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Is Walmart's Disc-to-Digital Service Worth the Time and Money?

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disc-to-digital.jpgWhen I first heard about Walmart's Disc-to-Digital service, which allows you create digital copies of your DVDs and Blu-ray discs for a fee, my first thought was, why would anyone pay a fee for this service when you can already do this on your computer for free? My second thought was, is Walmart really the company to tackle this experiment? Rather than just sit back and question the service, I decided to try it for myself.

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The basic idea behind Disc-to-Digital is this: Bring your physical discs to Walmart to prove that you own them, and the store will authorize access to a digital copy that you can view through the company's VUDU video-on-demand service. The cost is $2 to get an SD version of a DVD or an HD version of a Blu-ray disc; for $5, you can upgrade your DVD to an HD digital copy. Disc-to-Digital uses the new UltraViolet digital-locker system. Walmart links the digital copies to VUDU, which is accessible through any Web browser and a wide range of TVs, Blu-ray players, and standalone streaming media products. You can get a list of VUDU-supported devices here.

The first step in the process is to create an account on VUDU's website. I already have an account, so I simply signed in and went to the Disc-to-Digital page, where the next step is to create a list of movies that you want in digital form. Remember, it has to be a disc you already own, and the movie has to be on the list of supported Disc-to-Digital titles. Just because a title is offered through VUDU's rent or purchase catalog doesn't mean that same title is available through Disc-to-Digital; in fact, the amount of titles is fairly limited right now. Walmart currently has deals with most of the major studios, including Paramount, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, and DreamWorks; however, only select titles are available at this stage, with more to come.

The web page has very limited browsing ability--it shows you about 30 titles of the company's choosing, with no option to browse by genre, actor, etc. Your best bet is to decide what titles from your collection you might want in digital form, then use the Search function to see if they are on the list. In my case, my first search was for DreamWorks' "Madagascar"--this is one of my daughter's favorite DVDs, and it's now too scratched up to play reliably. So, I thought it would be a perfect candidate...too bad it wasn't on the list. ("Madagascar 2" was available, though.) While we're on the subject of family films, you may have noticed that Disney is not a partner (Disney is working on its own digital locker system called KeyChest). That's a huge drawback, as I think parents of young children would be the first to embrace this idea. They've already purchased a whole catalog of movies for their kids and don't want to buy them again in digital form, so the $2/disc conversion might be appealing. But alas, no Disney, which eliminated virtually all of the other children's titles on my list.

From my grown-up collection, I ultimately selected "The Matrix" (DVD), "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (DVD), and "Iron Man" (BD). Before I could add these three titles to my movie list, I was informed that I needed to create an UltraViolet account, which involved entering a birthdate/password and accepting terms of use (I later received in email telling me to complete a few more account-authorization steps). Once I added the titles to my list, I was told to print said list and take it to my local Walmart. The printed form clearly tells you to take your list to the Photo Center, but it does not remind you to bring your discs with you to the store--a point I think should be made a lot more obvious.

Continue on to Page 2 to ffind out what happened in the aisles of Wal-Mart . . .

continue to page two
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