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Walmart launches cloud movie service

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Mega-retailer Walmart already offers a streaming video service via Vudu, but new reports have the company on the verge of rolling out a new UltraViolet-compatible cloud-based offering that will enable consumers to tap into their own purchased video content from a wide variety of devices — and anywhere they can get a video connection. But there might be a catch: for consumers to get their videos into the service, they’ll have to bring their DVDs into a Walmart store to confirm they own the content, and pay $2 to $4 for each title they want to put in the cloud.

Walmart has been in talks with the consortium of studios backing UltraViolet since at least autumn of last year, but no definitive word on the status of the negotiations had emerged. Reports on the pending deal vary. Some have Walmart preparing to issue an announcement today or tomorrow; others don’t expect any word until next week.

The service would apparently require customers to bring their DVDs into Walmart brick-and-mortar locations to verify ownership of the media; once a disc is accepted into the system, it will apparently be stamped or marked as “already uploaded” so users won’t be able to pass DVDs back and forth amongst themselves to augment each others’ video libraries. Once a film is in the system, customers will be able to access films in their account from any UltraViolet-compatible device: that includes Flixster apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry, Windows, and Mac OS; the service also plans to expand to Internet-connected TV platforms, game consoles, and more. UltraViolet content is DRM-protected, and supports simultaneous access to up to three streams.

At first glance, Walmart’s service would seem to have some pros and cons. On the upside, it would seem to be able to accept a wide range of content that consumers can bring in on DVD, potentially including older and rare releases that may not be available in the limited streaming libraries of services like Netflix or Vudu. The downside, of course, is that users will have to cart their discs into Walmart and pay to have them copied to the cloud — and, so far, consumers’ response to UltraViolet service, currently limited to a handful of recently-released titles, hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive.

[Update: Walmart has formally announced the service. Called Walmart Entertainment Disc-to-Digital, Walmart will start accepting DVDs in stores on April 16, charging $2 to put standard DVD and Blu-ray discs into user accounts, and $5 to upgrade a standard DVD to high-definition. Movies from Sony, Paramount, Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. are eligible. Customers will manage their accounts through Vudu; Vudu, in turn, will offer the ability to purchase and watch UltraViolet content.]

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