If you’re not using Vudu, you’re missing out

The streaming wars have lefts us with plenty of options—but not a ton of variety. Services tend to be either free or require a subscription, with little middle ground. Vudu, however, offers the best of both worlds. Originally launched as a digital video rental service, Vudu has become a guiding light for fans of 4K and, more recently, free media streaming. If you wish there was one app you could use when times are tight and when times are bountiful, Vudu is a hidden gem waiting for you. But what is Vudu, how does it work, and what does it cost? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Vudu?

Vudu is a digital video-on-demand service. For nearly a decade, it offered a simple way to rent digital TV and movies from home. In 2016, Vudu affixed an ad-supported free service similar to Crackle. Now, its staggering library of content sets Vudu apart from competitors. New releases—along with new catalog titles from across film history—are added every week for sale and rental.

Vudu also offers early access to movies before they hit other digital storefronts. These films aren’t just limited to blockbusters; they include small indie titles as well, and Vudu’s “Still in Theaters” section is a godsend to indie cinema fans who live far away from an art house. For viewers looking to save money, the free section provides thousands of ad-supported movies and TV series to watch.

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How does Vudu work?

Vudu’s menus are separated into sections for Movies, TV, and Free content. On some platforms, like Roku, there are also tabs for Deals and Collection. Deals collect the biggest sales happen on the platform, while Collection offers groups of movies sorted by theme. This is where you’ll find movies based around topics like “Black History Month” or “Still in Theaters.”

Titles are organized in sliding panels, similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime’s interfaces. Users can expand these panels by selecting the “View All” option at the end of the slider. This will show you more titles in the category you’re looking for.  

It’s important to remember when you’re browsing Vudu that the store offers content for sale, for rent, and for free viewing. Sometimes you’ll find a title you want to watch, only to discover it’s just available for purchase. If you’re dead-set on renting, give it a few weeks. Everything is eventually available for rent.

Renting a title

Once you’ve selected your title, Vudu will offer you the option to pick your video quality. Vudu supports up to 4K Ultra HD video (if your internet is fast enough to handle it). Video content comes in standard definition (SD), high definition (HDX), and 4K Ultra HD (UHD). For new releases, Ultra HD releases can sometimes cost more than standard HD. Usually the difference isn’t more than a few dollars, but you should take note.

If you’ve purchased a movie to own, you can watch it on your Vudu account whenever you want and on any device. Rentals can be stored on your Vudu account for up to 30 days. Once you start watching, you have 24 hours to finish the title before it gets deleted.

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Free movies and TV

Content included in the Free section streams in HD where supported. If you’d rather rent the movie—either to skip ads or watch in 4K—you can do that. Just make sure to select the Rent option instead of the Watch for Free button.

Vudu averages one to three ads per break during a two-hour movie, with roughly three to four commercial breaks per film. Here’s where Vudu excels: In total, you’ll only see maybe three to five minutes of ads during each movie. That’s fewer ads than you have to watch during an hour-long TV show on a paid Hulu subscription. Some programming, particularly in the TV section, has more advertising. But overall, Vudu has one of the least intrusive ad experiences of any service.

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Is Vudu free?

Yes and no. It’s completely free to access Vudu. You don’t even need to make an account to browse its content. The content itself comes in two flavors, paid and free. Paid content includes movie rentals and purchases, while Free content is made up of ad-supported streams.

What is Vudu’s free content like?

At press time, Vudu offered around 3,400 free movies and 248 TV series. The free content you’ll find is understandably a little dated but still recognizable enough to grab your attention. Movies skew from the ’80s to the mid-2000s with titles like Batman Begins, Misery, Any Given Sunday, Cabin in the Woods, Falling Down, and Singles.  

The TV section is noticeably lighter but still full of shows worth binge-watching on a Saturday. Diverse titles include Kitchen Nightmares, Crash, The Dead Zone, Unsolved Mysteries, and even the anime classic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. We wish there were more sitcoms, but the plentiful episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun soften the blow.

How much do rentals cost on Vudu?

Movie rentals for catalog titles on Vudu typically cost between $0.99 and $5.99. The cost of your rental usually depends most on your video quality. However, you’ll regularly be able to find UHD video for rent at the same cost as SD and HD titles. Occasionally, new releases and UHD content are more expensive. This is particularly true for movies that are still in the theater. Early access titles can cost up to $9.99 to rent, which isn’t absurd when you consider the cost of a movie ticket. TV shows cannot be rented on Vudu.

How much do movies and TV shows cost to purchase on Vudu?

When it comes to buying titles, Vudu offers the same flexibility in pricing as its rentals. Movies cost between $4.99 and $24.99, depending on video quality and if the title a new release. TV shows are slightly more expensive, particularly episodes. Single episodes cost $1.99 to $2.99 apiece, while full seasons run $14.99 to $45.99.

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Vudu devices

One of Vudu’s biggest selling points is the sheer number of devices you can use to watch its content. Here’s how you can watch Vudu at home.

1) Smart TVs

Select models of Vizio, Samsung, and LG Smart TVs support Vudu. Check the apps section of your TV to find out if your model offers the service.

2) Vudu app

Vudu’s smartphone app is available on every major mobile platform, so Android and iOS users can download it on any modern device. While Vudu doesn’t support Windows phone, the service does have an app specifically for Windows 10 users. This app offers the same great functionality of the smartphone app without requiring you to leave a browser running while you watch on your laptop.

3) Streaming devices

Because it competes with the services of other streaming devices, Vudu isn’t available on every platform you might think. Currently, Roku, Apple TV, Tivo, and Chromcast are the only streaming devices Vudu supports. It can’t officially be used on Amazon Fire, most likely because it competes with Amazon’s Prime Video service. Prime Video users can also rent movies and stream free content, so it makes sense they’d block Vudu from doing the same on its device.  

4) Game consoles

If you use your game console as your main streaming source, Vudu is ready and waiting for you. Currently, Vudu offers an app for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4. Hopefully Nintendo products will join in the future, but for now, Vudu is limited to just the big two gaming companies. Vudu can also be used on Nvidia’s Android TV console.

5) Web browsers

Don’t want to download an app? Vudu can be watched on any modern browser. We’ve tested it on a MacBook in Chrome and Firefox with wonderful results. Make sure you close unneeded tabs and other open windows when you’re streaming for the smoothest experience.

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.