Going "legit" with digital movies – is Vudu worth it?

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I recently decided to try my hand at building my digital movie collection. I’m an avid music collector and of course love my video games, but I only ever owned a few dozen movies over the years. The advent of Netflix has been perfect for someone like me, who doesn’t own many movies, but likes to watch the occasional TV series or movie. Still, there have always been a few movies that I’ve had in my collection – and while my TV Series I’ve been “ripping” down to my hard drive myself, I find the process tedeious. I wanted to find a new way to have “my” movie stash, online.

After some digging and research, Vudu has become my service of choice. One of the biggest reasons I decided to put a little trust in Vudu is because of this backing by Wal-Mart. Yes, you can tell me how big and evil they are all day long, I get it… but when somebody as big as Wal-Mart gets behind Vudu, I don’t have to worry about the service just ‘shutting down’ tomorrow and all of my investments in their platform, all of those movies I’ve purchased or had digitized, won’t just vanish. Wal-Mart has the resources to operate at a loss, trying to build a larger and larger user-base. Some day it might close down. And some day all of the games I’ve purchased from Xbox Live Arcade may not load any more, and all of my iTunes app purchases won’t be available should I ever need to factory-default my iPad… but for all of these things, we’re looking at (hopefully) many years down the road.

I’ve been curious about this Wal-Mart “Disc to Digital” program for a while, and when everything came together, I decided this was the time to take my movie collection online. Now, before I go any further, I understand that many people are opposed to paying for the “disc to digital” process; the argument is that one should not have to pay for “digital access” to something they already own on DVD. My retort to that first argument is that nobody gave you a free “Lion King” DVD when you got rid of your VHS player. If you want something in a “new” format, you have to pay that little premium to get it. Wal-Mart charges a modest fee to give you permanent access to a digital version of the movie you can stream or even download from their website.

When you convert a “disc-to-digital” at Wal-Mart, the hardest part is explaining to the greeter at the door what you’re doing. As a majority of you are aware, the Wal-Mart greeters are typically senior citizens. Showing them that you’re walking out with a bag full of DVD’s and a receipt that says something along the lines of “DigitalMovie” means nothing to them – and explaining it is even harder. But for those wondering what the actual process is like, it’s rather painless. You take your stash of DVD movies and a pre-made list that you printed from your Vudu.com profile, and they go down the check list, adding barcode after barcode to your account. All you need to provide them with is the email address and phone number you registered on the account. Then they rubber-stamp the front of every disc with “Wal-Mart Entertainment” (this should discourage people from repeatedly swapping the same discs and having other people add them to their Vudu collection, I guess, but in reality a little bit of water remover would probably take it right off, it’s just a normal ink-pad). Then you pay what you owe and when you get home the movies are unlocked in your account. It only takes a matter of minutes!

People always want to know the prices when I talk about this process. That’s the big “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” for most people. For me, I think they’re reasonable. If you take in a DVD you can get it in standard definition (wide-screen, letterboxed) for $2.00. Or, you can “upconvert” it to HD for $5.00. If you bring in a high-def movie (although they only specifically mention Blu-ray on the website, they don’t scan the barcodes of the DVD cases, so you can bring in HD-DVDs if you’ve got’em!). the conversion fee is just $2.00. Vudu has already partnered with Ultraviolet – if you already have an account, you can merge your Ultraviolet movies in with your Vudu account – if not, they simplify the process and create an account for you and all of your future additions will show up in your Vudu account. So far, the SD movies I’ve watched have been quite good. The quality is easily comparable to anything you would find similarly on Netflix – an old movie or TV series that isn’t necessarily available in full HD streaming, even if you can get it on BluRay. It looks excellent and sounds great.

Movie prices have a small range, but for the most part you can look to rent a movie in SD for $2.99, or in HD for $3.99. Purchases (for movies you’re buying directly from the website, not bringing in on a disc to convert) go for $9.99 in SD, to around $17.99 to $19.99 for the HD versions. Some movies also tout an “HDX” version. By their own definition, HD is 720p, and HDX is full 1080p at 24 frames per second. You should have a decent internet connection if you’re buying your movies in HDX, however, you should have a minimum 4.5Mbps down to watch those, while only about 2.5 is required for their “HD” movies. The price for buying a movie in “HD” or “HDX” is the same, the price for renting leads to $1 more for the HDX version, purchases are typically the same whether your choose HD or HDX.

A tempting offer, available for an undetermined length of time, is the fact that you get 6 movies for free for taking part in this process. It is a “limited time offer” but they have been saying that for a few months now. Here’s how it works. Just go to the Vudu.com website and sign up. You get to choose one movie from a fair selection. Then, if you participate in the “disc-to-digital” process, even if you take just one DVD in, you get a bonus pack of 5 movies. Notice it’s a “pack.” You get some junk movies, along with some reasonable ones, and they’re grouped by category. I wish you could’ve mixed-and-matched them, but I settled for a comedy pack and got myself some free Mr. Deeds, Austin Powers, and even Naked Gun 33 1/3. Maybe not the best, but you can’t argue with free. Also, occasionally, you get free credits for trying new things. Just for installing and logging in to the app on my PS3, I got a $3.99 credit – that’s enough to “rent” a standard-def movie.

Having your movie collection “in the cloud” does have its perks: you can watch them from anywhere, on just about anything, iPad, iPhone. Vudu spoils you with little extras, too: free movies for signing up, easy ways to get free credits like trying the app on your PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, even randomly giving you free rental credits via email for holiday weekends or other promotional reasons. It’s time to grow up, go legit, and check out your options. I decided Vudu was the right one for me.