Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Some Disappointments with Walmart Vudu's DISC-TO-DIGITAL Service

By Dennis D. McDonald

Once I got things to work, I was really impressed with the audio and video performance of Walmart’s Vudu movie service, so I was really interested in trying out Vudu’s Disc-to-Digital service for a small number of my old movie DVD’s I’d like to see in higher-than-DVD definition.

For $5 per DVD I figured I could experiment so one day I drove over to a nearby Walmart with these old DVDs from my collection:

  • Dark City Directors’ Cut
  • Ben-Hur
  • Aliens Director’s Cut
  • 2001:  A Space Odyssey (digitally remastered version)

I went to the photo desk and paid my $5 per DVD, waited a few minutes, then I drove home. Going online via my Blu-Ray player I saw immediately that the digital versions of the films were already in the MY VUDU folder. Everything seems to be working, right?

Well, yes, sort of. The movies and audio played right away but I noticed a couple of things:

  • The “HDX” version of Dark City I saw was the theatrical release, not the director’s cut.
  • The Ben-Hur I saw was, as far as I could tell, a pan-and-scan version of the film, not the original widescreen. (This  was painfully apparent in the chariot race scenes).
  • The Aliens version was the director’s cut.
  • The onscreen resolution displayed via the Sony 40” Bravia TV was definitely better than the upscaled DVD’s played on the Sony Blu-Ray player.
  • Generally speaking color definitions and black levels were superior to the DVD’s but nowhere near as stunning as the much newer Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol I had just watched via Vudu.

On the whole what I found most disappointing was the versions Vudu is streaming of DARK CITY and BEN-HUR. With Ben-Hur especially it is painful to watch some of the scenes with the right and left portions cut off. They just aren’t the same. This downgrade is only partially made up for by the enhanced color of the HDX version being streamed. Also, I had been hoping to see the clarity for these favorites of mine on the par with Mission Impossible and it just doesn’t appear that the files being streamed, being from older films, are up to that level. 

I brought these issues up with Vudu tech support and received a response quickly. Basically, I was advised that in the future I should watch the first few minutes of a film — you can do this for free online at the VUDU web site — to make sure it is the version that is desired (the information available online is just does not provide this level of detail).

In summary, I don’t think I’ll be using the Disc to Digital service much after this. There are a dozen or so films that I would like to have available at a higher level of quality but it appears, from this example, that Vudu does not necessarily supply the “best” versions as replacements for the DVD’s. 

What I have not tried out is the Blu-Ray to Disc-to-Digital service. I’m figuring that if I do have a Blu-Ray for a film it’s going to be one that I really enjoy and want to watch again anyway. That’s a minority of films new and old. If I could get a better and Blu-Ray version online I might consider the $5 if it really provided the best available version but I can see how the Blu-Ray publishers would oppose that. 

Footnote: The Vudu iPhone app works well but watching the Ben-Hur chariot race on a small screen leaves a lot to be desired!

Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald

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