Vudu opens the gates with high-def streaming movies

The theme of this year's CES could very well be "Leaving the Format War Behind," as already Sunday morning, the emphasis from manufacturers has been centered around device connectivity and streaming service. "HD" is left in, and "blue-laser" is on the sideline...at least thus far.

Monday promises to be "Blu-ray Day," with a flurry of Blu-ray related events to help rub HD DVD's nose in the dirt, after the historic snubbing of HD DVD by Warner Bros. on the weekend.

The prelude Sunday morning was set by Vudu, the up-and-coming streaming media service. The company announced that by the end of this month, it will have added its first 70 high-definition titles to its library of on-demand movies and shows. Any media device or PC with a 4 Mbps downstream broadband connection or better will be able to view these shows live and unbuffered, the company says; for narrower pipelines, buffering may be required.

We don't know just yet how high-def Vudu's HD will be -- 1080p on one side of the scale, or 720i on the other -- but at any rate, a live on-demand stream at 4 Mbps is still quite impressive.

Among Vudu's library additions will be Blades of Glory, A Mighty Heart, the unrated version of Hostel: Part II, and some episodes from the recently remastered special edition of the original Star Trek series.

The question videophiles are asking today is, if not HD DVD or Blu-ray, then what will allow consumers to own their library of movies? This week at CES, Vudu will be demonstrating what is described as the "Vudu XL movie vault." Presumably hard drive-based, it's said to hold up to 500 full-length standard definition movies, and is intended for use with networked home theaters.

Since Vudu's business model is based on movie rentals, not ownership, there's a good chance those 500 shows could be parked on that hard drive for a kind of "extended lease" rather than permanent residence. We'll take a look and let you know what we find out.

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