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Can Vudu Save Itself With Full HD Movie Downloads?

As many a failed technology company has found, the fledgling digital download-on-demand market is a tough nut to crack. Consumers have balked at paying for a dedicated box in the home, plus additional rental or purchase charges for the downloads.

What?? more, onerous restrictions on when and where you can watch the movies have slowed uptake despite widespread consumer interest in the market.

Startup Vudu now hopes it has found the right recipe with new technology and expanded distribution deals going into the holiday shopping period.

The first big news is that it will be the first to offer consumers full high-definition, or 1080p, downloads of certain Hollywood movies, including The Chronicles of Riddick, Speed Racer and The Spiderwick Chronicles. The company announced Oct. 2 plans to sell the movies under the category ??udu HDX.?/p>

With 65 titles available to start, it’s an impressive feat of software engineering; download companies must compress the images enough to transmit a full HD movie to the home in a reasonable period, but not so much that users start to see imperfections in the picture and sound. In a demonstration I saw of the technology a few days ago, it appears Vudu has done just that. Both the picture and sound in two movie demos was stunning, and looked very similar to what you’d see on a Blu-ray disc (though of course, you don’t get all the extra goodies you might in purchasing a physical disc).

The catch? To get the quality right, it still takes nearly four hours to download an entire movie. That means you’ve got to plan well ahead if you want to watch a movie and takes the joy out of spontaneity. Those who like to plan ahead, though, might be overjoyed by an update to Vudu’s website that lets you log in from the office to begin a download to the box remotely.

Will consumers care enough to turn to Vudu? That’s the big question. Sources say the company has a very small base of customers after more than a year on the market, while Apple, Microsoft and even Sony are attracting many more consumers with Apple TV, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, respectively. Meantime, Netflix and Roku sold out initial shipments of boxes that let consumers stream about 10,000 Netflix movies to the TV through a dedicated $199 box. And Amazon has been trying to expand its on video-on-demand service beyond TiVo digital media recorders into other equipment.

Vudu appears to be moving more aggressively to turn the tide. The company also announced it is expanding nationwide into Best Buy stores (and online). Customers who buy the $300 box through the end of the year receive a $200 credit to purchase movies (no adult titles). The credit is good for four months after purchase. It might be incentive enough to get people off the fence during what could be a big economic downturn.

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