Digital Copy: A Reasonable Compromise

Two comments on the current state of DVD, Blu-Ray, and this transition period.

First, during the lengthy transition from DVD to Blu-Ray, stores are stuck having to stock two copies of every movie. This is going to last for years, and was the reason I originally predicted HD-DVD would win, since you can have one disc that stores both formats. But now, you walk into Future Shop or Wal-Mart and you see a growing section of Blu-Ray in addition to the regular DVD section. So be it.

Second, there’s the transition to digital media in the home. Windows Home Server is a great way to store movies, Apple is surely coming with something similar, and a $139 1.5 Terabyte hard disk is big enough to store 1500 movies. Yowza. Think of all the shelf space that would save.

Most people have made the digital transition already with their music collection. I don’t know many people with a wall full of CDs anymore. The same thing happening for movies is a logical next step.

Blu-Ray is somewhere in between. 50 gig of storage and an awesome 1080p picture are worth having the actual piece of plastic for, today, because 50gig is a bit too big to store online and stream to your TV. Someday it won’t be, but right now, it’s not really practical to treat Blu-Ray quality movies the way we treat MP3s.

And there’s the added complication that, again, today, there are no inexpensive Blu-Ray players.

Some of the best Blu-Ray movies are the animated movies like Cars and Ratatouille, kids movies. But my son’s portable DVD player can’t play them, and he’s probably not going to have his own Blu-Ray player for a while.

Some Disney movies have come with a bonus DVD version. That’s not a bad compromise, but I’m sure that won’t last – the idea of selling two unrestricted copies of the movie for one price can’t be appealing to the studios.

A solution that many studios seem to have settled on is the idea of including a Digital Copy version of the movie when you buy the Blu-Ray. Here’s the Fox Digital Copy page, and here’s the Disney Digital Copy page. This version of Wall-E, for example, is a special edition that includes a third disc. This third disc is standard DVD format, and includes a Windows Media and an iTunes compatible version of the movie. This movie uses the standard iTunes DRM and the Windows Media DRM to protect this copy of the movie, and the box includes an activation code.

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So in practice here’s how it works:

  1. Insert the Digital Copy disc
  2. Double-click the icon on it
  3. iTunes appears and asks you to enter the code
  4. Type in the code
  5. The movie is copied onto your computer

I can’t speak to how the Windows Media DRM works but the iTunes FairPlay DRM is permissive enough for me. It means I can copy the movie to my Apple TV, to my iPod, and play it on my computer.

In my opinion this is a pretty good compromise. If I had a Blu-Ray drive and some software that would reliably rip Blu-Ray discs then I’d prefer that. During this transition when not many people have a Blu-Ray drive in their computers, including a disc with a DRM-ed version of the movie that works with your existing computer is a pretty nice bonus.

Of course it’s not a free bonus – most studios charge an extra $5 for the Digital Copy version.