It seems like more and more companies are loading on to the digital movie bandwagon. I’m still rather skeptical on the whole thing (for a number of reasons that will merit a post of their own), but I’m certainly interested in checking out the phenomenon. VUDU is Walmart’s foray into the field, an UltraViolet-compatible service; Walmart even offers a “disc to digital” service in store whereby you take a DVD in to them, and for a small surcharge they give you access to the UltraViolet version of the movie. I can’t picture going that route — the “combo pack” mentality makes more sense to me if one wants a UV film — but thanks to a sign-up offer that VUDU has (involving ten free movies to own), I can still try out the software and service.
The Windows PC version of the software is titled “VUDU To Go”, which is somewhat amusing in light of the fact that I’ve using it on my rather unwieldy desktop computer. It’s a full tower and outweighs my dogs, it’s not going anywhere without a good reason. But I digress.
When you install VUDU To Go, it gives you the choice of where to install the program. It does not, however, give you a choice on where to download the movie files automatically storing them on your primary hard drive. If, like me, you are running low on space there, you will have to do some maneuvering to keep it from filling up. The movies can be found in your Application Data\com.vudu.air.Downloader\Local Store folder, and if you move them to another hard drive, they can be moved back there and played properly without trouble. Movies moved out of the storage folder will show up with blank icons unless you replace the movie poster image (I dummied up some “in storage” images for myself). Of course, with today’s growing hard drives, all of this is probably a minor concern for most people, but I do still appreciate the option of choosing where to download files when it’s made available. Amazon Unbox does it, CinemaNow’s player does it, and even Flixster figured it out eventually.
When you start up VUDU To Go, you will be prompted to log into your VUDU account (this is separate from your UltraViolet account, but linked to it through their websites). Be careful if you have more than one VUDU user in the household; logging into a different account will result in deleting all downloaded movies, which is hardly convenient. Once you’ve logged in, you will be presented with a screen of already-downloaded movies, which may be deleted or played. In another tab are those UltraViolet movies that you have purchased (or been given) which you have not yet downloaded. I was pleased to note that most of the UltraViolet films I was given through Flixster promotions showed up without trouble (with the ones that don’t, it’s unclear whether this is Flixster’s fault or VUDU’s.) The titles are displayed haphazardly; I have not found any means of sorting them.
When you start downloading a movie, you are given a progress indicator. Unlike some services, there is not an option to start watching the movie before it’s fully downloaded. You may pause the download and resume it, and if the download is interrupted (say, by a faulty internet connection), there is also an option to “retry”, which will resume from the point it left off. It will also resume any downloads in progress when you restart the program. I have noticed that sometimes clicking the download button doesn’t trigger the download; restarting the program seems to solve this glitch.
Clicking “Play” will open the movie in a separate window. This window has only rudimentary control features, including volume control, pause, and a position slider. You may also put the window in full screen mode, and leaving the mouse alone for a few seconds will cause the controls to fade away. Pretty standard stuff, nothing that isn’t working well or which is unusually convenient. The video quality is pretty good, at DVD level (at least on SD movies; one presumes HD movies are better). Playback is smooth and consistent, taking only a few seconds to load initially and then continuing without interruption, as it should. The program may be just slightly resource-intensive — I had to lower the priority of my screen capture program when watching videos for reviews to prevent some choppiness — but this is an issue most people aren’t likely to encounter. I’d additionally like to note that although not all my gifted films from Flixster show up in the list, those that do all play properly — none of that “License Error” stuff that plagued me with Flixster Desktop. If VUDU says it’s there, it plays. (This is how I finally got to see Dog Day Afternoon after struggling with it for so long.)
The program runs on the Adobe AIR platform. This is seamless to the user except when it’s time for updates — and even then it’s pretty painless. The program checks for updates regularly, and when it finds one it gives you the choice of downloading the update immediately or waiting for a later date. If you choose to download it immediately, it’s a quick process, and then it gives you the choice of installing immediately or waiting until the next time you restart the software. The installation is also pretty quick. Either way, the software giving you the choice means that you aren’t put in the position of waiting to watch your movie while the software updates. It’s a nice touch.
VUDU To Go has some minor flaws, some of which are its own and some are simply endemic to the UltraViolet platform as it currently exists. These don’t do much to limit its usefulness, however; at least when compared to other digital services, VUDU To Go is a reasonable contender.