Update – For a complete review of the features of download services see my Streamable Video Download Service Comparison post.
When you sell the vast majority of DVD titles in the US, you have clout. Wal-Mart appears to have trumped every major video download service available today with the release of their online download service. Titles included are from all the major studios – 20th Century Fox, Disney, Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal, Warner Bros., and all the major networks – Comedy Central, CW, FOX, FOX Reality, Fox Television Classics, FUEL TV, FX, Logo, MTV, Nickelodeon, SPEED, The N, VH1, and Warner Bros.. Still missing are NBC, ABC and CBS, but apparently those will be added soon.
If you have a media center extender, 360, or anything that supports Windows Media, you can pretty much sync to it. They are also pushing cheap stand alone wireless media streaming devices from D-Link. Businessweek has a great writeup on the deal and the pricing –
The nation’s largest retailer is using its buying power to beat the prices charged by other download services in many cases, offering films from $12.88 to $19.88 and individual TV episodes for $1.96 — 4 cents less than Apple Inc.’s iTunes store.
Apple charges less for some films sold on iTunes — $12.99 when pre-ordered and during the first week of sale, or $14.99 afterward. But it only carries films from two studios, The Walt Disney Co. and Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Studios.
Most studios have resisted signing deals with iTunes in part because of Apple’s desire to sell movies at one price. Studios prefer variable pricing such as Wal-Mart is offering.
Apple’s pricing has also caused scuffles between studios and major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target Corp. The retailers don’t want studios to sell digital copies of films cheaper than the wholesale price of physical DVDs.
Wal-Mart’s online store will sell older titles starting at $7.50, compared with the $9.99 charged by iTunes.
Wal-Mart also used its significant clout to launch its online store with films from all major studios. The Bentonville, Ark., retailer accounts for about 40 percent of DVD sales, and studios have been careful not to anger their largest customer.
Given Wal-Mart’s importance, the studios readily agreed to sell films on the retailer’s new site, analysts said.
The biggest impact of Wal-Mart’s entry into the digital download business may be that it now frees studios to cut deals with other online services.
“It gets the ball rolling finally,” said Tom Adams of Adams Media Research. “Now the studios are free to pursue it as aggressively as they can without worries about what Wal-Mart is going to think.”
The only minor draw back – resolution, they aren’t supporting Hi-Def yet, but they do have ‘close to DVD quality’ video. From the site –
Computers: Recommended for our customers that do not own or intend to purchase a compatible portable video player. PC/Laptop videos can be played on a PC/Laptop or on the TV via a Windows Media Extender (e.g. Xbox 360) or through direct connection from a PC to a TV. Videos in this format have the highest image quality. Technical Specification: 640 X 480 maximum resolution, 30 fps, 1,500-1,700 kbps average bit rate.
Television: Our TV episodes are optimized for fast downloads and viewing on the go. All TV shows can be played on both your PC/Laptop and compatible portable video players. Technical Specification: 320 X 240 maximum resolution, 30 fps, 500-810 kbps average bit rate.
Here’s a link to the store.
Interesting, looking at “Little Miss Sunshine”, something I’ve been meaning to rent but not purchase, the portable format is more expensive than the full resolution. I can pick up the 640 X 480 version for $7.50, while the portable version is $14.88. That seems a little odd, the studios must be charging a premium for portable version. I’m going to try it out and pick up $7.50 version and see how it goes.
Update – No burn to DVD option. That makes sense, but still sucks. So much for ripping a copy of the DVD. Then again, as long as WalMart remembers what you’ve pruchased, it makes no difference assuming the service sticks around. No burn option is one reason to stick with renting from your local video store or purchasing the full DVD. I’m still in the purchase camp myself since you miss out on all the extras.
PC compatability specs –
– Windows XP SP2, Vista or higher Operating System (sorry, no Mac or Linux)
– Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher (sorry, no Firefox or Safari)
– Windows Media Player 10.0 or later
– .NET 1.1 for the download manager
Looks like Mac users will have to wait for Apple to strike new content deals with studios besides Universal and Disney. Hopefully Wal-Mart will help open the doors for other providers like Microsoft and Apple.
Update – Some restrictions, 3 portable players and you can download the video to as many computers as you want as long as you register the computer with WalMart’s store. I guess that explains the price difference between the portable version and PC version. There’s also no support for Zune’s or iPod’s at this point.
The download seems pretty fast, and there’s an option for choosing the location you store the content too. That’s useful. Looking into the storage area I’m seeing LittleMissSunshine_2006_Standard.wmv already at 15% in less than 5 minutes. That’s pretty good!
Update – 1.13GB in 38 minutes. That’s 500+kbps. Nice!
Update – Wal-Mart’s service does not support streaming over the Window Media Sharing or Zune Media Sharing at this point, but does support streaming via Media Center Extenders.