Walmart offers disc to digital, doesn't get what 'freedom' means

Great news from Walmart: "it's time to unlock your DVDs America! The freedom* to watch your movies any time, any place is here!" *Please note that freedom only applies after paying $2-$5 per movie, requires a broadband Internet connection, and is limited to devices specified by Walmart. Have a nice day!

That utterly ridiculous DVD ripping scheme that Warner Brothers came up with looks like it has a taker: Walmart. The retail giant "is increasing the value of movie ownership for its customers," and they're doing it by letting you bring your DVDs and Blu-Rays into a store where you can pay them $2 to make a standard quality digital copy or $5 for an HD quality digital copy. Seems like that's mostly just increasing the value of movie ownership for Walmart, but whatever.

So great, you've just paid extra money for a digital copy of a movie that you already own. At least you have a digital copy now, right? Nope! Your digital copy stays with Walmart as part of the Vudu streaming service, which also means that Walmart is not actually ripping anything for you in the store: that $2 or $5 is simply them enabling access to a movie on your Vudu account.

From the company's release:

"Walmart wants to help movie lovers download or stream their movies when they want and where they want. Customers cited accessibility, security, affordability, and simplicity as key decision factors for wanting a digital solution.Walmart listened and is delivering America's first disc-to-digital service."

Vudu, of course, does not work where and when you want, throwing that whole "accessibility" thing right out the window. You have to have a Vudu-enabled device, and that device has to have a broadband Internet connection of four megabits or better for you to stream anything in HD. Good luck getting that to work on any mobile device, and while you're streaming a movie at home, just try getting anything else done on the Internet. If you had your own digital copy at home, however, you really could watch it on any device, anytime, with or without an Internet connection. Strike one for Walmart.

Let's just look at the rest of those things that consumers cited real quick: "security?" Vudu, like the PlayStation Network, stores your personal information and is (like any online service) vulnerable to hacking. If you had your own digital copy, this would not be an issue. "Affordability:" Walmart wants you to pay to make another copy of a movie you already purchased. 'Nuff said. And lastly, "simplicity:" I dunno about you, but the simpler thing seems to be making a copy of a movie on my own, at home, as opposed to dragging my DVD collection to a Walmart and and then trying to deal with the Vudu service anytime I want to watch something.

Now, we do have to acknowledge that for a lot of people, this whole scheme from Walmart might actually be simpler. After all, while it's not illegal to back up your DVD collection, the programs that enable you to do it (circumventing copy protection) are. In of itself, as a streaming service, we have absolutely no problem with Vudu.

What we have a problem with are movie studios (through Vudu, UltraViolet, and now Walmart) acting like they've just come up with the perfect, end-all way for consumers to get digital copies of their own property. Their position seems to be, "hey look, we've got this service, so there's no need for you to rip your DVDs anymore, you dirty movie pirates." But there is a need, because their service is inconvenient, expensive, proprietary, and restrictive. If you can accept those restrictions and Vudu works for you, that's totally fine.

The movie studios are busy spinning this service as a way to "create even more value for consumers," but let's just be real here about what Walmart's disc to digital really is: a way for you to legally rent back digital copies of movies that you already own.

Via Engadget

Editor's Note: Cheeky freedom clarification in italics above added by DVICE; it's not part of Walmart's original press release.

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