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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

I'm not a conspiracy theory guy, but...

Posted on March 14, 2012 at 1:40 PM

In general, I don’t want to hear about second gunmen or grassy knolls, or missiles into the Pentagon or bombs pre-loaded into the Trade Center buildings. I hate all of that nonsense. For most things, I subscribe to the Occam’s razor theory, being that when presented with multiple hypotheses, generally the simplest explanation is usually the right one. However the coincidence of Wal-Mart announcing TODAY a new “Exclusive Disc-to-Digital Service” seems just a tad TOO incredible for me to believe as mere coincidental or just serendipitous timing.


The fact that this announcement comes scarcely 24 hours after news hit that a California judge issued a potentially crippling verdict against movie server giant, Kaleidescape – the company that happened to PIONEER the “disc-to-digital” movie server concept – seems to give weight to Kaleidescape’s CEO and co-founder, Michael Malcolm’s, comments, “Maybe it's because the large CE companies in Japan and the big computer companies in the USA, on the board of the DVD CCA, are afraid that Kaleidescape is building a better way to enjoy DVDs and Blu-ray Discs than they are.”


With Kaleidescape’s system pushed aside – or rendered non-compliant an incapable of further supporting DVD storage/streaming – it would open up the stage for an entirely different system to step in. So it is with a heaping grain of salt and credulity that I see that announcement from Wal-Mart today about their partnership with Vudu to turn your precious DVDs into more manageable and portable and convenient digital copies.


Wal-Mart’s press release – available hereexplains how the upcoming system will work. You would cruise into your local Wal-Mart with your DVDs, and would then create a Vudu account (free) and pay an “equal conversion“ fee to “receive digital access to [your] favorite titles from the partnering studios.” (The partnering studios being Paramount Home Media Distribution, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.) The fee would be $2 for standard def and $5 for High-Def. Once you have put these movies into your Vudu account, they would be available for viewing on any one of 300 Internet enabled Vudu devices and you get to get to keep your discs.


So, here’s the cool and the suck on Wal-Mart’s Disc-to-Digital service as I see it.


The Cool


Vudu Experience

This is going to use Vudu’s service and interface which is actually pretty good. (Here’s a link to my review of Vudu’s XL2 movie player.)  I was impressed with how simple and slick the interface looks; it is intuitive and easy to use, and makes it is quick to find movies. And once movies are selected they start quickly with little/no wait or buffer time.


Picture Quality

I generally found Vudu’s video to be quite good; way better than anything that Netflix provides. Way, WAY better. The standard def (non-HD) stuff looked a tic below DVD and the HD looked a tic below cable HD quality. Of course, this depends on your Internet connection and the quality of streaming service that your speed will support. Vudu’s highest quality level – HDX – was just a tic below Blu-ray in terms of video quality, but it isn’t clear from this if you will be getting HDX quality or not. But I love being able to “trade up” from an SD copy of a movie to the HD version. I’ve been slowly doing this with my personal DVD collection – changing over to Blu-ray as certain marquee titles are released – and I can assure you that it costs WAY more than $5.



In my experience, movies started within a few seconds of pressing play. Because it is JUST the feature film, it bypasses all of the warning and trailers and menus and other hoo-ha. If digital copies retain this – and there’s no reason to think that they wouldn’t – it is definitely faster than finding, popping in, loading, skipping through trailers and warnings and making it to the beginning of a movie.



Let’s be honest, it is awesome to have all of your movies instantly available to you in an easily managed interface. That’s one of the reasons why the Kaleidescape experience is so outstanding. Digital has changed the way that we listen and enjoy music, and few people are left managing giant stacks of CDs any longer; this aims to do the same for a movie collection.

The Price

I own 286 movies, spread between 63 Blu-ray and 223 DVDs. (I know because I just checked my Kaleidescape system on my iPad.) In the “real” world this takes of many linear feet of storage in physical discs and about 4 Terabytes of disk space. If I could convert all of these movies to portable, available anywhere, stream-at-will HD versions for $1430 that would honestly be a pretty small price to pay. My entire collection, available to me anytime, anywhere in HD for under $1500? That’s powerfully cool stuff.  

The Process

Since each customer’s discs are not actually being individually ripped and uploaded into the cloud, but rather just authorized – probably through a scanning process or just a quick trip into some kind of authentication player – the process should be fast and pretty painless. Well, at least as fast and painless as any trip to the Photo Section of a Wal-Mart can be. Wal-Mart claims movies will be available for viewing within minutes.

The Suck



It is *exactly* two miles from my front door to a Super Wal-Mart, and I visit the store probably once or twice a week. So it is with great personal experience that I can proclaim that visiting a Wal-Mart often sucks. Crowds, parking, and a unique mélange of characters that often don’t fall under the description “the beautiful people.”  (Far more often you encounter the “people of Wal-Mart.” Click that link. You’ll get it.)  Picturing myself walking into  the store with armloads of DVDs – and explaining my purpose to the greeter/security person at the door who will then put a sticker on each and every one of my discs to show that I didn’t steal all of them – and then going to the transfer service machine/kiosk/person doesn’t fill me with joy. Also, Wal-Mart rarely does anything with your best interest in mind…


The Selection

Part of the beauty of Kaleidescape is that it will import ANY DVD (or Blu-ray) you give it. While this has the support of five major film studios, that still leaves a lot of movies out there that won’t be eligible for this service. Say all of those Disney/Pixar films I own. Or maybe anything with “Lucas” and “Film” in the title. And many others. It also doesn’t state that EVERY title available from these studios will be eligible for this digital transfer. Maybe it will be select catalog or new titles. So, you might bring in 100 discs and find that only a (small) percentage are eligible to transfer.



Remember the old adage, “Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free?” This is kind of a, “Sure, we know you bought the cow once. We know you love the cow. So why don’t you just pony up a bit more and buy the cow again?” While I conceptual understand that this is me using the movie in a new way, I MORE understand that I bought the movie once and don’t want to frickin’ pay for it again. Also, on several of my movies, I already PAID the premium one time to get a digital copy of the film. This will be paying again…twice!



While I’ll freely admit that Vudu’s quality is *good* it is NOT on parity with the physical disc version. And while “good enough” is “good enough” for most people, if you are going to be paying for something – that you already own, I remind you – wouldn’t you want it to at least look AS GOOD as what you already have? The biggest downfall is the sound; while the HDX picture looks very close to Blu-ray in quality – again, reminding you that HD does not necessarily mean Vudu’s highest HDX quality – the sound is limited to Dolby Digital Plus which clearly did not sound as good as Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master. Big deal through TV or computer speakers or headphones? No. But on a dedicated A/V system? Yes.


Internet Connection

The information touts using “Internet-connected devices to view movies any time, any place.” And that sounds all well and good. However, in practice, because you are streaming – not downloading – these movies, it will mean you will have to be connected to the Internet the *entire time* you are watching a movie and will greatly limit viewing options for many people. Without 3G/4G broadband it will mean no viewing in a car. Without buying the in-flight WiFi it will mean no viewing in a plane. And with the horrible Internet speeds in many hotel rooms, it will likely mean poor experience while viewing on the road. So “any time, any place” is really like “some times, some places.”


Special Features

For me, one of the big differences between movies I rent and movies I own are movies that I really love. And when I love a movie, I want access to all of the special features; the deleted scenes, the commentary, the making of docs, the bloopers, all of it. Generally a “digital copy” of a film means just that…a digital copy of THE FILM. Yes, you still own the disc and have access to these features, but how often are you going to root through your pile of discs to watch a making of doc?


Illegal Copies

One of the contentions in the original Kaleidescape lawsuit was that the system couldn’t prevent people from copying films they didn’t own. Like movies rented from Netflix and Redbox or the library or borrowed from friends, or whatever. What will possibly stop Wal-Mart from doing this? I come in with an armload of discs; I hand them over – or feed them in to the machine – and they add them to my account. Does each DVD have an individual ID print that can be tagged? I doubt it. (In fact I checked and the answer is “No.” DVD discs are not individually coded.) Could I just walk up to the Redbox – in the front of almost every Wal-Mart – rent a bunch of discs for a $1, walk back to the kiosk, turn them into my own personal digital copies, and then feed them back into the machine? Or say that I borrow my friends collection and get all of his movies and let him have all of mine? Now, Wal-Mart *could* do something like physically mark the disc where it would still play but be identified as one that has already been loaded, but what will this mean if you buy a used disc on Amazon? Is there a chance that it may already be locked out?

Click here to read more suck and the rest of the story at Residential Systems.

Categories: March 2012, Electronics, Movies

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Reply hometheater
10:25 PM on March 14, 2012 
I have been reading up on this system and I wanted to clear up a few things from your article.

Experience - Your review of the Vudu movie player is not really valid. Since that review, Vudu was purchased by Wal-Mart ($100 million) and has changed their whole model. They no longer make hardware but instead license the service into TVs & Blu-ray players from major manufacturers and as an app on portable devices.

The Process - You are right that the discs are not getting ripped, they are added to a digital key locker on your Vudu account. The Wall Street Journal called it ?a digital ?proof of purchase? system?. This allows you to access files that already exist in the Vudu or UltraViolet system. You are basically buying a coupon to rent that title at no charge. You have the out of print Criterion edition? That is not the version you get to stream. You get the version that Vudu has. Can Kaleidescape utilize this key locker "digital proof of purchase"? of course not.

The Selection- These five major studios include a lot of titles, but not having Disney is a big deal. Do a search through Vudu to see what is available. Star Wars? nope. Raiders of the Lost Ark? nope. Titanic? nope. Jaws? nope. Saving Private Ryan? nope.

You mention that you paid a premium to get the "digital copy" disc when you bought certain movies. It appears that system has been replaced with UltraViolet. Harry Potter &DH part 1 had "digital copy" but HP &DH part 2 has UltraViolet.

Quality - I read a review that said the ultraviolet copy of "horrible bosses" was only available in 480i.

Internet Connection - The streaming service only works with WiFi - not 3G/4G. However, you can download a title to your portable device for a flight, but you can only do that 3 times. Then you not only lose the ablity to download it, but streaming is also cut off.

Special Features - you just have access to the Vudu rental version of the movie. (I never ripped the second discs into Kaliedescape either)

Illegal Copies - Wal-Mart will "stamp" each eligible disc to notate that it has been redeemed.

Privacy - Here's where it gets creepy. Check out the EULAs for UltraViolet, Vudu, & Flixter. My understanding is you also need to sign individual agreements with each of the studios. Plus any other app or device that can stream this stuff (over 100 devices?)
You agree that they can know not only your name, email, phone & fax numbers, address, & credit card info, but who your friends are, their info (they don't need to sign), your IP address(es), browser, browser history, operating system, Internet service provider, mobile carrier, device identifier, GPS location(s) of where you go, and other data previously collected on your device(s). You give them license to read your social media such as Facebook posts and tweets to add info to your file. They will collect your gender, photo, people you follow, people that follow you, things you have ?liked?. They can collect information from other databases online that know about you and add it to the file. They do not say who all gets this information because it can include hundreds of different subsidiaries, ?agents and contractors?, retailers, participatory databases, non-profit organizations, promotional partners, and other third parties. Burger King has an Avengers tie-in? Your file can be sold to them if you had Iron-Man in your collection.

You are the product. They should pay YOU for this kind of market data.

Thanks for listening....I kinda went off on a rant. I also expressed my privacy concerns elsewhere today. Kaleidescape got screwed. I think they should drop DVDs and just stick to Blu-Ray and CDs. They should make a big announcement to their end users and just cut them off.......then see what happens next.
Reply John Sciacca
10:35 PM on March 14, 2012 
Wow. Thanks for the massively thorough reply. Though my experience was with a Vudu movie player, I believe that the core "experience" is still the same, especially as regards to picture quality and user interface, etc.

As I mentioned (in my closing comments on the Resi Systems site), this seems an interesting first stab at this...the SECOND stab should be even more interesting!

Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.