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Vudu Launches HDX Hi-Bit-Rate 1080p VOD Service

New York – Internet Video On Demand service Vudu introduced Thursday a new high-definition download service offering up to 1080p resolution videos with twice the bit rate of its earlier HD service.

The new service, called HDX, is billed as an Internet-delivered movie service “in the full high definition 1080p/24fps format that is optimized for 40 inch and larger HDTVs and home theaters,” and “is very artifact free.”

Vudu calls the service “the best on demand or Internet-based download service that is available in HD.”

With the new offering, Vudu said it is the only Internet movie delivery service offering consumers a choice between an instant-start HD experience and a high quality HD download version. Vudu also offers a large movie catelog in SD resolution, which represents the bulk of its subscriber base.

Prasanna Ganesan, Vudu’s chief technology officer, told TWICE that due to the larger data size, the HDX files will take about 4 hours to download over a 4Mbps broadband connection, unlike the current HD service that enables virtually instant viewing as the movie is downloaded.

Vudu has compiled a library of more than 50 films that are available at launch in the HDX format. The company said it will be encoding the existing Vudu catalog into HDX.

As with the previous instant HD service, HDX files will be made available only for rental only. Rates for either the instant HD or HDX services run $5.99 for new releases and $3.99 for most library titles. They will stay active on the hard drive in either Vudu set-top box for up to a 30 days, but once the playback begins the viewing window drops to 24 hours. After the 24 hour period lapses, viewers can rent the films for up to a week at a discounted rate.

The company is using its “TruFilm technology” that includes highly variable bit rate (at up to 20Mbps at times) that will increase as the action in a program increases, and decrease as motion in a scene slows or freezes, Ganesan said. Sound will be offered in multi-channel Dolby Digital format, but at a 40 percent higher bit rate than standard DVDs.

“We encode the films in 1080p/24fps and we are very cognizant of the fact that we are dealing with movies, so a lot of special things we do ensure that our titles are encoded very well,” Ganesan said. “For example, one of the bigger challenges of movies is that there is a lot of film grain in them, because they are shot on film. Film grain is very hard to compress because it changes randomly from frame to frame. A lot of encoding will get tripped up by it. The common solution is to remove the grain so you don’t see it in the output, and the areas that are very grainy end up feeling like a mass of moving blocks.

“We have a special source that makes sure we can preserve that grain without losing it entirely, while not ending up spending all of the bits on capturing that grain,” he continued. “Usually you have use very high bit rates, like Blu-ray bit rates, before you capture grain but we are able to do this at much lower bit rates.”

The result, he said, is that HDX will have a significantly sharper image with greater color depth, than the previous offerings.

Ganesan acknowledged that HDX’s image quality will not be quite as good as that of Blu-ray Discs, but not far from them.

All levels of the Vudu movie service are available on both of the company’s Vudu set-top boxes, which retail for $299 and $999, respectively. The latter box features 1TB hard drive capacity and expanded connectivity and networking capability.

Vudu is currently working on expanding the number of retail distribution partners and plans to be in many more stores this fall, Ganesan said.