Why Walmart’s Disc-to-Digital Program Isn’t Such a Bad Idea

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.


  1. Bryan

    These two statements on VUDU’s website give me pause:

    “Upgrade your collection to HD/HDX* digital video with Dolby® Digital Plus Surround Sound”

    “* HD/HDX is not available on all devices or films.”

    So . . . what’s to determine if I get the HD or HDX version of the film? They deliberately don’t say, on any of the press releases or articles I’ve read on the program so far. If I can’t get HDX on a movie where an HDX option exists, then the whole program is a non-starter for me.

    • Josh Zyber

      I believe that if you pay the appropriate fee ($2 for a Blu-ray “equal exchange” or $5 for a DVD “upgrade”), you’ll get HDX if VUDU has it available for that title. Some films in the VUDU catalog are only available in SD, and some only go up to HD (720p). You can search for a movie title on their web site to see what resolutions they have it in.

      As for HDX not being available on all devices, I think that’s meant to refer to mobile devices. If you’re using a PS3 or a Blu-ray player that can otherwise get VUDU HDX, you should be fine.

    • “* HD/HDX is not available on all devices or films.”

      Pretty much, go into the device, search your movie, and see if there is an HD / HDX version available of your film. I need to start digging out my DVDs, but one I tried, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, wasn’t available at all, nor is “Dreamer” or “Flight of the Navigator” or “Titanic”, “The Little Mermaid”, Aladdin”, or “The Three Lives of Toamasina”.

      “Uptown Girls”, “Hide and Seek”, “Summer Magic”, “Definitely, Maybe”, “Parent Trap” (both versions), “Mary Poppins”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Singing In The Rain” are all available in HDX.

      “Help, I’m a Boy” is only available in SD, and doesn’t have the original German track (I have the German disc), and “The Gnome-Mobile” is only in SD, as is “Little Women”.

      Point is, just check and see what is available before dragging your discs down to the store. There are probably about a dozen that I am going to end up upgrading to HDX.

      What would be cool is if I could also bring in HD-DVDs, Laserdiscs and VHS.

  2. 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

    DAMN! I wanted HD versions of Parent Trap and Marry Poppins!

    Now, many titles only have HDX RENTALS available, and no option to buy. Will the Disc-to-Digital allow you to get unlimited streaming if the movie is only currently available for HDX rental?

    I still have discs that I am going to drag down there, as well as probably go down to the used movie store and pick up some DVDs for a couple of bucks a piece. There are quite a few movies I have avoided picking up in any format, hoping that HD versions would become available.

  3. August Lehe

    IT’s a GREAT idea, assuming your situation fits!

    You want a Blu Ray copy of Shepherd of the Hills without waiting five or ten years (or whenever). HULU has it in 1080. Yay!

  4. Count von Count

    If this were available through say Roku, I would try it out. It seems like it has the potential to be a cheaper Kaleidescape alternative.

    • WTF, its not available? I could have sworn I have seen it on Roku, but a quick internet search and a search through my Roku channels, and nothing. This really surprises me – Vudu is like available on everything. I got it on my TVs, my PS3, my Blu-Ray players, and on my XBox. Just shocks me that something as common as the Roku doesn’t have a Vudu app.

  5. Anybody heard how they intend to handle Season material of TV shows. Obviously they aren’t aiming this service just yet at this sort of thing but it’s bound to come up.

    I prefer iTunes but I have vudu on my PS3 and XBOX 360 and plan to take advantage of this for movies that aren’t available in Blu-Ray yet.

    I don’t like the idea of them marking up my disc though. But I guess we have to deal with something to prevent abuse of the service. As long as it’s not too big and ugly I’ll probably go for it, especially for upgrading DVD’s of which I have a ton.