Mega retail giant Walmart is launching a cloud-based movie service through Vudu—and we’re not talking about another Netflix wannabe. No, Walmart wants to be your movie server in the cloud, the digital bin where you store all your DVDs for access on whatever Internet-connected device you have handy.
Earlier today, Walmart announced the launch of an in-store program to allow users to turn their DVD movies into digital cloud-stored copies which, presumably, would be accessible over tablets, smart phones, smart TVs and similar products. The initiative is being done in conjunction with Vudu, the online video store Walmart owns.
This isn’t a lone-wolf initiative. Walmart has the support of major movie studios including Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. The company says the service will launch on April 16 in 3,500 stores.
Here’s how it works. First, you need a Vudu account, which is free (unlike Netflix, you pay for videos individually). You walk your DVDs into a Walmart store, and there you load them into a device of some sort (a self-serve kiosk is the mostly likely scenario) and then purchase the rights to a digital cloud copy. Yes, you purchase the right to a movie you already own. In this case it’s $2 for a standard definition version or $5 for a high-def version (you don’t need a Blu-ray disc to convert your title to high definition). You can then take your discs back home with you. The process doesn’t actually upload the content of the disc, it just authorizes the title to be placed into your cloud locker. If you try to take in a disc your neighbor already authorized, a team of Walmart greeters will wrestle you to the floor.
After that you can log onto your Vudu account from whatever your compatible device is (as long as it’s connected to the Internet) and watch the movies you’ve added to your cloud locker. Walmart says there are over 300 compatible devices.
The system uses UltraViolet technology, but it’s considerably cheaper than buying a new UltaViolet title. Some new Blu-ray releases come with a free UltraViolet authorization included, but this appears to be an easy way to take advantage of older movies purchased before the UltraViolet system was in place.
The Vudu service requires you to physically go to a Walmart store (where you will walk out with armloads of chips and socks). At CES this year, Samsung showed a Blu-ray player that essentially does the same thing, but from the comfort of your own home. Instead of Vudu, your cloud locker resides on Flixter (which is available on far fewer devices than Vudu). One other interesting difference is that Samsung said standard definition cloud copies would not cost anything to register, but you could upgrade to an HD version for a fee. The Samsung product hasn’t launched yet, so we don’t know exactly how that will pan out.
The back catalogs of the participating movie studies are vast, and the news release didn’t say how many total titles would be available.
It’s a little curious that this news comes the same week that courts, pressed by movie studios, came down hard on Kaleidescape, the maker of a very successful hard drive-based DVD movie server.
So readers, are you willing to pay another $2 to $5 for a movie you already own? Would you be upset if you purchased a CD and then were charged extra to load those songs onto your iPod, your Google or Amazon cloud locker? Will a cloud-based model like this eliminate the local server market? Will Walmart reserve the right to morally judge and restrict what you view via this system? Let me know what you think?
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.