Experimenting with Disc-to-Digital and Movies Anywhere

Not much to talk about on the games front right now – I’m slowly grinding through Pandora’s Tower and am almost done with tower 10, so getting to the end game – so today’s post is about another of my recent distractions, which is experimenting with Vudu’s disc conversion system and seeing how it ties in to Movies Anywhere and thence into iTunes.

That was one sentence.  Lot of subordinate clauses, sure, but only one period.  I’m not sure if my high-school English teachers would be proud or sad.  I’m not sure whether high-school should be hyphenated.  I may be getting off-topic.  I’m pretty sure off-topic is hyphenated.  ANYWAY.

So, when doing disc-to-digital conversion, the ideal case is that you put a shiny DVD or BD into your computer’s optical drive, or scan a UPC if you don’t have an optical drive, then push a button and have a validation server confirm that this disc that you put in is X movie and for a small fee you can have the right to download a copy from your service of choice.

Actually, that’s not the IDEAL case.  The ideal case is that the validation server looks at your disc and says that you can have an even better version of the movie.

I’ve gone through probably a hundred assorted discs so far.  I haven’t been converting all of them, mind you, just seeing what some of them offer, and the results have been… well, they’ve been OK but not perfect.  I thought I’d share some data points here.  Movies in release order just because.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Probably one of the very few films where one of the stars killing and eating the other actors was a real possibility, Bringing up Baby was never released on Blu-ray, but scanning the DVD gave me an option to upgrade to hi-def for $5.  Ideal.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Not my disc, but a friend’s. He reports that scanning the 1962 version gives the option to buy the 1935 version. The 1935 version is well thought-of, but still this is Not Ideal. 

Charade (1963)

This is a movie that languished in public-domain hell for years, until Criterion released a $40 DVD version in 1999.  I own it.  It’s a non-anamorphic DVD, so it’s even lower resolution than usual.  Putting the disc into a computer gave me the option to buy “The Truth About Charlie”, which was a remake done in the early 2000s.  I’ve never seen The Truth About Charlie, but it wasn’t what I was after.  Scanning the UPC, however, gave me the option to buy an HD version of the film.  Ideal, possibly even more ideal for giving you the option to get a second movie on the cheap. 

How to Steal a Million (1966)

Probably my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie, but I’ve always had a soft spot for heist-comedy movies in general.  Another movie that never got released on Blu-ray but gave me the option to upgrade to HD when I scanned the disc.  Ideal.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

Vudu recognized this movie perfectly, and gave me the option to buy an HD version of the film – not a bad upgrade from a DVD that came out 17 years ago!  Weirdly, Movies Anywhere does not have this movie in their library, so it didn’t port to MA.  Superman II does exist in the MA library, and I now have an HD copy across all services, but this one is Not Ideal at the moment.

Blade Runner (1982)

I have the five-disc BD set, and scanning the UPC gave me the option to get a digital copy of the theatrical cut.  Fortunately, putting the first disc into my computer’s optical drive gave me the option to get the Final Cut version, which then synced to MA and from there to every service except iTunes.  From some browsing around, I’m not the only person with this problem so hopefully it will be fixed soon.  Almost Ideal.

Aliens (1986)

Scanning this BD gave me the choice of buying either the theatrical or extended versions of the film.  It’s fairly unique in that regard – the other discs I tried that were extended versions were Alien, Alien 3, The Replacement Killers, Dark City, and Terminator 2, and all of those movies only gave me the option of the theatrical cuts.  So, Ideal for Aliens, not a good showing for most other movies with alternate versions.

The Running Man (1987)

Even for an 80s action movie, this one was a little cheesy.  Still, sentimental value because it’s the first R-rated movie I saw in a theater without adult accompaniment.  Redeemed fine with disc to digital but did not port to Movies Anywhere, so there may be some rights issues.  Not Ideal.

Predator 2 (1990)

Speaking of sorta-cheesy action movies… the disc failed validation, but scanning the UPC gave me a $2 HD version.  Ideal.

Titan A.E. (2000)

DVD scanned and offered an HD upgrade.  There are a lot of animated movies from the early 2000s that have never been released on Blu-ray, so if you want an HD version of this or things like Over the Hedge, Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, etc, digital copy services are your best hope.  Ideal.

Harry Potter, various (2001-2011)

I had digital copy codes for the final three movies, but the first five scanned perfectly and migrated to all services.  Ideal.

The Time Machine (2002)

Scanning either the disc or the UPC give the same result here, an offer to buy a digital copy of the 1960 The Time Machine movie.  Not fantastic if you like the Guy Pearce version, but the 1960 movie is pretty good too.  Not Ideal, unless you prefer the older movie and don’t own it already.

Hellboy (2004)

Scanning the disc gave me the option to buy a digital copy of The Punisher (2004) but scanning the UPC resulted in the correct film. Ideal, even more ideal if you want a cheap copy of a completely different movie as well.

Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007)

Scanned properly but only gave me the option to buy an English-dubbed version.  Not Ideal.  Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society was similar.

I’ll stop going through movies now, assuming that you’ve even read this far, and sum up my results as I see them:

If you are scanning a reasonably-recent movie that has only one version, and have both the UPC and the disc handy, you have a really good chance of getting what you want.  If you’re scanning a movie that was never released on Blu-ray, you actually have surprisingly high odds of being able to buy a HD version.  If you’re scanning a movie with multiple cuts available, you are probably going to get offered the theatrical cut, likewise foreign movies will probably only give you an option for the English dub.  Also, if you’re doing this for the purpose of filtering your movies through Vudu and then to Movies Anywhere and to your digital movie storefront-of-choice, you need to check whether Movies Anywhere actually knows about your movie before scanning. 🙂

Oh, and there are a few cases where the system will process your disc and be absolutely sure that it’s a different movie.  Those are pretty rare, though.


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Finally, digital movie sanity

If you read back through a few years of posts here – mind you, I can’t recommend actually reading the last ten years of posts, but let’s assume that you are very very bored – you will see the chronicles of a guy who really wanted to move all of his movies off of discs and into digital form so they could be stored on a server and accessed without needing to get up off the couch and look for discs.

Also, I had several bookshelves full of DVDs and there is something really pathetic about a living room that looks like a video store.

Most movies these days come with a digital copy code.  That wasn’t always the case, and I know far too much about DVD ripping and encoding as a result.  Not all movies come with a code I can use in iTunes, however, and this is annoying because a) I have a pretty substantial investment in Apple-branded gadgets and b) UltraViolet, the “not-iTunes” alternative is… well, it’s always struck me as something designed by committee, with far too many compromises.  iTunes codes let me download a local file, and I like having local files.

About 3 years ago, Disney came up with a neat idea – “Disney Movies Anywhere” – which let you redeem your digital copy codes in one central location and gave you access to your movies on your provider-of-choice.  It also tied into Disney’s rewards program, and over the years I have gotten a few free blu-rays out of the whole deal.

Oh, and if you BOUGHT a Disney movie on your digital provider-of-choice, that movie would sync back to Disney Movies Anywhere and then to your other sites.  So, even though I pretty much only use iTunes, I was able to snag a couple cheap movies off Google Play and have them sync over to iTunes.

As of last week, however, the “Disney Movies Anywhere” program has been rebranded to “Movies Anywhere” and now has most of the major studios on-board.  Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM are the significant holdouts, but having Warner, Sony, Universal, and Fox means that we are very close to a buy-once-play-anywhere future.

Two more things that are particularly good for me from this:

One, Vudu is a supported retailer for Movies Anywhere.  This doesn’t mean a lot by itself – though I suppose I can start looking at Vudu sales – but it means that I can take advantage of their “Disc 2 Digital” program, where I stick a disc into my computer, their software scans it, and then I can get a digital copy for $2… or, if I have a DVD and want an HD version, that will set me back five bucks.

I didn’t upgrade most of our DVDs to blu-ray because paying 20 or 30 bucks per disc was nuts.  I still won’t upgrade most of them to high def, but at only $5 per I am upgrading some of them.

Second, not being a fan of UltraViolet, I never redeemed any UV codes.  They have expiration dates printed on them, so I didn’t think they’d actually work…

…but apparently the expiration dates are more like guidelines.

The bottom two codes are actually from Warner’s digital copy program, pre-Ultraviolet, and I have a vague memory of trying to redeem them some years ago and being told that they were past their sell-by date, as it were.   It seems that they got a second life.

Oh, and third: Many of the older digital copies I had were SD copies.  A side effect of linking iTunes into MA is that those movies got free upgrades to HD.  I like free upgrades.

So, big thumbs-up from this geek.  Now they just need to get those last few studios into the program.


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Onwards to 101

Knocking out Metroid: Other M and Cursed Mountain got my Wii backlog under double digits, so – on a reader recommendation – I decided to pull Pandora’s Tower off the shelf to keep pushing that number down. It’s a fantasy-setting action RPG that I really only knew about because it got localized as part of “Operation Rainfall” back in the day, so I went in pretty much blind. 

This is not what I expected out of a Wii game. It’s a mash-up of Demon’s Souls and Shadow of the Colossus and Song of Saya and I don’t know what all else.  

Those are all good things, as an aside. 

I’ve only put a couple of hours in, with no complaints other than a spot of frustration related to an in-game timer – basically, you progress through a series of 12 dungeons, with a limited time before you need to either kill the boss or go back to your home base to feed an NPC, and blowing the timer means a GAME OVER with a really dark ending. 

As I found out. 

As you explore each dungeon, though, you unlock shortcuts for subsequent runs, making the timer less of an issue. I’d prefer no timer at all, but it’s a reasonable compromise. 

So far, I’m loving it. More as I get deeper in.

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2017 Backlog Milestones: 100 Down

I wrapped up Cursed Mountain this weekend, and I’m happy to report that the initial very positive impressions I had of it continued all the way to the end. It’s hard not to compare it to the Fatal Frame series, and I think that any fan of that series would be well-served to hunt down a copy and dig the Wii out of your closet, where it’s been sitting since roughly 2008. Cursed Mountain has the same sense of being isolated from civilization and hunted by the unfortunate by-products of Ancient Rituals Gone Wrong, and your means of defense is, well, not quite as weird as a spiritual camera but still plenty quirky in its own way.

The motion controls never really got less awful, but I did eventually get to the point where I was getting over 90% recognition on the assorted swings and thrusts used in the ghost purification rituals your character needs to perform to properly take the un- out of undead, and that was enough to carry me through the last couple of fairly combat-heavy levels.

It’s also the hundredth game I’ve played to completion this year, which is a nice big round number to marvel at. Granted, many of those were very short – fully a third of them were visual novels (16) and hidden-object games (17), and those all tend to be wrapped up in under 6 hours.

The big genre just after those, however, was RPGs (15) and those tend to be on the longish side, especially things like Tokyo Mirage Sessions#FE and Dragon Age Origins, both of which were 40+ hours.

The one big genre almost completely absent so far has been FPS/TPS style games. I’ve only played four this year, and that’s with counting both Typing of the Dead and Star Trek (2013) in this category when they could easily be filed elsewhere.

It’s been a very varied year for platforms, too, since I’ve been trying to finish off the games libraries of any console I have where no new games are coming out. I’ve played games across 18 different platforms, including weird little systems like the Bandai Wonderswan and prematurely-discontinued systems like the Saturn and Dreamcast. I don’t think I’ll ever see that level of diversity again.

Even with the focus on clearing out the old, just over 40% of the titles I played were from 2015 or newer. That’s a good thing to see, because it means that I’m actually buying new things to PLAY and not just to sit on the shelf. 20% were 10 years or older, though, which just goes to show that I used to be really bad about that.

I have about three months left in the year, so as long as I can stay off MMOs I should be able to break my 2015 record of 115 games and go into 2018 with a much smaller backlog and much less guilt. Wish me luck. 🙂

Posted in videogames, Wii | 5 Comments

Quick Other M thoughts. 

Edit: Revised to add some thoughts after finishing, didn’t feel like a whole new post.

I was very close to dropping Other M a couple of nights ago. There were just so many stretches of boring hallway, and the jump physics were killing me.  I was still liking the music, at least, but I kind of felt that I’d seen enough and could move on.

Then, I hit a boss (the construction robot, to be precise), and it flattened me. I hit “Yes” to continue, expecting to have to sit through a bunch of cutscenes and dialogue, and was floored to find myself facing the same boss again, with no preamble. If you’ve ever played Dark Souls II, it was very like the Royal Rat Authority, where death->fog gate->one more try was made blissfully fast by a bonfire positioned 10 seconds away from the boss room.

Anyway, the robot killed me a lot, but I kept feeling like I was getting *better* every time, and the satisfaction of watching it stop and fall over once I got good enough was a wonderfully warm feeling.

This turned out to be a good warm-up for the next tough boss fight, AKA “hey it’s the lava stage and the big pterodactyl dude from Dead or Alive Dimensions! Awesome! Ow. Ow. Hey guy, that hurts! Quit it please?”

(Apparently, his name is Ridley, which is not a name I associate with big pterodactyl monsters. Who knew?)

I’m not sure how many times I wound up eating dirt on that fight, but I do know it took me a TON of tries. Again, being able to instantly take another swing at the boss turned out to be the key, and he eventually dropped.

Tl;dr version of this post: I was really close to deciding that this game had outlived its welcome, but it is being redeemed by some seriously fun boss fights.

(Edit begins)

Finished Other M tonight, after a three hour marathon to get through the last few boss fights.  I know that “three hours” isn’t much of a marathon, but the control scheme made it feel a lot longer.

To sum it up: I really liked it!  I understand it doesn’t fit perfectly into the canon from the other games in the series, but I haven’t played any of those so I’ll just go with what I personally experienced.  It’s a little odd in that the best boss fight, against the aforementioned giant pterodactyl, comes about halfway through the game, and the final boss is actually quite a letdown, but I liked the way that I went from being kind of a pushover at the start of the game to an unstoppable spinning death ball towards the end.

Between this and Pokémon, that’s two major* Nintendo franchises that I’ve played for the first time this year.  Maybe I’ll even play a Zelda someday.

* I’m not sure if Metroid actually counts as a “major” Nintendo franchise.  It’s not one of their big sellers, and it skipped both the N64 and WiiU consoles, but at least it’s more alive than F-Zero.

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(Might as well) Jump!

Quickie post tonight. Still chugging through Cursed Mountain and Metroid: Other M as my at-home games, with IA/VT Colorful on Vita in my portable slot for lunch breaks and the like.

IA/ VT is pretty brilliant, as an aside. It’s all vocaloid music, so not to everyone’s taste, but it does some really evil stuff with note charts.

Cursed Mountain continues to be almost everything I like in a horror game. It’s not a Fatal Frame game, but it really works the “outsider stumbling in to ancient evil rituals gone wrong” thing well. If it weren’t for the motion control finishing moves, I’d have nothing to kvetch about, and I am a dedicated kvetcher.

Other M also doing very well, though again it’s a game that makes me really wish the Wii had come out with a more conservative controller. If you’ve never played it, you spend most of the time running around with the controller held like a NES d-pad, but frequently need to point the controller at the screen to lock on to things and shoot missiles. I’m maybe a third of the way in and loving most everything about it except the controls.

It does make me really appreciate the Detective Mode/Witcher Sense/Focus Vision mechanic in so many recent games. There’s a lot of getting stuck and not knowing whether I’m supposed to be backtracking or whether I’m just missing the one inconspicuous grate I need to bomb.

It ALSO made me realize something that kind of blew my mind, because I am a big fan of control “language”, if you will, the little things that seem to show up in game after game that make playing newer games easier once you catch on to it once, and I’d never really thought about this particular bit of control language.

That is, the jump button, and the difference between tap-to-jump and tap-and-hold to jump. Both the Mario games I played recently and Other M use tap-and-hold, where the duration the button is held determines the distance or height covered by the jump.

This is VERY weird to me, because I mostly play games where “jump” is a constant regardless of how you press the jump button. It’s taking a huge effort to unlearn that, and I’m pretty sure that watching me run Samus around and fall off things would be a painful sight for anyone more tuned-in to how jumping works.

I’m kind of wondering if the difference can be traced back to a particular evolutionary branch. Probably a topic for smarter people than me, though.

Posted in videogames, Wii | 8 Comments

PSA: Cheap Ponies on iTunes

It’s a bit of a silly thing to complain about, but ever since Apple switched from selling My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in season sets to selling it in 13-Episode “volumes”, it’s been kind of overpriced.  Last I checked, they were asking 25 bucks a “volume”, which is pretty ballsy even for Apple. 
Ok, prices are probably set by Hasbro. I’m still going to blame Cupertino. 

Anyway, the end result of this pricing is that I haven’t picked up any new volumes off iTunes since V8. I’ve been watching a few episodes here and there off Netflix, but I really haven’t been keeping too closely in-tune with the series. 

Come to find out, all volumes just got priced down to $9.99, presumably as a tie-in with the impending movie. That’s a lot more reasonable, and it even includes the currently-airing season. 

So, if you’ve been in the same boat as me, pick yourself up some cheap ponies and smile. 

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