Eager to grow their digital cloud movie service Ultraviolet, Hollywood studios are beginning to let consumers convert their DVDs into digital copies from home.
On Thursday, online movie store CinemaNow quietly launched a beta test of a new disc-to-digital service. After downloading software, consumers need only insert an eligible DVD into their computer and pay between $2 and $5 to get a copy of that movie stored in their Ultraviolet digital locker.
A spokeswoman for CinemNow parent company Best Buy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Movies and TV shows in an Ultraviolet locker can be played from apps on a wide array of digital devices, including smartphones, tablets and Blu-ray players.
Major Hollywood studios have been counting on Ultraviolet to motivate consumers to continue buying movies as they increasingly consume video from the Internet instead of discs. Currently, most movie watching online is done via rentals, which are less profitable to studios than purchases.
More than 7 million people have registered Ultraviolet accounts, but the entertainment industry is still looking for significant growth from the initiative, which is backed by every major studio except Disney and most big electronics companies with the notable exception of Apple.
According to information about the beta test on the CinemaNow website, users can make digital copies from an extensive but far-from-complete list of thousands of titles from studios including Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.
A standard definition copy of a DVD costs $2, while an upgrade to high-definition costs $5 per title.
Previously, the only way to convert DVDs to Ultraviolet copies was at Wal-Mart stores. That effort has not been a powerful growth driver for Ultraviolet, according to several people familiar with the thinking of senior studio excecutives who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Disc-to-digital in the home should make it much simpler for consumers to convert their existing DVD library and become active Ultraviolet users. With CinemaNow launching its beta test, other online video stores such as Wal-Mart-owned Vudu are likely to follow.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman declined to comment on speculation.
Clerks at Wal-Mart stores had been stamping DVDs converted to digital to make sure the same movies were not used over and over. However, disc-to-digital in the home makes it impossible to prevent friends from sharing DVDs and all getting UltraViolet copies of the same title for just $2. Studio executives have apparently concluded that it is worth accepting the lost sales in order to try and jumpstart Ultraviolet.