Vudu's HDX upgrade delivers the best downloadable video quality to date

The latest Vudu firmware upgrade delivers the best video quality we've ever seen on a set-top box.

Vudu BX100
Vudu

Last week, we told you about Vudu adding a new "HDX" video quality tier to its video-on-demand box. Unlike the 1080p HD downloads already available on the box, HDX 1080p significantly ramped up the bitrate, offering considerably better picture quality. We've had a chance to check out portions of three HDX movies--Lord of War, surfing documentary Step into Liquid, and The Chronicles of Riddick--and the result was extraordinary. Simply put, Vudu's HDX represents the best Internet-delivered video we've seen to date.

The films exhibited excellent detail, and even high-motion action scenes were free of the solarizing and blockiness often noticeable in competing "high-def" content available on Apple TV and the Xbox 360. About the worst we could say was that the films exhibited visible film grain and some softness. But we did head-to-head comparisons on Liquid and War to their Blu-ray counterparts, and the discs tended to show similar instances of graininess in the same scenes as well--so the softness and grain were inherent in the source and not, as far as we could tell, an issue with the encoding. (Likewise, we consider the preservation of a certain degree of film-induced graininess to be preferable to excessive edge enhancement.)

Also, much like Blu-ray movies the Vudu HDX files are in 1080p/24 format. They preserve the native 24-frame-per-second rate of film, which should be great news for film buffs with displays, such as many 120Hz LCDs and Pioneer's Kuro plasmas, that can accept and properly display 24-frame material. Conversely, some displays can't accept 1080p/24 at all, so owners of those displays with a Vudu will have to choose the 1080i output instead.

Blu-ray still holds the edge, but Vudu HDX is the first downloadable video that noticeably outclasses standard DVDs. Many will also find that it's better than the on-demand HD offerings from their cable and satellite providers. Audio quality was also excellent. Many films offer full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround that many listeners will find to be on par with DVD soundtracks.

The catch, of course, is that the HDX movies aren't available immediately--you'll need to queue them up and wait several hours before viewing. (Thankfully, you can manage this remotely by logging into Vudu's Web site. Start a download to the box while you're at work, for instance, and it should be ready to go when you're at home.)

We've upgraded our Vudu review in light of the HDX upgrade--and the growing competition from such products as Apple TV and the Roku Netflix Player.

Read the CNET review of the Vudu BX100.

Does the improved video quality--and the $200 movie credit --make you any more likely to buy the Vudu versus, say, Apple TV? Share your thoughts below.

 

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