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CES: Vudu unleashed from the set-top box

January 6, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Vudu, Vudu Apps, LG, Roku, online video, Internet TV, Netflix, DivX Inside just about every startup firm making set-top boxes is a company yearning not to have to make set-top boxes. Such is the case with Vudu, which formally launched in 2007 with a pricey set-top that delivered high-definition movies on demand. Earlier this year it announced its first partnership with a consumer-electronics manufacturer to integrate Vudu's movie service into its set-tops; in September it announced a second, with LG, to put the service into an Internet-savvy Blu-ray player.

Today, Vudu made two announcements that cemented its transformation from set-top maker to service provider. It signed deals with Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Toshiba and Vizio to put the Vudu service into their TV sets and, in the cases of Toshiba and Saumsung, Blu-ray players. And it is expanding beyond movies into a variety of other types of Web-based content and services, including music, user-generated content and social media.

Edward Lichty, Vudu's executive vice president, said the company will still have its own set-top boxes in the market, but it's putting no effort into distributing them. Instead, it's focused on signing up more manufacturing partners and ...

...bringing more applications to its platform.

Like a number of other competitors trying to bring the Web to the TV screen, Vudu's approach is a walled garden -- the company controls what users will be able access through the Vudu service. "Our intention is to make it open to as many applications as possible," Lichty said, although he added that "we're not at the point where third parties are developing anything" for the expanded service. When it launches early this year, Vudu Apps will provide access to more than 100 sites and services, including Pandora, Flickr, Facebook, news programs and a handful of TV show sites from HBO and Showtime. I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no -- no Hulu.

The proliferation of internet-connected TVs and set-tops provide fertile ground for Vudu. Lichty said the company hopes to have its service on millions of devices by the end of the year. It has a couple of advantages over its rivals: Its Internet-based architecture means it can update its offerings without having to change the software installed on TVs and set-tops, and its streaming technology delivers impressive HD pictures over slower broadband connections than, say, Netflix requires. I've never been able to get high-definition signals from Netflix over my 5 Mbps DSL connection, but I had no trouble getting perfect HD video through a Vudu-equipped LG Blu-ray player.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey

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