Gadget Gary: Vudu Child

When I find something I like, I stick with it. And there's nothing more fulfilling than when something you really like just gets better. Current case in point: moviestreaming magnate Vudu. Now, my love of Vudu is well documented in this column. Back in April 2008, I hooked up Vudu's 250-gigabyte box to my broadband home network and then connected it to my TV. I marveled at the instant access I had to its well stocked high-def movie-rental library. (You have the option to buy a movie and save it on the box or just rent for 24 hours.) The combo platter of 1080p-format high-definition video and 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound was hard to beat.

I really do love my Vudu box ($149;, but if I have one small complaint, it's that I sometimes fill the box up to its capacity. I then have to archive a movie or delete it in order to make room for a new one. (More capacity, please!) But there's another wrinkle, as Vudu is now built into TV models from LG and Mitsubishi. Nice! So for this test, I hooked up an LG PS80 50-inch plasma HDTV ($1,700 list). By plugging an Ethernet connection directly into the back of the set, I was connected to Vudu and a host of other Web goodies, thanks to LG's NetCast Entertainment Access. With this hookup, Yahoo! Widgets give me sports scores, news, weather, and just about anything else I want. I also have access to NetFlix and YouTube, and can connect to my network to view photos and/or listen to music.

There are two major benefits to this setup. The first is that I no longer have to worry about the capacity on my standalone Vudu box. (Thank you, thank you!) Whatever rentals and movies that I buy live in the Vudu "cloud," where I don't have to worry about them. The other benefit is I get to remove a piece of gear from my equipment rack and free up an HDMI input on my receiver. (Hey, with so many cutting-edge gadgets popping up every day, I can always use another available input.)

I road tested the LG PS80 by renting two movies on Vudu. First was Up, which I watched with my kids. The picture practically jumped off the screen. The scene where the house is lifted away by balloons was amazing with crisp, ultra-vivid colors. The second movie was The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Never mind the so-so story; it looked and sounded great to me. I was very pleased. And the PS80 is a wonderful TV, I gotta say. It's a sharp-looking model with a high-gloss black look, and it boasts a ton of features like Picture Wizard (a self-calibration tool) and Clear Voice II (which enhances dialogue). But to sum up my experience with the built-in Vudu feature, I'd have to say that this move is considerably more than a slight return. It's a leap ahead that will keep me coming back for more.

Gary Dell'Abate is the executive producer of The Howard Stern Show. He attended his second CES this year and and found lots of new gear to show during his regular Gadget Gary segments on WPIX Morning News in New York City.