This one’s for all you people out there with a bajillion DVDs that haven’t seen the light of day for years. You know that digital media is the way we’re heading, right? Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Video, they’re all getting our money like crazy. But what about physical media? You know, that DVD collection you’ve had for so long, you forgot you even owned half of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a special relationship with those plastic little discs. For years, the only way to get the best possible quality was to buy a blu-ray player, hook it up to a sweet sound system, and then play it in a dark room on a plasma screen. But things are changing in the home entertainment arena, and those changes are bringing a lot of good stuff. Let’s look at how to bring your current movie collection into tomorrow’s tech world, without spending too much in the process. Rachel and I are in the process of doing just that right now, and I’ve gotta say, after some initial skepticism, I’m impressed and excited to watch (most of) my forgotten movies again.
What You’ll Need
- DVDs/Blu-Rays – Obvs.
- A digital movie home – Chances are at this point, you’ve bought or redeemed a code for at least one digital movie somewhere. Rachel and I chose to focus on iTunes, but the service I’m going to tell you about also works with Google Play, Amazon Video, and VUDU.
- A smartphone – You’ll need this to work the VUDU magic.
- A house in the United States – My apologies to our neighbors in the north, across the pond, and down under, but this service only works in the U.S. for now.
Get the Pre-Reqs Done First
So, this magic actually comes to us thanks to two services: VUDU Disc-to-Digital and Movies Anywhere. Both are free, and you’ll need an account for both (unless you’re happy with leaving your content in VUDU’s locker, in which case you can just sign up for VUDU). Here’s a brief overview of them:
VUDU is a digital media service where you can buy, rent, and store movies. You might have seen their logo on physical DVDs or Blu-Rays that come with codes for a digital copy of the movie. Usually, movie studios will issue a code for either iTunes or VUDU/UltraViolet, which has caused quite the silo effect for many families’ digital movie libraries. More on that later.
Owned by Disney and previously only available for Disney titles, Movies Anywhere is a magical service that only the Mouse could provide. When you sign up for an MA account, you can link your iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and VUDU accounts (link tells you how), in any combination you choose. Once that’s done, the services you add will all talk to each other and transfer eligible movie titles across services. For example, let’s say you were browsing around on Amazon a few months ago, and they had a really good sale on a movie you wanted, so you bought it. Normally, you’d have to log into Amazon whenever you wanted to watch that movie, even if the rest of your movie collection was in iTunes. Not very convenient, is it? That’s what makes MA so awesome. If that movie you bought on Amazon qualifies (I’ll get into that in a minute, too), it now shows up in your iTunes library, just as if you’d bought it on the iTunes store. Oh, and those digital movie codes that had been in your VUDU/Ultraviolet account? They’re in your iTunes library now, too. What if you were an Apple family until the Pixel 2 came out, and now it’s Google all the way? No worries, your iTunes movies are now in your Google Play account. Goodbye, silos!
Start Popping that Popcorn!
Alright, so now that you’ve signed up for those, let’s talk about digitizing those discs from yesteryear. You’ll need to download the VUDU app on your smartphone and sign in. Once you do, there’s a feature in the menu called Disc to Digital. That’s where the fun starts. In order to use it, you’ll have to give the app permission to use your location and you’ll have to give VUDU a credit card to charge for the scans. It’s important to note that you have to be at the billing address of the card you use when you’re doing this, which is a precaution put in place by VUDU to keep people from going to a store and loading up in the movie department. After you’ve done that, pile up those DVDs you have laying around and let’s get to work.
There are a couple of tiers for digitizing your movies. If you own a Blu-Ray, you can turn it into an HD-quality digital copy for $2. If you have a DVD, you can either get the standard-definition version (comparable to watching a DVD in a DVD player) for $2, or you can upgrade to the HD version for $5. You can scan as many titles as you want (actually, there’s a 100 title-per-year limit, so if you’re a real movie hound, you may want to start this process before 2017 ends), and when you’re done, you just confirm your selections. VUDU will send you an email with one final confirmation as well as the total due, and when you hit “accept” on that, you’re done! Your card is charged, and the movies are instantly added to your VUDU account. And if you signed up with Movies Anywhere, they’ll be in all your other services shortly thereafter, ready for playback on all the devices you own. Rachel and I have done 12 movies so far, and the most we had to wait for something to show up in our iTunes account was about five minutes. Bam! Just like that, it’s movie night, on any device you have. VUDU does set a limit of 8 computers linked to your account, but devices that just stream (not download) don’t count against that limit.
So, does it work? In short, yep. Just like they advertise, the movies that showed up in our iTunes library had all the features and quality that we’d have gotten if we’d purchased it directly from Apple. If you didn’t know beforehand that we’d done this, there’s absolutely no way to tell. I can watch the movies on my iPhone, our Apple TV, or our iPad with no issues. Getting most of Hollywood on board with something together is next to impossible, but VUDU and Disney seem to have thrown their collective weight around enough to pull this off almost flawlessly.
What’s the Catch?
Yeah, you knew this section was coming… There are some limitations that could rain on this movie parade we’ve got going. We’ll start at the beginning of the process, with VUDU’s Disc to Digital feature. Officially, they say that only titles eligible for the program can be scanned, but there’s not really a clear way to find out what those titles are. In our own highly scientific testing, we’ve found that Disney does not like this service, as none of our Disney movies would work. Less surprising was the fact that multi-packs of movies like the Jurassic Park and Back to the Future trilogies weren’t eligible. There were also a few head-scratchers in the bunch, like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Princess Bride. It’ll be a trial-and-error process for sure, but I’d expect about 90% of your movies to be “eligible.”
And just because you successfully scan a title doesn’t mean you’re home free just yet. You might have noticed I kept using phrases like “most of the movies” and “almost flawlessly” when referring to Movies Anywhere. When Disney was pitching this idea to the various studios, apparently not everyone was scrambling to jump on board. Most notably, Paramount, MGM, and Lionsgate studios are all officially party poopers and won’t allow any of their titles to work with this service. Additionally, Disney has a list of individual movies that they know do not work, so give that a once-over before you go crazy with the scanner. Remember, these are just for the MA service, so those movies, and the ones from Paramount, MGM, and Lionsgate may still scan into your VUDU library, they just won’t transfer over to your iTunes/Google/Amazon account. We learned that the hard way when trying to move The Hunger Games and a couple other flicks.
Also, there are some philosophical drawbacks that I feel may be worth mentioning. With a physical movie, all you need is a player and a TV, and you’ve got entertainment. With digital, you introduce a lot more moving parts that could potentially get in the way of your movie night. What if your Internet goes out or you’re in a remote location without Internet at all? What if your license is somehow revoked, and you can’t watch the title anymore? What happens if the company that backs your library goes out of business? What if you want to lend the movie to a friend, or take it to a big screen somewhere other than your house? There’s a lot to be said for keeping physical media available, but in a world that’s increasingly connected, mobile, and has robust infrastructure for this kind of stuff, hopefully those concerns won’t be necessary too much. And at the end of the day, they’re just movies. What’s the worst that could happen, you have to read a book?
Bonus: Free Movies!!
For a “limited time,” Disney’s giving away five movies for free when you connect two or more services to a Movies Anywhere account. You don’t get to pick what they are, but if Ice Age, Ghostbusters (2016), The LEGO Movie, Jason Bourne, and/or Big Hero 6 sound appealing, jump on it! There’s no cost to sign up, so even if you don’t do anything else in this post, go grab you some free movies.