Walmart’s Disc-to-Digital Service: What’s Right, What’s Wrong

March 14, 2012

Walmart Powered by VUDU logo

Walmart recently announced a new service called “Disc-to-Digital”. Starting April 16th, you can bring your DVDs and Blu-rays into Walmart and they will “convert” them into digital copies for a fee. Once converted, they can be streamed from Walmart’s VUDU video streaming service to a number of smartphones, tablets, Blu-ray players, streaming devices and the Playstation3. To see how the service will work, check out the video below. Sounds good, right?

As previously discussed, the winners of the digital video war will be determined by content, convenience and cost. Let’s look at how Walmart does on each count.


The service is fairly comprehensive with content.  Most of the major studios are all on-board: Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Centry Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers with Disney being absent. In contrast to this, Apple is still working on getting the rights for iTunes Digital copies from Fox and Universal. iTunes Digital Copies come with select Blu-rays and DVDs.

Convenience and Cost

Walmart describes the service like this: “The freedom to watch your movies any time, any place is here!” However, to enjoy this freedom I have to go into a retail Walmart store. That feels pretty inconvenient. Having to go into the store feels like an attempt at theater. In the age of the Internet, there’s got to be a better way to to have the movies show up in my VUDU account. Walmart will then physically stamp my DVD or Blu-ray so the disc can’t be authorized again. I might give it to my friend who will have pay Walmart a second time. In another words, they don’t trust me. It feels like you are being treated more like a thief than a customer.

Guess what? The people you can’t trust are never going to come into the store and pay for Disc-to-Digital. They will simply download the movie illegally.

I have to pay two dollars to be able to stream a movie I already own? Worse, I have to pay five dollars if I want it to stream in HD. Charging extra to upgrade to an HD copy feels like a missed opportunity to create some good will.

Contrast this with Apple’s approach with iTunes Digital Copy. iTunes Digital Copies are much more customer friendly. All I need to do is enter a code in iTunes and I’m all set to stream or download a digital copy of a movie. I also get iTunes extras if available  and an HD version if available. No tricks to get me to go into the Apple retail store. iTunes Music Match goes even further upgrading any of my iTunes music to a high quality track for a yearly fee.


While not one of the top three criteria, audio and video quality is still important to many consumers. According to Edward Lichty at VUDU, Disc-to-Digital movies will stream in 1080P. So, I can assume that it’s using VUDU’s HDX format which also supplies Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. The audio and video quality of VUDU streaming has been outstanding in my experience. Using VUDU to stream the movies was a good decision given the complexity of UltraViolet. While the announcement made reference to UltraViolet, how all of this will work with it is confusing and probably best left to another post (the link to Dan’s post below goes into that more).


To conclude, Dan Rayburn of Streaming Media analyzing the announcement summed it up quite well:

As a whole, the studios still don’t get it. They aren’t listening to consumers, they haven’t truly changed their way of thinking and their pricing and business models don’t make sense. In reality, a back-end system like UltraViolet that would allow such seamless viewing across all devices still hasn’t been created and it won’t be the studios that make it happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of putting my DVD collection in the cloud. I just don’t like the execution of Disc-to-Digital.



Tags: Apple, Blu-ray, iTunes, streaming, Ultraviolet, VUDU

7 Responses to Walmart’s Disc-to-Digital Service: What’s Right, What’s Wrong

  1. Starkenator on March 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I wanted to add that any movie upgraded at Walmart to Vudu digital gives you access to that content on any other Ultraviolet enabled device or application (e.g. Flixster on iOS) as well as anyone else on your Ultraviolet account (up to 6 total individuals).

  2. Ben Drawbaugh on March 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    It really isn’t fair to compare this to the iTunes cloud service as that only works with movies that included a Digital Copy, which can cost as much as $5 more than a similar bundle without a Digital Copy. If Apple let you put DVDs into your PC and get a cloud copy like it does for iTunes Match, now that would be more comparable to this.

    Also, there seems to be some confusion of the quality level of disc to digital HD titles, as highdefdigest is reporting it is 720p, not 1080p.

    • Gabe Gagliano on March 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm


      I would be bummed if Disc to Digital titles were limited to 720P. I couldn’t find the story you’re referring to. Do you have the link?

      My intention was not to do a comprehensive comparison between Walmart’s Disc-To-Digital to iTunes Digital Copy (even though I did compare a lot of the features). I was simply comparing the two services to illustrate there’s a better way to approach and think about the customer.
      Also, it would be awesome if iTunes Digital Copy was more like iTunes Music Match. Or if we could have a Digital Copy or UltraViolet like standard that everyone actually agreed to and was easy to use. Another alternative would be a Spotify-like service for movies (Netflix but with many more new releases). The market is big enough to support more than one type of consumption model.

      • Ben Drawbaugh on March 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm

        The cost of a Spotify like service for newer movies would cost a lot more than $10/mo, more like 30 or 40, so I doubt anyone would pay it. The studios want you to buy movies, so they want the per movie rental fee to be around $6. If you could watch all you wanted, it would have to be a much worse value than Netflix or Redbox or it would devalue the purchase.

        Disc-to-digital isn’t like the current iCloud because you don’t already own a digital version of the movie. Comparing it to how the UV Blu-ray titles like Horrible Bosses experience is spot on though. It is a new entitlement.

        • Gabe Gagliano on March 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm


          My original reporting was correct, Disc to Digital will be in HDX, 1080P. HighDefDigest has corrected their story.

          You’re right, a Spotify-like service would be too expensive. Another example where the studios need to change their mindset.

          I understand what you mean when you say Disc-to-Digital isn’t a Digital copy. However, from the consumer’s point of view isn’t it? They purchased a DVD which is a digital format. The bits are simply living on a physical medium. I know the studios charge extra for the “Digital Copy” which gives you the right to copy the bits to a device. While I can see why they charged extra when they had to package an extra disc, there’s no reason why now they can’t just include an authorization code and not charge extra. Once again the studios mindset around this and how the law addresses “Fair Use” around DVD ripping is out-dated.

  3. Mark on March 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Walmart isn’t the only disc to digital service. New Samsung bd players an do same upon insertion of physical media. See article on ultraviolet on our web site

  4. Dave on May 30, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I’m sorry but “Quality” happens to be my top priority – then content, convenience, and finally cost. Since the inception of bluray – I have only purchased HD content, and not primarily for the video – but for the lossless audio formats! You want me to pay for dumbed down DD+? Get real!!!! What they are offering is an inferior product. If small companies can find a way to make MKV’s from BD’s and retain the HD audio (like the multitude of rippers out there) – I believe companies like Wal-Mart and VuDu can provide the same service for people that want to keep it honest. I will not pay you extra money for a sub-par product.

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