Vudu starts with the type of free on-demand content you can find on PlutoTV, Tubi, or The Roku Channel. And it adds a large selection of movies and TV to purchase or rent like with Apple’s iTunes store or Google Play.
If you have the cash to burn, Vudu will keep you swimming in brand new releases, in the latest greatest HD. Is it worth it? Let’s find out.
|✔ No Subscription fees||❌ High per-item prices|
|✔ Huge for-sale library||❌ Rentals only 24 hours|
|✔ Parental controls||❌ Obnoxious ads on free cotent|
Vudu was launched as a set-top box in 2007, the same year Netflix started its own direct-to-subscribers streaming subscriptions. The idea was you could buy or rent films through Vudu and play them right away through the Vudu box. By 2010, the startup was phasing out the set-top boxes to spend more attention on its app-based web service.
Later in 2010, Vudu got scooped up by Walmart. In 2020, it shifted corporate hands again, this time to Comcast by way of NBCUniversal-owned Fandango Media (the movie theater ticket people).
In 2014, Vudu became an early supporter of Disney’s Movies Anywhere platform. It brings all your purchased movies across platforms together into one collection with one interface. Movies Anywhere continues to be widely integrated with Vudu’s site.
Vudu is still primarily a video store online. It also keeps a library of free content, which used to be called “Movies on Us.” Free titles are indicated by a bar across the top saying, “Free with ads.” Some of the free titles can be purchased, so you can watch without commercial interruptions. And Vudu features a parental PIN so parents can lock their kids out of inappropriate content by rating.
Vudu sets itself apart by not offering any subscription services whatsoever. On the plus side, this means you don’t have to worry about paying or canceling anything every month. On the other hand, there’s a reason Netflix ditched the rent-by-title model very early on. Subscriptions are usually cheaper for the customer and a more stable revenue stream for the company.
Free films tend toward the older and lower budget with fewer big names than other free services, presumably because they offer those big names for rental/sale. It does mean, though, that you don’t have to spend $15 or more to buy big names like The Terminator, Armageddon, The Silence of the Lambs, or Rain Man (or even $3.99 to rent) when you can watch them free over at PlutoTV or Tubi.
The TV content is in a similar range. Lots of seasons of Syfy series Sanctuary and Spike cult favorite Blue Mountain State, Discovery reality shows like True CSI and Cabin Truckers, and older shows like Highway to Heaven and The Beverly Hillbillies. It’s free, though, so no downside to taking a look.
The more promoted and visible titles are naturally the ones for sale. The first two titles on the first row (“Featured Films”), A Journal for Jordan and The 355, are both marked “Early Access.” On the next row, “Featured Rentals,” are four films marked “New To Rent”: The King’s Man, American Underdog, House of Gucci, and King Richard.
The next two say “Theater at Home” (no explanation is given of the various designations): The King’s Daughter and Redeeming Love. The King’s Daughter is only available for rent for $19.99; Redeeming Love is also $19.99 to rent, but has the option to buy for $24.99. These prices are identical to Amazon’s, so they are in line with other online video stores.
Vudu is available on the following devices:
- Amazon Fire TV
Mobile & Computer
The paid content is clearly where Vudu’s main focus is. The first two menu options on the home page, Movies and TV, are both completely for-sale sections.
The interface gives you a lot of information on each video. Each show or movie has its genre(s), release date, MPAA rating, runtime, whether it has closed captions, the Vudu user rating, the Tomatometer score from Rotten Tomatoes (the higher the score, the more critically acclaimed it is), the recommended age from Common Sense Media, a link to the trailer (where available), a short synopsis, and your rental and purchase options.
If you scroll down, there’s a cast list, included bonus features, and expanded details from Rotten Tomatoes and Common Sense Media. At the bottom is a final summary with technical specs, so you know the exact video and audio quality of the product you’re buying. The thoroughness and transparency of the information is impressive.
Vudu was the first on-demand service to sell HD movies and a 4K pioneer. And it still boasts the largest array of 4K titles to buy. For the movies to buy, HD availability varies, but you can always find specifics on the movie listing. Extra features like UHD, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos sound typically cost more.
The search functionality beats the heck out of Amazon; when you search for something, the thing you had in mind comes up first, with less relevant matches further down. TV and film series are clearly and consistently labeled, which goes a long way, and seasons of shows are usually listed in order, more or less.
The commercials on the free content are annoying but no worse than on Hulu (although with Hulu you can pay more and eliminate them). The repetitive nature of the ads on streaming services in general comes from a risk-averse mindset from advertisers. In other words, most advertisers don’t want to take a chance on new tech, so they only have a handful of advertisers with a handful of commercials in the pool. It’s not really fair to blame the service.
Vudu offers a useful service. So how does it stack up against the competition?
Here’s the thing: you can get a whole month of unlimited Netflix, with all their blockbuster movies and award-winning, acclaimed original series, for the same price (or less) than buying a single movie on Vudu. Even Netflix’s highest tier service, that lets you watch on 4 screens and in 4K where available, is only $19.99, still cheaper than a lot of Vudu’s titles.
If you have the latest in home theater equipment to take advantage of the 4K UHD, HDR10, and Dolby Vision and Atmos, you could probably notice the quality difference at the upper end of the Vudu UHD titles. But the average viewer is not going to have the hardware to push the tech to its limit.
Having said that, if you rent movies once or twice a month for a special treat, that would be cheaper than a Netflix subscription. And it would be much cheaper than going to the movies. But the casual once-a-month movie-goer isn’t really Fandango — or Vudu’s — target audience.
At the end of the day, they provide different things. Vudu lets you watch movies or TV shows that are missing from the subscription services, even if you have to shell out top dollar for them.
Prime Video is probably Vudu’s top competitor at this point, because it is included in Amazon Prime. So all Prime members are already subscribed to Prime Video, and if you’re already watching videos on Amazon, why not just buy them there too?
While it might be annoying to have your online movie library on multiple services, it makes sense to shop around for the best price. And that may very well be on Vudu, not Amazon. And anyway, that’s what Movies Anywhere is for, right?
Disney has historically been notoriously exclusive with its titles, so it was a bit of a surprise to find them on Vudu. On the other hand, why pay $15+ a pop when you can have them all right there, plus all the future releases, plus all the other Disney+ content, for $7.99/mo?
Free Online Streaming Alternatives
There are several other places on the Internet you can go to find legal, free streaming of TV shows and movies. Here’s a list:
- PlutoTV: Owned by ViacomCBS, it has all-free ad-supported live channels and on-demand programming on a breathtaking variety of genres from a variety of in-house channels (CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon) and licensed from AMC, A&E, and Discovery, among others. It also carries live sports from Fox, CBS, and beIN Sports.
- Tubi: Very similar to Pluto, but owned by Fox. It has agreements with different studios and so has some variety in its movie offerings.
- Peacock: NBCUniversal’s streaming service, mostly on-demand except for live sports. Accounts are free, but you can upgrade to reduce ads and get more content (especially live sports). See our review for more information.
- Plex: Its free service is similar to Tubi or Pluto, but Plex’s big thing is acting as a media server for all the movies and TV shows you own. There is some overlap between this and Movies Anywhere, but Movies Everywhere is more for content available on streaming services and digital purchases than your physical DVD collection.
So is it worth it? That’s really up to you. If you’re the sort of film buff/compulsive collector who likes to own things, or prizes the bonus features, or puts a premium on top-notch sound and picture quality, or used to buy every movie in the Criterion Collection on DVD (or VHS, but now we’re really dating ourselves), then, Vudu is right up your alley.
At the opposite end of the viewing spectrum, if you prefer your TV more as background noise or audio-visual filler, rotating around the free ad-supported libraries is one way to avoid the (potentially high) costs of a pay live TV provider. And if you happen to be an aficionado of low-budget productions, congrats, because you have just found a treasure trove.
It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You can build up a personal library of favorites, or movies you think are better in HD, or just because you want to be able to say you own every movie in the MCU, and still enjoy Netflix for its exclusive originals or a live TV streaming service for sports.
Wasn’t Vudu going to come out with some originals?
Back in 2019, Vudu actually did introduce two original titles: Mr Mom, a modern series update of the 1983 Michael Keaton/Teri Garr movie of the same name and Adventure Force 5, a high-tech scifi kids adventure movie. You can still find these titles in Vudu’s library, and even watch a trailer for Adventure Force 5, but there’s no option to buy, rent, or even watch free with ads.
No explanation has been given, but it looks like after Fandango bought Vudu, they dropped the whole “original content” concept, and possibly lost rights to stream the two already added. All the rumored shows, including a travel show for Queen Latifah and a sci-fi drama starring Lost‘s Evangeline Lilly, appear to have just poofed into the development ether.
What other streaming services are worth checking out?
Every streaming service has its fans. Often, people are tied to multiple services. Here are the biggest general streaming services: