Wal-Mart's disc-to-digital service is simple, if you know Vudu
I brought nine DVDs to Wal-Mart, waited maybe 10 minutes for an associate to enter them into a computer, and when I got home they were ready to stream on my TV and PC.
Wal-Mart's new "disc-to-digital" service, which was shown off to the media this week before launching nationwide on Monday, is that easy. But I'll be honest: It helps a lot that I've used the retail giant's digital movie service Vudu before and know how to use it on my Xbox 360 and computer.
At the front of the Wal-Mart in the Los Angeles suburb of Rosemead is a sign promoting "Walmart Entertainment, powered by Vudu" and offering "digital movie conversion" at a price of $2 for "same quality" or $5 to upgrade from a standard DVD to hi-def. Walking to the back of the store where photos are printed, I found another "Vudu" sign and a clerk ready to convert my discs.
The process itself was surprisingly painless -- a rarity in the digital world where format problems and rights restrictions drive so many consumers batty. I simply filled out a form listing my movies and whether I wanted to upgrade the standard DVDs to hi-def, along with the email address associated with my Vudu account. (If I hadn't already had an account, they would have set one up for me.)
Then Wal-Mart employees, as I watched, simply entered the same info into a computer. And they stamped the words "Walmart Entertainment" onto the back of each disc, to ensure I didn't loan the same movies to a friend to put into their Vudu account. (Walmart and the studios should be grateful if the service becomes popular enough that they have that problem.)
I went home, turned on Vudu, and there the movies were. With a few clicks I was watching "Star Trek" on my TV via the Xbox in more-than-adequate hi-def quality. (It looked good, though not as good as a Blu-ray disc.) I did the same thing on my computer, though my tiny laptop doesn't make for much of a cinematic experience.
But let's be honest: I'm a pretty digital-savvy guy. If you haven't used Vudu before, finding the movies when you get home can be trouble. Especially if you're trying to figure out how to activate Vudu on one of the many devices that can put it on your TV. This is for people who are comfortable getting their movies from the Internet.
Luckily for the studios, though, that's more and more of us every day (thanks largely, thus far, to Netflix). Disc-to-digital provides a relatively painless way to at least move the films you already own into the digital environment.
But not all of them, it should be noted. Only certain movies from certain studios can currently be converted to digital. Wal-Mart provided me with a list, the same one that will be posted on the Vudu website, so that I didn't waste my time with unavailable films. But it was a bummer I couldn't bring some of my favorites, like Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" or the Michael Douglas comedy "Wonder Boys."
Whether it's worth $2, or $5, for a movie you already paid for is, of course, up for debate. I figure there's certainly some value to being able to access your films outside the house without carrying around all those discs. And to not having to worry that your investment is ruined if your DVD gets scratched or lost or drooled on by the dog.
A final note: Wal-Mart's disc-to-digital service is part of a larger initiative by the company to make Vudu part of the Ultraviolet consortium of studios, retailers and tech companies backing a single way to buy and store movies online. But Vudu doesn't seem to be integrated with Ultraviolet yet.
While my "disc-to-digital" films are on Vudu, movies I previously bought for my Ultraviolet "digital locker" aren't there. And the films I converted at Wal-Mart aren't in my Ultraviolet locker when I access it via partner site Flixster. [Update, 3:30 p.m.: A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said that Vudu will link to Ultraviolet lockers by the time the disc-to-digital service launches to the public on Monday.]
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: Movies converted via disc-to-digital on the Vudu website.