You'd think that Vudu, the streaming movie service launched in 2004 by Tony Miranz and Alain Rossmann, and now owned by Wal-Mart, would have gotten it right by now. You'd think wrong. True to that other voodoo, the service seems wrapped in smoke, mirrors and illusion in its attempts to become a serious player in broadband delivery of feature films. It do-do that Vudu that's really starting to smell. (Apologies, Cole Porter.)
Sure, they've stocked their servers with more than 15,000 titles, over 1,900 of these high-definition, according to Wikipedia. But its compatibility with streaming receivers, come-on promotions and inability to secure users personal data is raising serious questions about its viability.
User Data Stolen
This week, Vudu finally let customers know that its offices were the target of a break-in two weeks earlier in which critical hard drives containing users' personal data including home addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, encrypted passwords and partial credit card numbers were pilfered. No reason given by Vudu for the delay in letting its customers know.
C-Net reports that the Santa Clara, California-based video service has arranged for a year of free identity-protection service from AllClear ID for customers affected by the theft, and it posted an FAQ to address users' security questions. The usual hassle of resetting passwords was complicated by Vudu's web site, refusing to remember my new password. Do it again. And again. Drag.
This, on top of what some Vudu subscribers claim is deceptive promotion and misleading advertising. New customers who agree to link their Roku boxes to Vudu were promised ten free movies, but many began asking questions when their monthly credit card bills began rolling in with no evidence of the freebies.
"This evening I wanted to watch a movie which was available to me via Amazon, Vudu, and On-demand Comcast," writes LanceVudo on the Vudu blog. "I saw that Vudu gave you 10 free movies for signing up, so I signed up with the intention of using one of the free credits on the HD movie I was planning on watching tonight. Then, only after searching to find out how to use my free movies do I find out they are SD AND preselected!!!! SD movies look like crap on my TV."
Beyond the low-res quality, the 10 pre-selected free movies Vudu chose for me turned out to include the gawd-awful, 2-star rated "Wrong Turn 2: Dead End," Drew Barrymore's ancient "Never Been Kissed" and 1990's "Ghost." How bored or stoned must one be to sit through these sign-up gifts?
...and Crappy Code
Beyond the dismal selection, Vudu's a total fail when it comes to talking to some broadband receivers. In my case, a Roku box. After hours of checking broadband speed, HDMI and Wi-Fi connections to figure out why a $5.95 rental would not play, Vudu phone finally fessed up. Its movies won't play through Roku without first disabling Dolby 5.1 stereo from Roku's master settings — then going back and resetting Roku to hear 5.1 sound on other services. Another detail buried in Vudu's spells and incantations.
The good news? Streamers do have options via DirecTV, Amazon and other services. I made my choice after visualizing some Wal-Mart executive, poking pins into a Vudu doll while quoting Shakespeare's Puck. "What fools these mortals be."