Walmart Disc-to-Digital Service Available Via Vudu

Physical DVD and Blu-ray collections may soon be a thing of the past—the trend is clearly toward streaming movies from online sources. Walmart and the Hollywood movie studios know this, and they've responded by announcing the Walmart "Disc-to-Digital" service. I've been focusing on streaming media for a number of years, and I'm extremely excited about this forward movement by retailers and Hollywood movie studios.

The Disc-to-Digital service will begin April 16, 2012. Bring in your DVD and Blu-ray collection to one of the 3500 participating Walmart stores, and an employee will enter the titles into your Vudu account so you can stream them to any compatible device. For $2 per title, you will get access to a standard-definition version of any DVD and a high-definition version of a Blu-ray Disc. For $5, you can upgrade and get Vudu's Dolby Digital, 1080p HDX version of your DVD.

And while some may balk at the idea of paying for a title they already own, the studios reason that customers bought a disc and now they are buying a digital copy. After all, no one handed you a DVD of your VHS titles, nor a Blu-ray version of your DVDs. At least you don't have to pay full price for the digital movies as you would if you bought them from iTunes or Amazon.

Walmart spokesperson Sarah Spencer explained the process to me: When a customer comes into the store with their DVD and Blu-ray collection, an employee will check each disc against a list of verification standards to determine if it is eligible for Digital Copy access. Once verified, the employee will "grant the digital rights to the customer's Vudu account" so they can stream it to any computer or Vudu-enabled device. Walmart claims "it will take approximately six minutes for seven titles."

It's important to understand that you won't get access to every title in your movie collection. Firstly, only movies distributed by Paramount, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. are part of the Walmart Disc-to-Digital Vudu program. Notably, Disney and MGM are missing. And according to Spencer, while there will be "thousands of titles available to be converted," not every movie released by these studios will be eligible. Once the service launches, customers will be able to see what movies are available for the Disc-to-Digital service on the Vudu website.

The list of available titles will provide an insight into how the studios view digital streaming. Will the service be more like Netflix and include older, obscure titles? Will it include a small sampling of recent blockbusters in the same way that UltraViolet cloud access has only been offered on a handful of titles?

For those not familiar with it, UltraViolet launched in October 2011. Included on several Blu-ray movie titles, this feature provides the disc owner with access to the title in the UltraViolet cloud-streaming movie library. The process is cumbersome and confusing; frankly, it has yet to work for me.

When you purchase a movie that has UltraViolet, you are provided a registration code that puts the title in your UltraViolet online movie library. Theoretically, you can access these movies through a Flixster app to stream to a media player or mobile device. I have a couple of titles that I've registered, but I have not yet succeeded in streaming them.

UltraViolet is mentioned in Walmart's Disc-to-Digital program rollout, but this is confusing, since the service makes movies available through Vudu, not UltraViolet. There has been no official clarification regarding how UltraViolet is involved.

I spoke with a technology engineer familiar with streaming software, who indicated that the titles might actually be registered in an UltraViolet library but viewed through Vudu. While the movie would actually be streaming from an UltraViolet library, it would appear to be coming straight from Vudu as far as the user is concerned.

I have been unable to confirm this theory, but it does explain why UltraViolet is mentioned and why studio executives have said that the titles would be available in an UltraViolet library.

The movie-studio executives claim that this service will restore consumers' confidence in buying physical media—DVDs and Blu-ray Discs—because they can now watch those titles wherever they want, in the same way they can stream digital movies. Still, the Walmart Disc-to-Digital program is more likely a transition toward the day when movie delivery will become all-digital.

Consider this:

  • The Walmart Disc-to-Digital service brings more consumers onboard as digital customers. Walmart employees will literally hold the hands of people who have never experienced or are not comfortable with digital media, ushering them into the world of streaming.
  • Why would the studios continue manufacturing physical media when the profit margin would be so much greater for digital media that does not require replication, packaging, shipping, and more? Digital delivery is a boon for the studios' bottom line.
  • Walmart's Disc-to-Digital service fee is found money. This is profit that was undoubtedly not included in the original forecasts for the original disc releases.
  • Customers are getting used to renting movies or subscribing to streaming services. This will bring back the idea of owning a library of your favorite movie titles, reminding people that they should buy, not rent, digital movies that they want to watch over and over again. And it cements the studio's place in the future of home-entertainment delivery.

In 1998, I was working at a Good Guys electronics store, and a co-worker predicted that one day we would get all of our music and movies directly from online. It seemed like heresy and fantasy at the time, but it is no longer far-fetched. Hey, Raffi, your prediction is about to come true!

Schweich12's picture

"After all, no one handed you a DVD of your VHS titles, nor a Blu-ray version of your DVDs."

The problem with the studio thinking is that with the move to each new format, the consumer gained through an improved product. With DVD, I never had to rewind and, as long as my college roommates didn't use them as a coaster, the physical media was going to last for a very long time. With the move to Blu-ray, I stepped up to a vastly superior picture quality and a much higher sound quality. The move to the streaming model does not appear to have a quality increase that justify the cost. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a streaming service that competes with the picture quality of my Blu-ray disc and the sound quality is a step down as well. Paying to move to lower quality version of what I already own? No thank you.

JamesEStewartJr's picture

The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely. You still have your Bluray disk that you can play anytime you want on your home theater system. What you would have now is a copy of that movie online that you can watch on a connected mobile device. You are not really paying for something you already own. You are paying for cloud storage of your movie that allows you wider access to that movie. Consider the cost of a digital copy of the movies you already own. Ripping them yourself, each movie will be at least 2 Gb (roughly) for a standard definition rip. I don't have a bluray drive on either of my computers so I've never investigated tools that had the capability to rip HD. You're going to need someplace to store that movie and all others you're going to rip (and how long is that going to take exactly?) so you'll probably have to buy and external harddrive of a couple of terabytes or more to accomodate your collection. That harddrive is subject to eventual failure and/or obsolensence. It's not a matter of if it will fail but when. Okay, so now you have as much of your movie collection stored digitally as you have disk space for (and patience and time for the ripping process) but can you watch any of them on your iPad when you travel to Michigan to visit your brother and his family? Well, yes, but only if you copy the movie directly to the device. How many are you going to be able to take with you? With this service, you can theoretically have your entire movie collection with you wherever you go. I think a one-time charge of 2$ a movie is a great price for 2 Gb of cloud storage.

dkingnu's picture

Google Music allows you to upload up to 20,000 for free from your CD's and then you can stream them anywhere (phone, tablet, etc). I bet soon they cloud do the same for Blu Rays. That will be the end for this service (that is if it even ever gets off the ground). If anything they should allow you to upload them yourself for free. That would get people using vudu to buy new movies maybe.

F1Racing's picture

I'm not sure why a home-theater enthusiast who appreciates the vastly superior picture and sound quality of a Blue-Ray disc would waste his/her time on watching lower quality versions of the same movie to begin with. I could understand it if the material was a TV program, news or even a sports broadcast where quality is hit and miss anyway, but for serious movie watching- really?? With all the progress made by Blue-Ray Disc, home audio equipment and HD display devices, I don't know why anyone would buy into the "dumbed-down" experience offered by streaming in its current state. Perhaps it is because they don't know any differently. Why should our movie experience be compromised by low bit rates, data pipeline issues from ISPs, outdated sound processing technologies etc. when we have the best of the best at our disposal now until 4K becomes viable?
Until we see streaming technology that can match Blue Ray Disc with its seamless, best in class video and sound performance, all this stuff is taking us backward. Please note my comments are more directed at the statement that "Physical Blue Ray collections may be a thing of the past..." rather than criticizing the use of streaming for conveniently consuming everyday program material. Obviously there is a place for that. However for serious movie contest!

mastemaybe's picture

so I'll ask the dumb question:

what prevents me from handing my brother (5) of my blu rays (that he never bought) and waltzing into a walmart and gaining unlimited 1080 access to them via vudu?

Are the physical discs individually able to be "registered"? I have no idea.


kevon27's picture

Buy the bluray's at Walmart, sign up of the service and return the movies before you leave the store since you have not opened them.

kevon27's picture

The average user will not take advantage of this feature from Walmart. How many people know about Vudu? And How many devices have Vudu as an option compared to Netflix? Not many.
If someone wants a movie on the go, they will purchase the bluray with digital copy and DVD.
Having a "High Quality" version of a movie anywhere and time is a good idea BUT, since Vudu is streaming your are bound to the quality of your internet connection and caps the ISP may put on your connection.

I've tried Vudu on my PS3 and even with a FIOS connection, video quality fluctuated from time to time. Can you imaging trying to get decent quality when you are connected to a hotel WiFi or your Parents 768k dsl connection? A waist of time.

For us folks who frequent this site, what we want is to be able to rip our blurays at will and store them on our home servers so we can stream movies throughout the house with our more reliable LAN setup.

Barb Gonzalez's picture
First, some details (that I wondered about too): When you bring in the disc to Walmart, an employee will physically check the disc. There will be certain criteria it must pass to qualify for registration (I imagine it needs a UPC, the original disc, etc.) They will mark the disc in some way after it has been registered so, darn it, I can't bring in my brother-in-law's huge Blu-ray collection. As far as the quality issue is concerned...this service is about convenience not quality. Certainly you don't need the same quality on an iPhone or iPad as you do on a 55". That being said, if there is any streaming service out there that has been about high quality it's Vudu. With their HDX format, it's 1080p and digital surround sound. Yes, you and I can play around with digital copies and uploading but consider their audience: it's the consumer who has heard about streaming movies but hasn't figured out how to make it happen. They will be very happy to have someone do it for them. I compare it to scanning slides. There are many devices that can do it, but my mom still wanted to pay someone else. I'm sure the studios will be happy to hear you say that you won't give up your Blu-ray discs. For now, that's what they are hoping for.
P smo 63's picture

Unfortunatly, we here are the minority. Most people pick conveniance over quality. Take VHS over Beta, cd over album and Blu over HD-DVD...ok so the last one might be a stretch. But not the fact that, now days more people store or listen to their music in some form of downloaded!
The only way something like this will work is if the infrastructure of internet, whether cable or otherwise, boosted to 50+gig nation wide. Wouldnt that be the only way anyone could possibly hope to watch anything close to blu ray quality? My cable co says mine is 50, but its never tested above 30. Its not really much of an issue since its only $50 a month.
With over 100 HD and 150+ blu, I wont be converting anytime soon!!
I should hope anyone that works at this mag that is concerned about quality, wouldnt want it either.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
Of course, we here at HT are greatly concerned about quality, which is why we prefer Blu-ray over all other forms of A/V delivery. But we are also realists, and we know that there are plenty of situations in which you can't watch your Blu-rays on your home-theater system...say, while you're on vacation. In these circumstances, I'm glad there's a way to view my content online. Does it equal Blu-ray quality? Of course not. But it provides an alternative when Blu-ray is not available.

I don't see this as an either-or proposition. It's not quality OR convenience, it's quality AND convenience. You're not giving up anything, you're just adding another option.

K-hud's picture

This is the dumbest idea.

"Hi - I'd like to give you my Ferrari Enzo for you to keep so that I can drive a Toyota Prius anywhere I go in the country..."

And let's not fantasize that once it's in Walmart's Cloud that you still own it. Read any software agreement and they ALWAYS state that they can change the rules any time to any thing and you don't even get notified or have a say.

They could pull back your movie and say adios!

No thanks. I'll keep my archaic blu rays (over 300 of them) and play my high quality audio/video any time I like WITHOUT your permission.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
To continue with your analogy, this is not giving up the Ferrari for a Prius, it's keeping the Ferrari and adding a Prius. When you want the highest possible performance, you drive the Ferrari (watch the Blu-ray in your home theater), but when you want to save gas, you drive the Prius (watch your content on a mobile device when you're not at home). You have greater choice without having to give up one for the other. This program does not make you give up your Blu-rays, it adds streaming versions of them to your available library.

As for software agreements and DRM, you are right that they are a real morass at the moment, and this is not likely to get better any time soon. But you're not giving anything up with this program except $2 per title for greater access to your content.

EveryCritic's picture

This idea seems to be trying to fill a need that doesn't exist.

The folks who own and collect movies are generally the enthusiasts. They are the ones who buy the discs with the additional material, want the best sound and video and sit down to really WATCH and concentrate on the films. They aren't as interested in watching on a 3 1/2 inch screen while "on the go." They also take a collector's pride in seeing the titles on a shelf. That's why DVD sales are down. After the novelty of movie ownership wore off for the masses, the true devotees are left to continue buying.

The people who do like to watch movies on a 3 1/2 inch screen --- or on an iPad in the middle of a crowded/noisy coffee house --- or while running from room to room multitasking... are the folks who probably wouldn't want to keep the film anyhow. They are the ones chucking their collections.

So why do you need to BUY a digital copy when you can just rent one?

Remember when everyone said that downloading music was the 100% future? Well, we already are in the post-downloading era. The true music enthusiasts are largely buying their albums on CD (yes, CDs are still slightly in the lead in terms of money spent) and vinyl LPs and those without the collector's mindset are streaming their music from Grooveshark, etc. (Obviously there is crossover; I speak in generalities.)

Buying digital copies to (maybe) access them 20 years in the future -- if the companies still exist and if they don't charge you too much and if you have a job and can afford to pay the Internet fee -- seems to be the new DIVX idea.

I don't need perpetual access to my movies. My living room is just fine, thank you. And I continued to watch them during the two years I was out of work and down to antenna TV and dial-up Internet connection.

THAT was money well spent!

EveryCritic's picture

Why would the studios continue manufacturing physical media when the profit margin would be so much greater for digital media that does not require replication, packaging, shipping, and more? Digital delivery is a boon for the studios' bottom line.

Because the vast majority of movie buyers still buy (when they buy) physical media.

Because buyers are collectors and collectors strive for real and/or perceived greater value. Digital files are still perceived to be temporary and easily "disappeared".

Because this country's broadband infrastructure is not now, nor will be for some 20 years, ready to go "all digital."

Because the economy is still in the shitter and many formerly middle-class homes are having to make do with slower connection speeds which makes streaming difficult or impossible.

Because they STILL haven't figured out how to make music downloading and streaming as financially viable as physical sales and they have been trying for over 12 years.

Because it's impossible to truly own ANYTHING which requires multiple third parties (any of whom which could decide to charge you additional fees in the future) in order to "play" your content.

That's why.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
You make some excellent points here; thanks!
prsmd01's picture

blu ray has the best quality, no doubt. But over the years, I have also collected many DVDs. And now, those same movies are also available in Blu-ray format. So am I going to spend another $10-$15 or even $20 on these movies that I already own? I'd rather take my DVDs to Walmart, convert them to HDX for $5 and then turn-in my DVDs to Best Buy for a $5 gift card (for each DVD) that I can use towards buying any Blu-ray in the future. It's a win-win situation. HDX is way superior than DVD and majority of viewers may not even be able to tell the difference between HDX and Blu-ray quality.