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By Howard Wolinsky

The iPod is the iCon for digital music. And TiVo, likewise, became the icon for personal video recording. But now there’s a new box in town with icon possibilities: VUDU, which delivers digital magic for video.

For the past few years, consumers have been able to download movies from the Internet and watch them on their computers. It was good enough.

VUDU steps up those possibilities to download movies for high-def, big-screen TVs, cutting the computer, although not the Internet, out of equation. VUDU moves video via a broadband pipe to its hard drive.

And you can take the three-pound VUDU box along with you for travel and family vacations — but only within the United States since VUDU won’t work outside the country.

The $295 system practically sets itself up.

VUDU offers more than 5,000 movies for download or rental, with five to 20 titles added each week. It has a mix of newer movies along older ones going back to the early 1900s silent movies.

VUDU covers all the genres, including action, adventure, documentaries, musicals, horror, science fiction and westerns. VUDU is great for family travel. It offers hundreds of family films, including "Ratatouille," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium."

Rentals cost 99 cents to $5.99. Movies sell for $4.99 to $24.99. There are no monthly fees. Your VUDU account is linked to your credit card.

With downloads on demand, VUDU is like Netflix, without having to wait for your flick find its way through the mail. It’s like going to the movies in your living room (or hotel rooms) without having to deal with the rude people in the next aisle or gum on the floor.

The interface is simple. With the sleek black remote in hand, you find movies by title and genre and create specialized searches, such as listing all the four- and five-star movies.  As a reminder, you can put movies on a wish list.

The VUDU box can be loaded with movies and taken on the vacation. Stored movies can be viewed without an Internet connection. If your hotel or vacation home has broadband service, you can download rentals or purchase flicks.

The picture is gorgeous. "The Bourne Ultimatum" took over my big screen and brought me along for a dizzying high-def ride. I enjoyed the hard-hitting "Eastern Promises" and the "Hairspray" remake.

VUDU has icon potential, but it’s not perfect. You will need a wireless router in your TV room or to set up an alternative, such as a wireless link.

Storage on the 250-gigabyte hard drive is limited to about 100 hours or 50 purchased movies. You can delete some titles you’ve purchased, but you would have to buy them again if you wanted an encore. Others can be removed from the hard drive with the ability to download them again without charge from VUDU’s archive. The latter is a better, more equitable arrangement. But the studios are probably dictating terms.

Some movies are only available from VUDU for rental and others only for purchase. Consumers would be best served if they could have both options.

If VUDU can address some of these issues, it could become a two-thumbs-up, four-star movie classic. But even as it is it will satisfy many movie fans.

VUDU can be purchased from, and a few electronics stores.

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Howard Wolinsky is a Chicago-based travel and technology writer, who enjoys toting a bag of gadgets along with him on his journeys.

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