God of Biscuits’ vudu

I’ve written before about the vudu box I obtained through their Evangelist program. Up until a few days ago, nearly all of the content was SD (standard definition, DVD-quality stuff). To inaugurate HD content to their library, they surprised us all by pushing down the first two Bourne movies in HD without telling us, followed by a “Tah Dah!”

It was classy. And an savvy demonstration of the value-add of the internet. I’m pretty damned techie, and even I was taught a bit of something. That was the genius in it: they exploited the internet connectivity by elevating its exploitability. Does that make any sense?

The history of technology can be described, from a certain perspective, as a steady increase in complexity which is best utilized by providing simplicity to humans: to hide the complexity! And the front end, the user-facing end, keeps floating to the top, hiding more and more piled up complexity behind every increasingly abstract and illusory—and realistic! neat trick!—simplicity.

Unless you’re a User Experience expert, you’ll have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to create an illusion and maintain it without fail for a user trying to accomplish a task. And as I’ve said before, vudu is a box and a (very sexy!) remote:

  1. Switch the input source on your HDTV or home theater receiver.
  2. Search, browse, save as favorites
  3. Buy or rent a title
  4. Start watching immediately

It’s as simple as that. Even HD titles start instantly (which makes me suspect that they push down 1% or so of each HD title and store it on its HDD.

That continues to be the one sour note in the whole vudu song: it’s a P2P network, and as such, and with the amount of bandwidth that the box is consuming being opaque, it makes me worry how much traffic is going in and out of the house.

The closed nature of the box—and no, not in the same way that Macs were closed way back when—is a huge disappointment, however: I have no idea how much disk space I have left except to estimate the three HD titles that live permanently on the box. I could guess that each hour is about 1.1 GB or so, so maybe half the disk is already filled.

As I continue to use the vudu box, the more I notice how isolated the box is from the rest of the home theater system.

And now that the Apple TV provides direct movie rentals and streams music and video and photos from my iTunes Library, and connects to flickr and now acts as an AirTunes client…

Well, you can see where this is all going…

My OverDU VUDU ReVU

A few weeks ago I was invited to join an “Evangelist” program for vudu.com. All it took was that I watch a gazillion movies, that I have kick-ass internet speeds and an extra Cat6 patch cable available within a few feet of my home theater. That and my charming personality, my scintillating conversational skills, my world-class argumentative skills and my Pied-Piper-esque ability to cast affinity spells from the comfort of my sofa and my blog.

No, not really. At least not all of it.

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I could start off with all the tech specs, cuz you know how I am about the geek stuff, but honestly, first and foremost, the vudu box is not about the box, nor about its remote (sexy and simple as it is), nor about the vudu service, per se.

It’s about the experience.

There’s almost nothing between you and watching a movie you want to watch.

There’s instant-starting of the movie after you’ve chosen the movie to rent or to own. The remote control beats Apple by one button: it has only the five buttons, one of which isn’t used for anything but future expansion. The remote is RF (radio frequency), so you don’t need line-of-sight between the box and you. The box is minimalist, so you can put it somewhere out of the way if you like.

Thanks to vudu, I just hit the “Video 1” button on the remote for my receiver and I find me a movie to watch. The remote is easy enough to navigate by feel, in the dark. It’s the quintessential Apple experience, doing everything possible to remove the barriers between your intent and its fulfillment.

They’ve just added HD content, inaugurating it by the surprise gift of the first two Bourne movies in HD already pushed down to the vudu box.

I’ll continue to write about vudu, even moreso when I get back to San Francisco and back to using it, but I wanted to get the ball rolling and start spreading the word. But I’ll leave it with this: find a movie, watch a movie. It’s better than Comcast’s “On Demand”; it’s more direct than iTunes to Apple TV. It’s more convenient even than choosing a DVD from your own collection to watch. It’s just There.