Recent news of the Walmart-exclusive Disc-to-Digital program, which allows customers to bring a DVD or Blu-ray into a Walmart store in order to receive an internet streaming version of the same movie for a small fee, was met with a lot of scoffing in some home theater circles. Why would someone want to pay again for a movie they already own, right? Especially since internet streaming still can’t match the quality of a good Blu-ray disc. Is there any point to this, other than to clear out some physical disc clutter? Well, it turns out that most of this skepticism is based on misconceptions of what the program really is. I can think of at least one scenario where this could be a really appealing option.
First, let’s clear up some confusion about how Disc-to-Digital works. Far too many of the early reports have referred to it as a “conversion” program, which implies that someone at Walmart will take your disc, rip the contents onto a computer, and upload the digital file onto a streaming server for you. That’s not the case at all. Walmart doesn’t “convert” anything to anything.
Disc-to-Digital is a simple rebate program for a new copy of the movie on a new format – in this case, internet streaming via the Walmart-owned VUDU service. This is a separate product from the DVD or Blu-ray. In order to use Disc-to-Digital, you have to open a (free) VUDU account. Once you’ve brought your DVD or Blu-ray into the Walmart store and paid the fee, Walmart will update your VUDU account with a credit for that title in your chosen resolution. You can then walk out of the store with your original disc (though Walmart will reportedly stamp the disc to prevent you from handing it off to someone else and letting them redeem it again). Disc-to-Digital doesn’t replace the physical disc in your collection. You’ll own the movie in both formats.
While VUDU is primarily considered a rental service (most rentals cost between $3-$6 and must be watched within a 24-hour period), it already offers the option to “purchase” many titles for unlimited streaming, generally for around $15-$20 or so. You can watch the movie any time, on any VUDU-supported device. With the Disc-to-Digital rebate, that price will be discounted so long as you prove ownership of the movie on DVD or Blu-ray. An “equal conversion” for standard DVD to SD, or for Blu-ray to high-def (either “HD” 720p or “HDX” 1080p), will run $2, while an “upgrade” from DVD to high-def will cost $5.
What’s in this for Walmart, you ask? Why would the retailer offer unlimited streaming purchases for the same rate that VUDU usually charges for 24-hour rentals? Two things: This program will bring a lot of attention and exposure to VUDU, or course. Perhaps even more importantly (from Walmart’s perspective) is the desire to drive customers into Walmart stores. To take advantage of Disc-to-Digital, you have to bring your movie discs to a retail location and redeem them at a kiosk in the Photo Center located at the back of the store. Getting people into its stores, where they will hopefully stop to do other shopping, is really one of the major purposes of this initiative.
Unfortunately, not every movie will be eligible or available for Disc-to-Digital. For one thing, the only participating movie studios are Warner Bros., Universal, Sony, Paramount and Fox. If, for example, you bring in a Disney DVD, that disc will be turned down. The program also only applies to titles for which VUDU already has streaming versions. While VUDU has a huge streaming catalog (visit the web site to browse), much larger than competitors like Netflix or CinemaNow, it’s certainly not all-encompassing of every film ever released on DVD or Blu-ray. You should check the web site for availability before bringing your discs to the Walmart store.
With that explained, why would you want a VUDU copy of a movie you already own on DVD or Blu-ray? The flexibility of being able to access your movie from any VUDU device is one possible reason. However, I suspect that this program will be most appealing for people who want to upgrade their standard-def DVD collections to high-definition without paying a full Blu-ray purchase price. Consider also that the VUDU catalog contains a lot of movies in HD or HDX that have never been released on Blu-ray, including a great many classic films and indie productions that may not come to Blu-ray anytime soon. Does $5 really seem unreasonable to upgrade a DVD to near-Blu-ray-quality 1080p? I can already think of a handful of titles in my collection that might compel me to take advantage of this program.
Disc-to-Digital officially starts on April 16th, 2012.