Walmart Disc-to-Digital Not Ready For Prime Time?

Dave Zatz —  April 16, 2012

walmart-disc-to-digital

Wal-mart’s Disc-to-Digital service, launching under the Vudu brand, became available today. That’s the theory anyhow. Unfortunately, reps at two different local Walmart outposts tell me they haven’t yet been trained and I was unsuccessful in getting my discs “converted” during lunch.

Backing up a bit, this new service falls under the studio-backed UltraViolet initiative — which aims to provide a global content licensing and streaming catalog. Buy a DVD, get a digital copy. Buy a digital copy via Flixter, watch it on Vudu. Etc. And, while I had some initial doubts, it seems as if the component partners and pieces are actually starting to coalesce nicely. However, you’ll forgive me for remaining skeptical and apprehensive in the licensing of digital content… given the abandonment of other relatively prominent solutions, such as Yahoo Music or Microsoft PlaysForSure. Not to mention my less-than-stellar experience today.

vudu-order

The way Disc-to-Digital is intended to work is that you show up at a Wal-mart with the DVDs or Blu-rays that you’d like “converted” for digital cloud storage. You can pre-print a list from Vudu.com or write it up when you arrive. Staff verify the content is available and link the videos to your Vudu UltraViolet account. You get to retain your discs, but to prevent abuse, they’re stamped. SD access runs $2, while upgrading a DVD to HD quality is $5.

As it turns out, we just sold our house and, in an attempt to reduce clutter, I’m trashing all my DVD cases. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to take some titles digital… with potentially better quality than a Handbrake rip would provide. Unfortunately, due to limited studio participation and licensing, less than 50% of my discs quality for “conversion.”

I had hoped to blog how great it was to both modernize and upgrade my dusty disc collection via Walmart’s Disc-to-Digital. But after an hour at the Walmart, it wasn’t meant to be. Not today, anyway. Between the missing stamp, inability of staff to log into the Vudu account, and needing to receive a call back from a different group for further assistance, we couldn’t get it done. After a rocky start, I will say the rep tried to be helpful and was quite tenacious – even offering to call me later in the day once she figured it out. But I’ve let her off the hook. And might try again again later in the week… assuming the stamp has been found and the process has been mastered.

24 responses to Walmart Disc-to-Digital Not Ready For Prime Time?

  1. Of course, this is just one man’s experience. Consumer Reports, USA Today, and The LA Times received pre-launch access last week… and had much better luck. However, I do assume Walmart ensured staff at those particular stores were ready for their mainstream media customers.

  2. With the sheer number of Walmarts in the US, I’m not surprised that the rollout is going slowly.

    So, as I understand UltraViolet, the movies you “convert” will be added to your Vudu account and also registered as movies you own with your UltraViolet account? So in theory it could even be watched on another service that is an UltraViolet member? Am I understanding it correctly?

    I’m cautious about a service that hasn’t proven itself, but the promise of a single license that is accepted across services is pretty awesome. I doubt it will work, though.

  3. Yah, you got it right. Flixter (owned by Warner Brothers) has been giving out free UltraViolet-licensed movies. I’m up to three. I linked my online Vudu account to my UltraViolet account this AM, and all three movies were visible from Vudu. Better yet would be Roku and TiVo UltraViolet access. But ya gotta start somewhere. (Best Buy is a member of the UltraViolet alliance – wonder if they’ll implement a similar disc “conversion” service under their CinemaNow brand?)

  4. Thanks for writing about your experience Dave. When this was announced I was curious how easy it would be for everyday people to convert their movies to digital copies.

    One way the movie industry could really make it better is by automating the whole thing through a kiosk (think mashup of an ATM machine and a Redbox machine). You slide the disc in, the system automatically recognizes the movie, stamps it from the inside and adds it to your library. Although it would be cool and efficient, I’m not sure if the increased cost would be offset by people converting their movies.

  5. I was going to Walmart today anyway but after hearing what you said Dave I decided to not even bring my discs in but I did ask the guy like I tweeted and he said he had not been trained. So I told him that probably meant he would not know if I could convert my HD-DVDs and he gave me a blank stare. Another buddy went to one of the busiest Walmart’s in the area and they were even more clueless apparently and didn’t even have signage like they did at the store I went to. This really isn’t that surprising to me. The thing that really ticks me off is that of the 18 Ultraviolet movies I already have only 3 are in HDX on my Vudu account. The free ones I got from Flixster are in SD and that is no surprise but so are all the Warner & Universal titles that I redeemed from Blu-ray discs (a few Warner movies are not in there either). The only Sony title I have does not even show up in Vudu. So it looks like so far with Warner, Sony, and Universal titles I might as well pay for the cheaper non-digital copy version and head right over to the photo department and convert it to HDX for $2 then sell the SD Ultraviolet copy on Ebay. I am a big fan of Ultraviolet but the way most of the studios have handled it, particularly Warner, has been frustrating.

  6. I’ll need to check this out Saturday morning before Walmart gets crowded. I’m really curious if they will deal with my HD DVD titles.

    I’ll need to go through the list of available titles sometime this week.

  7. Ultraviolet seems like a good idea, but until everyone is on board (i.e. Apple, Disney, etc) I’m not sure how useful (or successful) it will be.

    Currently the distribution is limited. Vudu is a good start (it’s SD only on the iPad though), but until you can buy once and get it from anywhere (buy on iTunes, get from Amazon, PSN, Xbox Live for example), it’s pretty useless.

    Even companies that are part of the UV alliance aren’t consistent. Case in point, Sony Pictures is a member of the UV alliance, but a movie bought off of the PSN video store can only be played on the PS3. Yes I realize that Sony Pictures and Sony Entertainment Network are different divisions, but they are still all part of Sony.

    Until UV is true “buy once play anywhere”, I don’t see it succeeding.

  8. Since I’m pretty deeply in the bed with iTunes, having my “digital copies” of several DVD/Blu-Ray movies “in the cloud” for free is nice. I can play them on my iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, PC or Mac. Acceptable enough that I didn’t bother ripping the disks that came with digital copies. Based on the commentary to date on the Engadget HD podcast I didn’t have much hope for Ultraviolet, and this certainly reinforces that. Will be interesting to see what happens with this going forward.

    I did run into a glitch with AnyDVD over the weekend ripping my personal copy of Finding Nemo (error decoding CSS?) but Xilisoft DVD Ripper handled it without complaint.

  9. Every disc, I’ve come across that included a digital copy, only included an SD copy though, even ones with a code to download the video via iTunes.

  10. If Amazon starts either including download rights for physical movies that you buy, or offering HD upgrade rights for physical disks you’ve bought in the past, that would be an interesting move. I can’t imagine them offering a service like this thru the mail though, meaning where you have to ship your disks back to them…

  11. “with potentially better quality than a Handbrake rip would provide.”

    I’m not sure I follow the logic here. Of course Handbrake will get you a better quality rip if you ask for a bitrate and multipass encode to your desires. Hell, you can even just use different freeware to remux the Bluray with zero quality degradation if you want to allocate the local disk space.

    The tradeoff is having to manage locally cached files, and serve them with something like Plex to both the lean-back and mobile devices. But that’s something different than “better quality than a Handbrake rip”.

    (And hallelujah. For the first time since the Thailand floods, 4GB drives are finally starting to drop in price. Starting to get closer to making economic sense…)

  12. “I’m not sure I follow the logic here.”

    If they are upgrading DVD’s to HD, then I do follow the logic.

  13. Yes, upgrading from DVD to 1080p. Plus, over the years I’ve had various encoding problems here and there – with this sort of solution, someone else figures it out before I get around to viewing it.

    Anyhow, my wife and I decided to run out for some frozen yogurt, so I gave Walmart another try… with lowered expectations and fewer discs. Again the counter person (a different one) had no idea, but he grabbed the more senior person who I’d actually been working with 7 hours earlier. She let me know she had been on the phone with the Vudu support for 2 hours to get things going and that her situation wasn’t unique amongst Walmart stores. She still doesn’t have a stamp and one will be sent, but she was ultimately able to link my three DVDs to the HD cloud content for $15. I was the first at this store although another gentleman was there with a pile of discs – unfortunately, they couldn’t bring up his Vudu/UltraViolet account in their system.

    At some point I suppose I should actually view the video and report back. But I’m beat.

  14. While I’m not interested in either of the DVD options – SD for $2 or upconverting to HD for $5 – I may take the time, and a couple dollars each, to convert a few Blu-ray discs. Considering I have purchased 20-25 movies on Vudu in the recent past, this might be a good way to expand that library. I’ll be on the road for the next few weeks so hopefully my local Walmart will have all the kinks worked out and be up to speed by the time I get home.

  15. “Every disc, I’ve come across that included a digital copy, only included an SD copy though, even ones with a code to download the video via iTunes.”

    With the recent video iCloud integration, you can get these in 1080p HD on the new apple tv and iPad, 720p on the last apple tv and iPad.

    I also believe a redownload (now possible) may net you a HD copy… I’ll have to try that later.

    As far as ultraviolet is conserned… I tried a digital copy of Green Lantern that came with my disc. Sign up was painful. UV / WB / and Flixter, AirPlay blocked so no lean back for me. All and all I favor iTunes and plan to on purpose not activate (or not buy) discs that come with UV. I would never pay a la carte for digital content.

  16. The problem with all of these services is that when they go belly up you’re back at square one.

    There have been a number of music and video services where they kept your content which have popped up and died off. It just leaves you stuck.

    What amazes me is that the solution is out there and super easy:

    Offer DRM-free movies on Amazon, iTunes, etc. Give me a copy that can work everywhere (or easily be converted, if I have to go that route).

    For example, I should be able to download a DRM free movie from Amazon (some standard – MKV or H.264 – yes, I know this is the envelope and not the codec but the idea is I get a quality version of the movie in a standard format), import it into iTunes, and if I put it on my iPad or iPhone then iTunes should take that standard format and convert it for me for the iPad. That should be the end of it.

    If I move over to Android next year then I’ll just import the original movie into whatever software syncs Android and let it convert the movie.

    All of these various lock-down schemes do one thing: teach people how to remove copy protection and convert movies. It’s not a useful skill they’ll ever sell but it’s handy for getting what they want: being able to watch the movie they paid for anywhere they want.

  17. @Jon

    I checked iTunes prior to posting. Movies I’ve purchased can be downloaded at 720p or 1080p. “Free” digital copies are still only SD.

    Now this was the old pre-UV digital copy discs. Maybe that’s changed now, but since Apple isn’t part of the UV group, I doubt it will be any different.

  18. @Morac et al,

    I entered a few digital copies on my computer at home recently, and I certainly don’t see them in my iTunes on this laptop. I *can* see some music videos I purchase with little iCloud icons next to them, but doing the math on one of them (Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition if you must know) it looks like its around 1.7Mbps which certainly doesn’t sound like HD. And I’m certain I purchased this on my Apple TV in this case, so I’m not sure all content is being upgraded to HD in iCloud…

  19. An update. Ben Drawbaugh (EngadgetHD) and Gabe (Tech of the Hub) both visited their respective local Walmarts yesterday… and left empty handed. So it’s clearly not just my outpost that has probs.

  20. Another update… Gabe of Tech of the Hub took a look at my Vudu UV flicks via his new Panasonic Blu-ray player. Quality seemed very good, although he could tell it wasn’t Blu-ray. Interestingly, one of the HD movies only had stereo audio – which he assumes is due to a bad/wrong encode. Hopefully they’ll upgrade it at some point (without requiring me to call the issue is).

  21. I went to Walmart today and converted 4 Blu-rays and did not have a single issue. These movies even came with iTunes copies in the box so now I have both Vudu and iTunes copies for my library. My store even had the stamp in the photo lab.

    I will let you all know though that the stamp comes right off if you use a standard issue alcohol wipe since it is just a simple black ink stamp. I’m picky that I don’t want the “Walmart Entertainment” stamp messing up my Blu-ray discs.

  22. I walked my local Walmart team through the process. Extremely simple.

  23. jrpulver@msn.com November 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    what is the purpose of purchasing the movies when vudu no longer views them. I bought the movie and vudu no long stream the movie so now i am back to not being able to watch that movie

  24. It is now DECEMBER 12, 2012 (12/12/12).
    In Mount Juliet, Tennessee – today, I stopped at our Wal-Mart, and they have ZERO clue, so I left without my copy converted. SO frustrating! You had this problem in APRIL, and NOW IT IS DECEMBER and Wally World employees still are clueless. Really, this ** IS ** T-H-E job of the photo department, from now, into the forseeable future – since people rarely have film developed any longer.

    As for folks talking about HD and/or Blu Ray being SO much better – I have yet to see that. I have watched both BluRay and SD, and as long as my Samsung Bluray player upconverts as well as it does, I see NO significant difference in the upconverted SD movie and the BluRay.