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Summary:

Take that, Boxee Box! Take that, Roku Player! Sure, those companies are adding lots of content to their broadband set-top boxes through channels or apps developed by third-party content partners. But while those guys are competing to get more apps delivered to the TV through a […]

Take that, Boxee Box! Take that, Roku Player! Sure, those companies are adding lots of content to their broadband set-top boxes through channels or apps developed by third-party content partners. But while those guys are competing to get more apps delivered to the TV through a standalone box, Vudu has taken the approach a step further by getting those apps actually embedded onto the TV.

Vudu announced a number of partnerships with CE manufacturers today that will put its new app store into their Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray disc players over the coming year. Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Sharp, and Toshiba have settled on Vudu’s app store as their sole provider of streaming video and Internet services.

In fact, while Roku and Boxee have been pushing into the set-top market with low-priced standalone devices, Vudu has been edging out of the hardware business altogether, preferring instead to sell software licenses to consumer electronics manufacturers, and to take a cut of sales for videos shown on its software platform. (To be fair, Boxee is also licensing its software for the Boxee Box; all manufacturing, inventory management, and distribution is being handled by its hardware partner, D-Link.)

There is one big difference, however, besides the app or channel stores that Roku and Boxee offer and the one that Vudu is rolling out: While Roku and Boxee both offer open software development kits (SDKs) and APIs so that anyone can develop for their platforms, the Vudu app process is more tightly controlled, as one might expect from a piece of software being embedded into consumer TV sets sold by brand-name manufacturers. A Vudu spokesperson says that getting an app into the Vudu store requires a level of cooperation and partnership with the company. And while Vudu does have an SDK and APIs to enable integration with its service, not just anyone can build an app.

That said, the list of apps is pretty impressive, with more than 100 available in the first quarter. The list includes typical social apps such as Pandora, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, but it also features a number of apps from premium content providers, like HBO’s Big Love and True Blood apps. Also available will be apps from the AP, NY Times, CNN, Revision3, and Showtime.

In addition to the launch of its app store, Vudu is announcing the availability of its video service on new HDTVs and Blu-ray disc players from LG, Mitsubishi, and Vizio, as well as the addition of its service to Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, and Toshiba products. Altogether, Vudu’s streaming video service will be embedded on devices from seven of the top nine CE makers.

  1. Who actually buys set top boxes anyway?

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  2. Great article Ryan.

    As cool as they are, I just don’t think these devices will catch on with a larger audience. It’s like a computer, but with half the functionality. Embedding Vudu within TVs sounds interesting, but I’m guessing that will be a fragmented market; lack of standards between manufacturers will make progress difficult.

    I’m in favor of just connecting a computer to your television a la Mac Mini or another HTPC, but I’m pretty certain I’m in the minority. While not perfect, I can see this usecase growing over time. You can use whatever software you want, be it Boxee, Plex, NYTimes, etc – I’m also guessing Vudu could also make a client available for a stand alone computer.

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  3. I own a Roku. It makes sense to me to buy a STB. I invested $100 for a Roku, instead of $1,000 on a new TV. If I wanted these features on more than 1 TV, it would mean I would have to replace several TVs at a high cost instead of STBs at a relatively low price.

    If I were upgrading, I might look for a TV with built-in apps. But it certainly doesn’t make STBs obsolete… as I would not be replacing all my TVs at once anyway.

    I don’t plan on replacing or buying a new TV anytime soon — in fact not for at least a couple years (at earliest). So again, I’m faced with the choice of TV apps @ $100 or @ $1000.

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    1. Kenny – Fair enough. I’m in the same boat you are; I bought a new TV a month or so ago, and don’t expect to jump on the broadband-connected TV bandwagon for some time. That said, I think these TVs and services will become more widely available more quickly than most people think. Most consumers have multiple TVs in the home now, so the ‘replacement cycle’ is a bit shorter than it used to be. A new TV isn’t something that’s invested in every 10 years anymore; seems like people are buying them every 3-5 years nowadays.

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      1. Ryan, I agree with Kenny’s assessment.

        I own a Roku Player that I use with my Netflix subscription. It’s mobile — I can easily move it to another TV set in our home. If I decided to later buy a Connected TV with Vudu built-in, then I could also give the Roku Player to a friend or family member as a gift.

        In summary, if flexibility is important to you, then a set top box like a Roku Player is a very wise choice.

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  4. The disadvantage of Vudu being built-into the TV… is that it’s built-in to the TV. Right now, all these services are in their infancy. They are coming and going, leapfrogging each other, raising money and going out of business. There is no clear winner, and until there is, consumers are going to have to switch services a bunch to figure out what they like.

    And that’s why I don’t like this integration. It’s permanently on my TV. What if I decide I don’t like Vudu? I guess can just ignore the feature, but I can’t remove it. It’s like the satellite radio feature in my car. The button for it is there even though I don’t subscribe to the service, and it drives me nuts that I can’t remove it.

    What if they go out of business?

    Yes, it is intelligent for Vudu in order to ensure their own survival, but I’m not sure it’s good for consumers, unless there are more die hard Vudu users for life that I was not aware of.

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    1. Well, therein lies the rub. Vudu, from what I’ve seen, is a good service for movies — but then again, I haven’t seen the app implementation in person.

      Unfortunately any ‘app store’ that winds up on the TV is going to be controlled to a certain extent. CE manufacturers are brands, after all, and aren’t going to want to have a completely open interface to access the broader web.

      The advantage of this implementation is obvious for Vudu, but benefits the other parties as well. For the CE manufacturers, it makes sense to let Vudu handle all this, rather than having to strike deals with content producers themselves. Same for content companies — rather than have to reach out to multiple CE makers, they can reach many of them on a single platform.

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  5. This is not a “app store” as in the Apple defintion these are applications that run within the VUDU framework. There is nothing to “install” they are just another menu selection off the VUDU interface wich is really easy to use. If you want more information just visit the VUDU web site at http://wwww.vudu.com

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  6. [...] will bring Internet content straight to Blu-ray devices, including the upcoming LG NetCast players. Vudu revealed partnerships with CE makers that include embedding the company’s app on various Blu-ray players, and [...]

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  7. [...] Rovi’s window to make headway in this sector may be limited. Already we’ve seen multiple device makers choose Vudu to provide the interface for Web-based video services on their devices, and other CE manufacturers [...]

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  8. [...] Wal-mart sells or plans to sell. Vudu’s streaming video service will be embedded on devices from seven of the top nine CE makers, including HDTVs and Blu-ray players from LG, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Toshiba and [...]

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  9. [...] in the first half of this year, and faces increasing competition from TV manufacturers that are embedding services like Vudu on their Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray [...]

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