Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment.
Imagine a history in which broadcast television programming was not sent directly to television sets. Rather, it was sent to another, more expensive device in the home with a smaller screen. If you paid $40 per month, you could access at best only about 10 percent of the shows you really wanted. These shows were available on demand, but under ideal conditions needed a few minutes before you can start watching them. Furthermore, to watch them in the comfort of your living room, you had to rely on a slow, unreliable connection between the box and the TV set.
This bleak situation characterized the state of much broadband video at the debut of Vudu earlier this year. Vudu's $400 glossy black box sports a curvy perimeter that is a bit taller than an Apple TV. It delivers instant access to about 10,000 movies using a slick and sophisticated combination of local caching and distributed computing. Rent or buy the movie and it starts playing. Vudu just introduced its first high-definition movies -- the Bourne movie trilogy, offering the high-definition media-free version of The Bourne Ultimatum for sale for the first time.
The physical version of that movie is available exclusively on HD-DVD, but with Vudu you don't have to worry about the alliances of studios or video rental chains. The company has struck deals with all major studios and the Vudu device is hundreds of dollars less than dual-format high-definition disc players from Samsung and LG Electronics. On the other hand, nearly all of its content is more of a quality match for the dirt-cheap and universally-supported standard DVD player today.
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