Walmart wants to digitize your movie collection

As we slowly transition from a society that surrounds itself with plastic discs containing media into an enlightened species unburdened by clutter and embracing the cloud (hyperbolic enough for you?) we're faced with one question over and over again: "What about all my old stuff??"

With music it was pretty easy if a bit time consuming: we ripped our CDs and uploaded the resulting MP3s into the cloud. Movies are a bit more challenging though. It's possible to rip movies but it isn't as easy as it is for music, and there are questions of legality involved, at least in the US. My layman's understanding is that it isn't illegal to rip a movie, but it's illegal to break the DRM on the movie, which you have to do to rip it. If I have that wrong, perhaps a lawyer can correct me in the comments. If I have it right, then we live in a weird country.

Anyway now Walmart, of all places, is going to make transitioning your movie collection from physical to digital a little bit easier, assuming you're OK with using Vudu. Details are still a little unclear, but the basic idea seems to be that you take your disk-based movies into a Walmart and pay $2 to get that movie added to your Vudu account. You keep the disk so now you've got both physical and digital versions of your collection. You can also opt to upgrade to HD for $5. In other words, you can take in a DVD, pay $5 and get the HD version of a film added to your Vudu account.

Of course there're going to be some caveats. If a piece of content isn't available on Vudu you're out of luck, for one thing. For another, the studios have to be on-board. So far 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony Pictures, Paramount, and Warner Bros. have all agreed to take part in the program.

As part of the same deal, if you've purchased any recent movies that come bundled with Ultraviolet digital copies, you can transfer your Ultraviolet licenses to Vudu, too.

The name of the program is "Disc to Digital" and it's supposed to roll out on April 16th at over 3,500 Walmart stores. Here's a walk-through of the process from Walmart's press release:

The process to convert previously-purchased DVD/Blu-ray movies to digital copies is quick and simple:
  • Bring your movie collections from the participating studio partners – Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. – to your local Walmart Photo Center.
  • A Walmart associate will help you create a free VUDU account.
  • Tell the associate how you'd like your movies converted:
    • Convert a standard DVD or Blu-ray movie for $2; or,
    • Upgrade a standard DVD to an HD digital copy for $5.
  • Walmart will authorize the digital copies and place them in your VUDU account. No upload is necessary, and you get to keep your physical discs.
  • Log onto from more than 300 Internet-connected devices to view movies any time, any place.

In order to make use of this service you need a Vudu account and a way to watch your Vudu movies. Vudu is available on a variety of Blu-ray players and smart TVs, on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, on the iPad and on a variety of other streaming boxes like the Boxee box. Check Vudu's site for a full list. I've watched a couple of Vudu movies via my PS3 and have been pleased with the quality of the stream.

One question I still have is, what about TV shows? The press release and all the coverage I've read has only mentioned movies, but Vudu does offer TV shows as well. And if TV shows are covered, will it cost us $2 for a season or $2/disk? I guess we'll have to wait and see once the service launches.

Immediate reaction online seems to be generally negative about Disk to Digital, but I think it's a great idea and I do plan to take advantage of it with some of my movie collection; titles that I tend to watch again and again. I'll also probably spend the $5 to finally upgrade some of my DVD favorites to HD, too.

I understand the arguments people are making: you're paying twice for the same content and you can use Handbrake or something to rip your movies and store them on a media server that you maintain. If that works for you, more power to you. Personally I'm happy paying $2 to have someone else effectively do that work for me and Walmart is probably correct in assuming there are a lot of people who feel the same way. But I guess we'll see, come April 16th.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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