Wal-Mart unveils disc-to-digital service powered by Vudu

Retailer will enable consumers to transfer movies from disc to a cloud library, where they can access them through Web-connected devices.

Wal-Mart Stores debuted a service today that executives say will encourage DVD ownership while also giving consumers ubiquitous access to their film libraries via the cloud.

The megaretailer announced that customers can bring their DVDs into their local Wal-Mart, and pay $2 to get access to each title via Walmart.com's cloud service, powered by the UltraViolet platform. The $2 only supplies a user with access to a copy in standard definition; a high-definition copy will cost $5.

Dan Rayburn, an analyst who has covered streaming media for more than a decade, broke the news about Wal-Mart's announcement yesterday.

I can hear the howling from critics already. Expect pundits to slam this as an attempt to get consumers to pay more for a film copy they have already bought. There will also likely be plenty of skepticism from the tech sector about Wal-Mart's attempt to keep one foot in the DVD business and the other in online distribution. They will point out that online access makes DVD ownership unnecessary.

But step out of your early-adopter shoes and into those worn by Wal-Mart's leadership. The big-box retailer services millions of people from all over the country who may not have even heard of the cloud. To them, DVDs are still synonymous with home video.

Regardless, Wal-Mart's adoption of UltraViolet is a win for the platform. UV's backers can now boast a partnership with a major brick-and-mortar retailer, something it had lacked.

UV is a set of standards and specifications set by a consortium of companies connected to the film industry. It is set to be licensed to commercial cloud services and device makers, which will then be equipped to offer consumers access to the films and TV shows.

Cloud services enable users to store media on a third party's servers and then access the media via Web-enabled devices. The cloud is thought by many to be the replacement home entertainment format, as the public continues to lose interest in DVD ownership.

This is how the disc-to-digital service will work: customers carry their discs from any of the major studios--save for Disney, which isn't participating--to a Wal-Mart store and then head for the Photo Center.

A Wal-Mart employee will help customers create free Vudu account. That's the company's Web video service. The customers decide whether they want their movies in SD or HD, and the titles are then stored in the Vudu cyberlocker.

Customers then can keep the discs. When they want to access the movies they've stored at Vudu, all they need do is log on to the service with one of the 300 compatible devices.

 

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