Astounding News: Some Companies Actually Care About Customers

When was the last time you heard about a company (especially a home theater company) providing a major system update to an old, discontinued product just to make sure that its legacy customers could benefit from the same features and services as newer customers? It’s rare, to be sure. Well, that’s exactly what VUDU has done for owners of its original set-top box. Color me flabbergasted.

Once upon a time, in the early days of this blog, I announced my intention to watch and review movie downloads from VUDU. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I actually did have some intention of following through. Sadly, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that I’d like. No reviews ever came. Sorry about that.

I still like VUDU, though. Of the many download and streaming services out there, it’s the only one that approaches Blu-ray picture quality. I find the so-called “HD” offerings from Netflix, Amazon, and so forth severely lacking to my videophile standards.

My only problem with VUDU has been that I still own the original BX100 set-top box, which the company eventually discontinued. That set-top box was geared primarily for downloading movies, not streaming them in real time. I could stream SD-resolution movies, but the HD and higher quality “HDX” files required several hours to download. That’s one inconvenience that has prevented me from using the service as much as I’d like.

In the meantime, VUDU has focused its efforts toward embedding its service into Blu-ray players and HDTVs that offer real-time streaming even of HDX files (provided you have sufficient internet bandwidth). But now, from seemingly out of nowhere, VUDU has issued a major software upgrade that brings HDX streaming to the old set-top boxes too. Also added are dozens of new apps – including Facebook integration, Twitter, the ‘New York Times’, and Wikipedia, among many others.

The only thing still missing is Bitstream transmission for high-res audio. While the HDX movie files that VUDU offers are all encoded with high-resolution Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks, the set-top boxes are limited to a maximum output of standard Dolby Digital 5.1 quality. Unfortunately, that looks like a hardware limitation that can’t be overcome. The boxes have only HDMI 1.1 connections, not the HDMI 1.3 necessary. For the time being, only viewers accessing the service from other sources (such as recent LG Blu-ray players) can benefit from the full DD+ audio quality.

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