Subject: General Tech | March 14, 2012 - 03:34 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: walmart, vudu, ultraviolet, ripping, movies, hd, dvd, digital
Walmart Offering DVD Disc to Vudu Digital Copy conversion for cheap, but there is a caveat.
(Preface) Despite the iron fist fighting innovation and locking down media that is the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), many tech savvy people have employed certain programs and disc drives to rip their physical DVD and Blu-ray collections to digital files that can act as backups and can be easily streamed around the house or over the Internet when you are out and about. The movie studios definitely do not like this practice; however, there is little that they can do about it (and as far as opinions go, they shouldn't). Slowly but surely the world is prodding them with a giant stick of common sense and they are starting to wake up, however. Many DVDs and Blu-rays now come with digital copies that can be unlocked and played via Itunes or Windows Media Player. (Sure, they are DRM'ed but it is a step in the right direction.)
And even more recently, several movie studios have started experimenting with the idea of stream-able copies of physical discs using their Ultra Violet DRM. The official description of Ultra Violet is as follows.
"UltraViolet (UVVU or UV for short) is an an ecosystem for interoperable electronic content. It's a branded set of specifications and agreements along with a centralized rights clearinghouse that allows retailers to sell movies that play on UltraViolet-compatible players and services."
Needless to say, the official word isn't too helpful for those not studying law or marketing (heh). Basically it is a set of standards (including DRM) that other services and retailers can follow and sell access to a library of digital movies from participating movie studios. The standards specify that Ultraviolet movies should be download-able to UV compliant devices; however, at time of writing only streaming devices are commonplace. The way Ultra Violet works is that certain physical disc purchases will have a code that can then be used to redeem a digital copy that can then be streamed to PCs, TVs, and other supported devices (which they estimate at around 300+ devices).
Walmart's approach is a bit different than that but follows the same Ultraviolet DRM and standards. The new Walmart Entertainment conversion service will allow customers to bring in their DVD or Blu-ray collection and for a $2 a disc will be given access to a digital version of that film through their subsidiary company VUDU's movie service. Because Walmart has a deal with the appropriate studios, they are able to convert the movies for a small fee and without needing to rip the discs. Instead, at the Photo Center, employees will examine the discs, then find the matching movie (if there is one, of course) on the VUDU service and add it to the customers VUDU account (or create a new account if they do not already have an existing VUDU account). According to Walmart, the movies will be available for streaming within a few minutes of activation, and customers will be allowed to keep their physical discs.
Further, customers will be able to upgrade their DVD's to an HD (not Blu-ray quality but better than DVD) VUDU copy for $5 (or $3 more than a standard conversion). The wording of the press release is a bit ambiguous but seems to suggest that DVD to SD VUDU and Blu-ray to HD VUDU count as "standard conversions" due to their "equal conversions" description. Only DVDs to HD will be at the higher priced conversion (we'll get clarification on this, so stay tuned for an update).
As mentioned above, there are a couple caveats to this new conversion service. Mainly, the digital copies are (currently) only stream-able, meaning a constant internet connection is required. This point may be moot in a few months when downloads are allegedly going to be supported by Ultraviolet DRM, but at the time of writing still exists. Also, there is the fact that the files are DRM'ed, meaning that customers are out of luck if VUDU shuts down their service or they do not have Ultraviolet approved devices. The major negative that tech savvy people are likely to bring up is that the service costs money for DRM protected files when they are able to rip their DVDs and Blu-rays on their own for free and do whatever they want with the non-DRM'ed files. Finally, the service is further limited by studio support and VUDUs catalog, meaning that they may not be able to convert all of your collection for DVDs or Blu-rays that are not available on VUDU.
It is a valid point; however, it should be noted that while it is rarely enforced, the DMCA makes ripping DVDs and Blu-ray discs illegal (because the programs need to break the encryption to copy the video to the computer). Also, the Walmart service does have the benefit of cheap HD upgrades for your DVD collection at $5 a pop versus $20+ for Blu-ray versions, and it is a heck of a lot faster than waiting for the Handbrake transcoding queues to finish!
In the end, the new DVD and Blu-ray disc to digital conversion service is not perfect; however, it is a step in the right direction and a decent option for anyone that does not have the time or knowledge to rip their own DVD or Blu-ray collection. For example, this is something I could see my family members using as a good way to backup their collection and prevent the situation where their kids favorite movie will no longer play because they stepped on it and threw it like a Frisbee (and the ensuing tantrum hehe). And if they get to the point where the files are no longer DRM'ed I would definitely consider it because of the time saved in converting and cheap HD upgrade (there have been very few movies I've spent the extra money on to get the Blu-ray version whereas I'm less selective about cheaper DVD purchases).