We're in the midst of a real-vs.-virtual content transitional period. Music on CD, books, TV shows and movies on Blu-ray and DVD are still the norm. But increasingly we are eschewing the actual and acquiring ethereal editions - MP3s, ebooks, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, et al.
Inexorably, physical media will virtually disappear, replaced by the virtual. And Walmart, once the nation's leading music retailer until that usurper iTunes, wants to get in on this virtual content business.
Together with streaming music site Vudu, the retail giant will take your DVDs and create copies in the cloud that can be watched on or downloaded to a variety of devices, both home and on the road.
My compatriot Barb Gonzalez has posted pieces on the Walmart (in conjunction with streaming movie site Vudu) DVD-to-digital effort, which was inaugurated around six weeks ago, and a step-by-step how-to. This Walmart Entertainment Powered by Vudu disc-to-digital effort is part of the UltraViolet virtual copy effort, which you can read about here.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no Walmarts in Manhattan for me to test out this disc-to-digital proposition.
But a co-worker of mine, Shelby Cunningham, lives in Dallas within driving distance of several Walmarts. Without prompting from me, she set off to get Walmart and Vudu to turn some of her old DVDs into digital copies.
How'd she do? Let's just say her experience doesn't mirror the experience in the Walmart Entertainment Powered by Vudu commercials.
A trip to Walmart
Shelby's story, Day One:
I went to Walmart today and it took me about 10 minutes to find the Vudu digital movie kiosk. It was an unmanned desk built into the cashier's desk with a small 11" x 14" sign that had the Vudu logo on it. They're obviously not pushing this thing very hard.
I went in with my list of movies that I printed off from my Vudu account. You log-in and choose which movies you want to convert and print it out. The only movies I owned that were able to be converted were "Harry Potter" movies. The sheet says that all you have to do next is bring that sheet photo center. It doesn't mention bringing the discs, which seems misleading.
So I went to the photo center and gave them my list, and no discs, just to see if they would ask for them, and they did. So I gave the photo woman my discs and she ran off to get a manager because she had no idea what to do.
Then another employee showed up to help as well. I stood there waiting for 20 minutes while they ran around asking people how to do the conversion. After waiting, they said the process would take a couple of hours and they would call me when they finished. I made sure they didn't need anything else from me and told them I would just come back tomorrow during lunch again.
When I left they were standing around trying to figure out what the "inner ring" of the DVD was so they could stamp it "for copyright purposes," and flipping through a stack of instructions.
Not quite finished
While I was still in the store I got a phone call from yet another employee who needed to know my last name and informed me that they couldn't add the movies to my existing Vudu account, so they were setting up another one for me.
I got another phone call while I was in the parking lot and they said my email address was already in use (duh, from my existing account) and they needed another email address to make a new account. The website says the movies will be added to your existing account, which they apparently couldn't figure out how to do.
I asked if they were physically going to upload the DVDs and if that was what would take so long (even though I knew they don't upload them at all) and she said no and explained that they hadn't done this before. So I was the first customer these four women had helped do this, and it's been available for a month now!
So now I have two Vudu accounts and I'm just hoping my DVDs are still there and have been added to my account when I show up tomorrow!
According to the website, I should have been in and out of there in the time it took for them to find a manager.
Where are my movies?
I went back to Walmart today and they couldn't find my DVDs. So I waited and waited while two women looked for them for 30 minutes. They finally found them, though. I was getting nervous because there wasn't a record of my transaction anywhere. I had just given them my DVDs and the printout from the Vudu website listing the three movies and I got nothing in return. I was dreading having to get them replaced by Walmart. But I got them, and they were stamped with the "Walmart Entertainment" stamp so I can't reuse them [to get another UltraViolet copy].
I got back to the office and had an email receipt waiting that says a linked UltraViolet account is required in order to watch the movies. So I linked my Vudu and UVVU [UltraViolet] accounts. The movies were actually in my account, surprisingly.
And I can't get them to play.
I don't know why they require the UVVU account, because when you try to watch them from there, it just opens up the Vudu page.
But yeah, I can't get the movies to play at all. The trailers play, so I know the website works. I tried in three different browsers without any luck.
I laughed at the little flyer they had sitting by the cash register that explained the "3 Easy Steps" to have your DVDs converted into digital files.
Thanks, Shelby, for playing Walmart Entertainment guinea pig for us.
As a post script, she got the movies to play on her phone, but nowhere else.
"You can download some Vudu software that will allow you to play your movies from the desktop," Shelby told me, "but I hate that kind of one-use software. I just want them to stream from the [UltraViolet] Web site like they're supposed to!" She tried to download the Vudu software, but she complained it would take "an hour" to download from the slow site. She hasn't had time to follow-up.
Your Walmart Entertainment Powered by Vudu experience, of course, may vary. And maybe they've got some of the kinks worked out by now. But there's got to be an easier way of creating cloud copies of your movies without schlepping down with an armful of DVDs to a Walmart.