Impressions: Vudu

Tested on the following home theater components:

Television: Samsung Series 6 LED, 1080p HDTV, 120 Hz Clear Motion
Receiver: Onkyo TX-SR606, 7.1 Surround, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio
Internet Connectivity: AT&T High Speed – 12 mbps, direct-wired to PS3

Vudu is one of the more recent applications available for download from the PlayStation Store.  I finally got around to testing out this service that boasts “eye-popping 1080p quality.”  Although Vudu can accommodate for various levels of picture quality (SD & HD) what they seem to be banking on is their movies offered in HDX.  The following details are taken directly from Vudu’s website:

  • True Cinematic Experience: – HDX movies are displayed in 1080p at 24 frames per second, the true cinematic gold standard.
  • 2x the Resolution – Ultra-detailed and virtually artifact free on any size of TV screen, HDX movies are displayed at twice the resolution of other internet HD video formats.
  • Immersive High Resolution Sound – HDX technology delivers the best available surround sound quality for internet delivered movies with immersive, high resolution sound at a 40% higher bit-rate than standard surround sound DVD’s.
  • Optimized for Larger HDTVs – Vudu’s unique TruFilm technology optimizes the encoding, transmission and display of HDX movies on 40-inch HDTVs and larger home theater screens.

That’s quite a mouthful.  Can the quality of their HDX movies truly live up to the hype they’ve provided?   As an amateur home-theater enthusiast I felt I was capable of putting this new PlayStation 3 service through an appropriate test – hence the detailing above of my own personal system qualifications.

After the initial download of the application new users are provided with a credit that allows for a free HDX rental.  It seemed like a no-brainer then to spend some quality assurance time with this latest and greatest feature.  Although the available movie selection was more than adequate I was focusing on a movie that would potentially offer up stunning visuals and dramatic surround sound.  What I eventually selected was the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe 2010 presentation of Robin Hood.  Thankfully I won’t be reviewing the movie beyond advising that it was a huge let down.

Picture Quality: Having enough credit for the HDX version of Robin Hood I can say without hesitation that it’s presentation on my 40-inch Samsung LED HDTV was as near to Blu-ray quality as you could expect.  I’ve played around with several other streaming High-Definition movie applications – from Netflix to Hulu to Amazon – on various streaming media players – from a Samsung Blu-ray player to an HD Roku box – and I feel comfortable in stating that Vudu’s HDX presentation is far and above the superior source for streaming a movie in High Definition.

From the moment I selected play there was little to no delay in starting the movie – no downloading, no buffering and no signal strength pauses.  The picture was sharp and clear and the colors were vibrant and beautiful.  Sequences of intense action were free from artifacts while the more static scenes were incredibly crisp in detail.  To say that I was impressed with the picture quality of Vudu’s HDX is an understatement and the bar for streaming High-Definition video has just been raised.

Audio Quality: Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the picture quality of Vudu’s HDX streaming service does not also lend itself to the quality of the audio.  Although they claim to deliver these movies in cinematic 5.1 surround sound I was less than impressed with the end result.

From the initial moments of the movie I found myself needing to adjust the volume of my Onkyo receiver to levels much higher than what I have commonly used for gaming and television viewing.  Where my peak performance for games like Uncharted 2 and Blu-ray movies like The Watchmen averaged a volume setting of 20 – 25 it was necessary that I increase to a level of 35 – 40 for my viewing of Robin Hood.  I was somewhat surprised by this and even paused the movie on several occasions to check both the internal audio settings of my PS3 as well as the more elaborate settings of my Onkyo.  All were operating as previously established.

Even after adjusting the volume to a more appropriate level the surround sound still came up a bit short.  Don’t get me wrong, the surround was fully operational – my center channel produced the necessary dialogue just as my rear speakers provided an adequate amount of immersion – but after being so impressed with the quality of the picture I was hoping for that perfect package.

Overall, I was very happy with Vudu’s presentation of Robin Hood (did I mention that the movie was garbage?) and I believe it will make a fine addition to the PlayStation 3 as well as provide for yet another reason why it should be considered the best gaming and entertainment console currently available.  However, at $5.99 for an individual HDX movie rental (no Vudu subscription is necessary) I don’t see myself using Vudu’s services all that often – especially considering the more-than-reasonable cost associated with the current Netflix subscription packages.  Still, Vudu is another option and adds to the continued argument for the decline and disposal of any and all cable or satellite subscription.  It’s most certainly got me thinking.

Written by Bill Braun

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