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Vudu debuts prepaid movie voucher cards

Vudu, Wal-Mart's streaming video service, will now sell prepaid cards in brick-and-mortar stores, allowing consumers an offline movie purchase option.

Vudu card

Vudu is offering a brick-and-mortar purchase option for its digital movies.

Starting Tuesday, Wal-Mart customers will be able to buy a voucher card for a Vudu digital download. Once they get home, plugging the scratch-off code into any Vudu-compatible streaming device will allow them to stream the movie at their leisure. (Compatible devices include the PlayStation 3, any PC or Mac, and many TVs and Blu-ray players.)

Because it's a purchase, not a rental, viewers can re-stream the movie ad infinitum. Currently, only the standard-def streaming version (not the HD version) will be sold at retail. (HD and "HDX" versions of some titles are available via Vudu's online interface for an additional charge, usually $19.99; it's unclear if the HD/HDX versions of films will be made available at retail.)

The debut title is "Battle: Los Angeles," which is being sold for $14.96. By comparison, Wal-Mart is selling the DVD of the same film for $16.96, the HD Blu-ray for $19.96, and the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack for $24.96. The prices appear nearly equivalent on Amazon, including the Amazon Instant (streaming) version for $14.99.

Such "point of sale" vouchers are already common for digital downloads in the gaming arena, where consumers can buy downloadable add-ons, full games, or simply online credit (e.g., Microsoft Points, Wii Points, PlayStation Network credits). Vudu--which has been a division of Wal-Mart since the mega-retailer purchased it in 2010--already offers other retail/digital tie-ins, such as $5 Vudu credits with some DVD/Blu-ray purchases and free digital Vudu "ownership" with the purchase of disc-based movies such as "Black Swan."

Related links
• Wal-Mart to buy Vudu video service
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Digital savvy consumers may ask, "What's the point?" Indeed, for many of us, the whole idea of digital streaming is the convenience of not having to drive to a store to begin with. While that's certainly true, Wal-Mart doesn't want its lucrative stores to go away, so--unlike an online-only retailer such as Amazon--it's experimenting on the best way to take advantage of online and offline storefronts.

One possible advantage we see: the in-store purchase could allow those without credit cards to purchase digital content. That said, we'd like to see Wal-Mart and Vudu work to ensure that HD purchase options are standard (if the content provider is offering HD versions online, that is).

What do you think: Would you buy a digital voucher in-store, or do you prefer to buy your digital products online? Let us know in the comments below.