November 28, 2006 8:40 AM PST
Latest toe in the movie download pond? Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart Stores has entered the fledgling but growing market of movie downloads with a new service that bundles a digital copy of a film with the purchase of a hard copy of the DVD.
The movie download program, announced Tuesday, begins with sales of the DVD of the Warner Bros. flick Superman Returns. Starting Tuesday, when customers purchase the disc from Wal-Mart, they will be able to choose from one of three options for a digital copy: $1.97 for a download formatted for portable devices, $2.97 for one that's compatible with computers, and $3.97 for one that works on both portable devices and PCs. Then, upon returning to their computers, buyers of the Superman Returns bundled DVD can enter a redemption code on Wal-Mart's beta video download site and obtain the digital version.
Wal-Mart hopes to eventually expand this service to more DVD-digital download packages, as well as to standalone downloads of movies and TV shows in the coming months.
As for compatibility, there is some fine print. The Wal-Mart downloads that are compatible with portable devices will be in Windows Media Player format, which means that they'll play on all devices that accept that format--including Microsoft's new Zune--but not Apple's iPods. And the PC-compatible downloads will require the Windows XP operating system and Windows Media Player 10. Mac and Linux users, at least for now, need not apply.
The market for digital video downloads is tempting but often volatile for even the sturdiest of retailers. For many of the new services, like AOL Video, it's really too early to gauge success, or lack thereof.
But some movie download services have already received distinctly negative reviews. The blogosphere didn't take kindly to Amazon's "Unbox" software. And less than a week ago, Microsoft's highly anticipated Video Marketplace feature of its Xbox Live service experienced a noticeably rocky launch.
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