Walmart's Vudu-Only Chromecast Knockoff Somehow Wasn't Just a Bad Dream

There's too much year left to name Vudu Spark the worst gadget of 2015. But it will without question go down as the most cynical.

The Vudu Spark, for those blessed with not yet being familiar, is a streaming dongle sold by Walmart that literally only streams movies and TV shows from Vudu, a streaming service owned by Walmart. It's true! You're thinking that many parts of that sentence can't possibly be true, but all of it is.

Put another way, it's like a Roku Stick that arbitrarily denied you access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, or any of the other reasons you might actually own a Roku Stick. And another: Owning dedicated Vudu hardware is sort of like buying a smartphone whose only available app is Flappy Bird, and a lot like a big box corporation banking heavily on its customers not knowing any better.

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This is not a knock on Vudu itself, which as far as streaming movie and TV show rentals is... fine? It's fine. But for Walmart to sell a $25 dongle to its customers that can do nothing but Vudu (no really, check the user manual), when there are $35 and $50 options that can access Vudu and also literally thousands of other sources of entertainment? When Vudu itself is already available on 64 Blu-ray players, 131 HDTVs, four consoles (sorry, Wii U), and 39 other streaming dongles and boxes and so on, for a grand total of 238 previously existing ways to get your Vudu fix? All of which also allow you a healthy variety of other entertainments as well.

There's more yelling about the Vudu Spark below, from back when it was just a rumor working its way through the FCC, if you are enjoying the rage feelings that are bubbling up inside you. In the meantime, if you see some poor soul contemplating one at your local Walmart, feel free to sidle up and quietly whisper Chromecast in their ear. Futile and bizarre? Sure. But no more so than the purchase from which you're trying to save them. [Vudu Spark via GigaOm]

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Walmart's Chromecast Knockoff Looks Like How They Stream in Hell

I suspect the Germans have a word for taking something great and then stripping it of everything remotely joyful until it's a cold hollow shell not fit for existence. Now I do too! Well, two words, I guess: Vudu Spark.

The Vudu Spark is not a thing you can purchase yet; as first reported by GigaOm, it is a "Chromecast competitor" from Walmart that is wending its way through the FCC. I say "Chromecast competitor" because while Chromecast features dozens of compatible apps, according to FCC filings the Vudu Spark only features one. Vudu. Which is also on Chromecast. Which means Vudu Spark is no more a Chromecast competitor than Don Zimmer's ghost competes with the Yankees.

That can't be right, you're thinking, as well you should, because you live in a world of rational actors, a pre-Vudu-Sparkian age of innocence. But look no further than the dongle's user manual, which is literally eight pages of how to set up your Wi-Fi followed by this:

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Uh huh, okay, just Vudu, got it, and then we get to go download other...

Oh okay cool but then on the next page is how to get like Hulu Plus and whatever, obviously, except there is no next page aside from fine print, most of which is was probably written in the throes of some sort of cackling, ether-induced madness.

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If the Vudu Spark does turn out to be a Vudu-only streaming stick, there are very few ways to make sense of it. It's possible that Walmart, which owns Vudu, thinks that enough of its billions and billions of customers won't realize that there are other, better options available. Or more specifically that literally every other option is better. Or maybe one (1) Vudu Spark will be given away free in select Monster Energy 12-packs?

The good news is, there's still time for this to be not-terrible. I got the following response from Vudu after reaching out for some clarity on the situation:

At VUDU, we're always looking at new ways for our customers to experience the movies and TV shows in their VUDU library. We're developing a streaming stick and will share more information in the coming months, so stay tuned.

When I asked if it would be exclusively Vudu—which, again, the FCC documents are clear about—the spokesperson said they'd have more to share in a few months. Hopefully that's because they're taking that time lining up streaming partners. And they did confirm that Vudu would still be available on as many other platforms as would have it.

A lot of unanswered questions! In the meantime, here is a picture of the Vudu Spark remote. It looks okay.

[FCC via GigaOM]

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