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Wal-Mart Launches Vudu Disc-to-Digital Store Program: Here's How It Works

Is Wal-Mart's new disc-to-digital conversion program worth its price? We investigate.

Want to turn your bulging library of digital video discs into high-definition video streams that you can access anytime without spending a fortune?

Walmart claims it has the answer: The company's rolling out its disc-to-digital movie store conversion program today, allowing you to bring supported DVD or Blu-ray discs--the company's joined hands with several Hollywood studios--to any Walmart store and unlock access to a streaming version of the video through Vudu.com, Walmart's digital content delivery service.

Here's how it works: You bring your physical DVDs or Blu-ray discs to a participating Walmart store, then pay $2 per disc to access the streaming equivalent through Vudu on supported devices, including computers, tablets, smartphones and game consoles--basically anything that supports Vudu.

Blu-ray users automatically convert to the high-definition version of a video, but standard-definition DVD owners have the option of paying $5 (instead of $2) to up-convert to the HD version. Out of the gate, the service offers over 4,000 titles, and it's available in about 3,500 stores.

Burning Questions

But wait, do you get the same deal if your video disc is scratched? How many discs can you have converted at once? Can you keep the disc? If yes, what's to stop customers from passing discs around to friends? How about bulk-conversion discounts?

I called Walmart to get answers, and was told the first you'll need to create both a Vudu.com and UltraViolet account (the latter is the movie industry-led digital rights management process for converting discs to digital versions).

Once those two accounts have been linked, Walmart says you can bring your DVD or Blu-ray in for conversion, at which point a Walmart rep--typically located in each store's photo section--will ask for the email address associated with your Vudu account.

Next, you select whether you're after the $2 SD or $5 HD version--the Walmart rep confirms you can't have both, which is unfortunate for HD buyers who want an SD alternative on devices with low bandwidth or data-caps.

Assuming what you want is part of the program--so far, the Hollywood studios that are participating are Dreamworks, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.--your order's processed, and the Walmart sales associate stamps the inner ring of your disc with a label before handing it back over. This is to prevent you or anyone else from using it for conversion again. Note that movies with "extras" discs may or may not be fully converted--Walmart says support for extra media is at the discretion of each studio.

In theory, says Walmart, there's no limit on the number of discs you can convert at once. I'm assuming the company is betting that most people won't haul hundreds of discs in at once, though if enough people do, I'd wager limits will magically appear. Sadly, bulk conversions won't come with discounts, meaning someone with a moderate collection of 100 DVDs will spend $200 for a straight conversion and an incredible $500 for an up-conversion.

And since there's no physical conversion taking place, i.e. Walmart's just verifying that you own the discs and is unlocking access to already-in-place digital copies, you could argue the whole affair's just a stunt to get customers to pay yet again for content they already own. A wiser, more consumer-friendly move would have been to charge a monthly Vudu access fee, ala Netflix, and let consumers convert for free.

And when it comes to scratched discs, the Walmart rep told me he wasn't sure if Walmart has a policy against accepting them for conversion, since the company is merely verifying each disc is legit and not a rental, but told me that's probably left to the discretion of the sales associate. And lastly, yes, the videos are yours to view indefinitely...so long as Vudu and Walmart stick around.

I sold my 100-plus DVD video collection to a wholesale buyer online over a year ago when I signed up with Netflix and made a fair lot of money. If the prospect of paying for Walmart's disc-to-digital program doesn't appeal to you--depending on whether services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon offer the TV shows and movies you're interested in--you might keep that in mind as an alternative.

Matt Peckham writes for TIME and PCWorld. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, and follow Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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