revolving sales on its products - generally in connection with a holiday, but also through monthly and bundle deals. For the compulsive Internet shopper or the movie buff, the Vudu storefront—whether by Web or by app—is so alluring and gratifying that it feels almost forbidden; you’re really not sure if you should have linked your credit card to your account, but you suffered through DivX for this kind of opportunity, and by God if anyone or anything is going to stand in your way now.