Last year, when Wal-Mart launched its Disc-to-Digital service, I tried it out and came away less than impressed. If you’re not familiar with the service, Disc-to-Digital allows you to get authorized digital copies of the DVD and Blu-ray movies you already own, to be stored in an UltraViolet digital locker and accessed through Walmart’s VUDU streaming service (or any UltraViolet-compatible service). The cost is $2 for a straight DVD or Blu-ray authorization and $5 to upgrade a DVD to an HD-quality digital copy.
At the time of my original story, the biggest drawback to the Disc-to-Digital service, at least for me, was the need to physically bring your discs to a local Wal-Mart to have an employee authorize the digital copies. My personal experience involved trips to two different stores and dealings with employees who either didn’t know how Disc-to-Digital worked or were too busy to help me. I’m happy to report that Wal-Mart has removed that step from the process, launching the In-Home Disc-to-Digital Service that allows anyone with a DVD/BD drive in their computer to authorize copies from home.
The new service is straightforward and easy to use. Simply go to the In-Home Disc-to-Digital page on VUDU’s website, create or sign in to your VUDU account (if you don’t have an UltraViolet account, you’ll have to create one during the setup process), and download the VUDU to Go application to your computer. In my case, I already had VUDU to Go, but needed to upgrade to a newer version to add the in-home service option. Once the new software was installed, I navigated to the Disc-to-Digital tab and began adding titles from my library by inserting the discs into my MacBook Pro’s DVD drive. The application scans your disc and tells you whether or not the movie is part of the Disc-to-Digital program (more on this in a moment); if it is, you can choose between the $2 copy or the $5 upgrade and add it to your cart. When you’re finished adding all the titles you want, then you just hit the checkout button. The credit card linked to your VUDU account will be charged, and the titles immediately appear in both your VUDU and UltraViolet libraries.
The VUDU to Go application doesn’t directly include the ability to browse and search for titles to see what’s available in the Disc-to-Digital catalog. Instead, you should keep the VUDU website open in your browser. The Disc-to-Digital page now has a helpful search tool to see if your movies are in the catalog. The other option is to simply pop the disc you want to authorize into your computer drive and see if it’s compatible or not.
That brings me to another drawback mentioned in my original story: the limited number of titles that were available in the Disc-to-Digital catalog when the service first launched. You can’t just authorize any old disc; the movie has to come from a participating studio, and it has to be a title that has been “legally cleared for digital distribution from studios participating in the UltraViolet program.” Studio partners include Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, and Lionsgate. The catalog of titles has definitely grown over the past year. As I scanned my library of movies, most of the titles I own from the above studios were in the catalog, including Hugo, Raising Arizona, Serenity, Saving Private Ryan, Speed, The Untouchables, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Moneyball, The Social Network, Casablanca, the Mission: Impossible series, The Fifth Element, A Few Good Men, The Godfather, Ocean’s Eleven, The Bourne trilogy, The Hangover, Shrek, Madagascar, Monsters vs. Aliens, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the Harry Potter series. Disney is still not on board, though, so don’t bother grabbing all those Buena Vista movies. Disney insists on offering its own digital locker system called Digital Copy Plus, but at least Disney’s service is also accessible via VUDU, so you can use the same platform to watch those titles. Of course, whenever you buy a new home video release that comes with an UltraViolet token, those digital titles will be added to the same library when you redeem them.
VUDU to Go also has a download option that lets you download a version of the film to your computer to watch when there’s no Internet connection, so the In-Home Disc-to-Digital service also provides a legal way for you to put a digital copy on your computer without using a questionably legal DVD-ripping software. Not surprisingly, the copy is protected, so you can’t send it freely around your home or move it to other portable devices.
Another potential limitation is that you need a computer with a disc drive. If you’ve recently purchased a desktop or laptop that omits this feature, then you’re out of luck. If your disc drive doesn’t read Blu-ray discs, you can’t authorize them. Pretty much every disc I’ve purchased in the last few years is a Blu-ray, so I was only able to authorize older DVD titles through my MacBook.
Although Wal-Mart was the first company to launch a Disc-to-Digital service, others have followed suit. Best Buy’s CinemaNow was actually the first site to offer the in-home authorization option, and Flixster has one, too. Neither of these services currently supports Blu-ray authorization, but you can upgrade DVDs to an HD digital copy. All of these programs should offer access to a very similar (if not the same) catalog of Disc-to-Digital titles, cost the same amount, and link back to the same UltraViolet account that you create. Each service brings its own user experience to the party, so you have the freedom to choose which one you prefer. VUDU is more ubiquitous on smart TVs, Blu-ray players, and streaming media players, but all three of them can be accessed directly via a Web browser.
All in all, the switch to in-home authorization makes Disc-to-Digital a much more compelling service that thankfully keeps Wal-Mart in the background. Yes, you’ll still encounter more restrictions (and cost) than if you simply ripped your own discs, but doing so is an act that’s highly frowned upon by the powers that be. Some people just aren’t comfortable with or interested in going the DIY route. For them, it’s good news that UltraViolet and its ancillary services continue to grow more robust and user-friendly.
By Adrienne Maxwell, HomeTheaterReview