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LG Bakes Vudu into HDTVs

Consumer electronics giant LG Electronics announced that select HDTV displays with broadband connections will be able to support the Vudu online movie service, allowing customers to rent or buy Vudu movies on-demand without needing to buy Vudu's proprietary set-top.

LG, along with other major TV set manufacturers such as Panasonic and Samsung, has been a proponent of adding Ethernet jacks to its HD displays so that they can be directly connected to a home network and show Web content. Its "NetCast Entertainment Acccess" service already allows consumers to access Netflix's streaming movie service, as well as Yahoo! Widgets and YouTube videos. Now starting next month, Vudu's on-demand movies will be available on LG's new LH50 1080p LCD series and PS80 Plasma 1080p series sets. Existing "LG Broadband TV" customers, who have already bought one of LG's 2009-model TVs with the "NetCast" service, will also be able to access the service next month through an automatic software update.

"Together, LG's Broadband HDTVs and the Vudu service will set the industry standard for easy access to on-demand HD movies," said Alain Rossmann, CEO of VUDU, in a statement. "Vudu is blazingly fast on LG's Broadband HDTVs and makes discovering and watching new HD movies a truly exciting and fun user experience. With this alliance, VUDU is raising the bar on delivering Hollywood movies to this new class of Smart TVs."

Vudu started back in 2007 as a way for tech-savvy consumers to easily rent movies on-demand, in both 480-line-progressive (480p) standard-def and the 720p and 1080p HD formats, by connecting a proprietary set-top box with a built-in hard drive to their home network on one end and their TV set on the other. The box relied on progressive download technology to deliver 480p and 720p movies in high-quality with almost no buffering; an HD movie would start playing within 30 seconds of being ordered. The 1080p/24 frames-per-second "HDX" format, however, took three or four hours per title to download, due to a higher encoding rate, so hi-def aficionados had to plan ahead to enjoy an HDX title.

But over the past year Vudu has broadened its service offering beyond movies, offering access to free Web content from networks and YouTube, and pursued agreements to incorporate its software in other consumer electronics devices than its set-tops.  The company has struck a deal to incorporate its service into Vizio's HDTV sets, which Vizio announced last month, though Vizio sets with the Vudu service have yet to ship.

Bringing the Vudu service to TV sets without hard-drives requires moving from progressive downloads to streaming technology, which is what Vudu has done with LG. According to a Vudu spokesman, the new LG sets have more powerful processors than existing Vudu boxes and can support instant streaming of all Vudu content, including HDX movies. Vudu recommends that customers looking to stream HDX movies have a broadband connection of 6 megabits-per-second or faster. The service also offers three different bit-rates for each of its three formats---480p, 720p and HDX--and adjusts between different bit-rates to deliver the highest-quality experience possible with a consumer's available bandwidth.

Vudu customers with set-tops have also had the option to buy movies by permanently downloading them to their hard-drive storage, for a price of $15-22 depending on the title. LG HDTV set-owners using the Vudu service will have the same "buy" option, but that will simply mean unlimited streaming of that title, as the file will obviously continue to reside on Vudu's servers.