Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Taking a leap of faith with VuDu and Ultraviolet

Well, after three phone calls to VUDU customer care to discuss the details of their new Disc-to-Digital service linked to Ultraviolet, I have decided to take the plunge and took my first batch of favorite movies to Walmart to be certified for my online film library.

I started out with 6 standard DVDs that I upconverted to HD and 1 Blu-Ray.  I paid $5 for each DVD and $2 for the Blu-Ray to add them to my VUDU and linked Ultraviolet account.  Other than the obvious reason of being able to access my movies when I travel, I had several other reasons to buy into this new program supported by Walmart and most of the major movie studios:

First of all, I felt the $5 upconvert and cloud storage option for standard DVDs that I own was a less expensive way to enjoy full HD versions without having to cough up $9.99 or more (especially with digital copies) for physical Blu-Ray discs.

Secondly, Ultraviolet allows up to five other people to be members of my account and enjoy my movies.  I'm hoping my son (who lives in Chicago and is an avid movie buff with slightly different tastes than I do) and I can share our movie libraries in this way. This wish to have reciprocal access was the reason for one of my phone calls.

Ultraviolet recommends setting up shared access by granting membership through the account management function.  However, I knew that I had never seen an interface option in VUDU to select a particular Ultraviolet library so I could choose between his collection and mine so I asked VUDU how to accomplish this.  VUDU tech support actually recommended sharing an Ultraviolet account with the same login name and password instead.  The technician explained that if my son and I each had separate Ultraviolet accounts, I would have to go online with my computer and unlink my Ultraviolet library and link to my son's Ultraviolet library every time I wanted to browse and watch one of his movies instead of one of mine on one of my authorized devices.  If we both used the same Ultraviolet account we could then link to it from our individual VUDU accounts and see all movies in the combined library but have individual access to VUDU for purchasing DVDs or authorizing a rental.   I suggested to VUDU tech support that a library selection function be added to the VUDU interface in the future so we could use Ultraviolet's account management function someday since it provides customized movie suggestions based on individual taste and lets each user customize the interface for their own preferences.

When I discussed this new service with my son, he wondered if the special features available on the DVD would be included in the digital online version.  He also was wondered if you had to surrender your original discs when you took them to Walmart for verification.  This prompted another phone call.  VUDU told me that unfortunately the special features were not included in the online version but I would not be asked to surrender my original disc so I could always watch the special features from the original disc.  

This was confirmed when I took my movies to Walmart.  The photo center customer service agent just retrieved my VUDU account by using my email address. I had already queued up the movies I wanted to add to my online library so she just had to enter a confirmation code.  Then, she rubber stamped each DVD around the center hole so the disc could not be used by anyone else in the future to verify a different online library and returned the perfectly playable discs back to me.  I paid the advertised rate of $5 per DVD converted to HD and $2 for the online version of the Blu-Ray.

When I got home and logged into my Ultraviolet account my movies appeared in my library.  They also appear on my VUDU account.  So I guess I'm all set.

Now playing my library with the VUDU application works on my PC or a Mac and on my Samsung TV that has VUDU already installed in its suite of internet applications.  VUDU also works on an iPad (which, alas, I still do not have, making me still a victim of iPad envy) but there is no Android-compatible version available yet and my phone and Nook color run on Android.  However, I downloaded the newest version of Flixster to my phone and it has an option under your account to link it to your Ultraviolet library and my movies appeared under "My Collection" on Flixster and I was able to play my movies beautifully on my Droid 3 using it.  

My Nook Color that I have rooted to a full Android tablet using a preconfigured SD card from Root My Nook Color, was a bit trickier.  First I attempted to update the Flixster application that was preinstalled from the Amazon App Store (because I always have better luck with it instead of the Google Play Store).  It updated OK but I discovered it did not offer me any option to play my movies, just watch a trailer.  So I launched the browser and navigated to the Android Market and updated my Flixster again and this time it was the latest version that included the option to stream or download my movies.  However, when I selected "Watch Now" it kept saying it was initializing.  If I was seriously interested in watching movies on my Nook color I would have attempted a download instead to avoid problems with wifi speed and activity.  But, I usually use my Nook color in the living room where I can watch movies on my regular HD TV so I guess it isn't critical at this point.  I will email the developer of Root My Nook Color and see if he has any suggestions to tweak the Nook color for streaming from Flixster.  I have no problem streaming Netflix on my Nook and trailers play fine on Flixster so there may be just a setting or something that needs to be adjusted.  I had also moved the Flixster application to the 16 GB SD Card I have in the Nook instead of leaving it running from the internal memory and maybe that is the problem.

There are a few things to remember about video quality differences between devices when using VUDU.  When watching movies through a web browser, the highest video quality you can currently stream is standard definition.  I expect this to change in the future.  At present, even though you can stream 3D from the regular VUDU application, 3D digital copies are not yet available through the Disc-to-Digital program.  

I also learned VUDU's HDX quality includes 7.1 surround sound if you have a home theater system capable of that quality.

Anyway, I now hope the Ultraviolet consortium (and VUDU, Flixster, etc.) is wildly successful so I can count on them to be my online movie repository.  My experiences have been quite favorable so far and I look forward to a long relationship.  Now if Disney would quit messing around with their own cobbled up system and join the party!  I bought John Carter 3D with their version of a digital copy and all it let me do was copy the movie to my own computer.  I can copy it from there to a Windows Media compatible device but that's an awful lot of wasted disk space when streaming from the cloud is so much better.  Come on, Disney!  Where's your imagineering???

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Microsoft garners kudos for sleek Surface tablet but what about apps?

I'm always interested in the latest Windows-based technology so of course I poured over this article in the NY Times about Microsoft's new Surface tablet.  Unfortunately, not much was said about actual functionality in comparison to the iPad.  Quite honestly, although it is technically a tablet, it looks more like a sleek touch screen-equipped replacement to the traditional Windows laptop than as a true challenger to the iPad.

What makes the iPad so compelling to so many people is its accompanying app store and Microsoft has said nothing about the availability of apps for their new tablet.  Since the tablet will be running a full blown version of Windows 8, I'm also not sure the huge library of either iPad or Android apps can be readily ported to it and Microsoft has apparently said nothing about supporting an app cloud.  They seem more interested in the tablet's ability to perform more business functions not serve as a combination work/entertainment device.

This article also said nothing about the quality of the screen so it leaves me wondering if the resolution is as high as the new iPad 3 and I'm wondering about the sensitivity of the touch interface.  My daughter bought me a Nook color for Christmas a couple of years ago and, although I have been able to root the device to a full Android tablet and enjoy hours of entertainment on it, I am less than thrilled with the touch sensitivity of the device. (That aspect may have been improved with the newer version).

So, I don't think Microsoft's Surface will cure me of my iPad envy anytime soon.

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