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Review - Is DVD Digital Copy worth the trouble?

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 18 Nov 2009 5:54 User comments (21)

Review - Is DVD Digital Copy worth the trouble? Last year Hollywood introduced a new feature called the Digital Copy. It's supposed to be a solution for watching your movies on your portable media player, and has been promoted as the legal alternative to ripping and encoding movies at home.
To date, here at Afterdawn we have been generally dismissive of the entire idea of Digital Copy. It has always seemed like a solution to the wrong problem. Instead of eliminating the ridiculous DRM restrictions on DVD-Video it adds a different type in the hope this will convince people not to rip DVDs.

In the nearly two years since the first Digital Copy enabled DVD went on sale it has become a common feature on new DVDs, and even spread to Blu-ray discs. So instead of just poking fun we're going to take a serious look at the Digital Copy included with the Watchmen Director's Cut DVD to give you a more accurate assessment.

The DRM

Before we get to the video file itself let's take a close look at Digital Copy's limitations, and there sure are plenty to look at. But basically they all boil down to Digital Rights Management.

A DVD with Digital Copy includes two different types of video file, corresponding to the two major types of DRM. You can choose between an iTunes copy, which as the name suggests uses Apple's FairPlay DRM, or Windows Media, which is protected by Microsoft's DRM of the same name.

Not surprisingly, the iTunes files can be played in iTunes or transferred to an iPod or AppleTV box. The Windows Media files can be played or transferred to a portable device using Windows Media Player 11.

Devices capable of playing the Windows Media files may say they support PlaysForSure (the original name for this DRM) or are Certified for Windows Vista. This becomes somewhat more complicated since the Microsoft Zune is Certified for Windows Vista, but doesn't support the DRM. In fact since Vista has been replaced by Windows 7 they may be changing the name again as this review is being written.

The iTunes video files appear to be the the same as those sold in the iTunes Store. They are authorized through the iTunes program. Authorization involves associating the license for a Digital Copy with your iTunes Store account. Once authorized you can copy the M4V file to any computer associated with that account.




Windows Media Digital Copy files are even more restricted. You can copy them once and only once to one computer and copy them to one and only one device. If you switch computers and want to move your Windows Media Digital Copy you're out of luck.




You're also out of luck if you happen to use an operating system like Linux for which there is no iTunes client or Windows Media DRM support. Right now it's possible to install iTunes in Linux using Wine, a Windows emulator, but this is a hack that's not supported by Apple.

There's also a time restriction to think about. You can play a Digital Copy forever (or at least until you upgrade your computer or portable device), but you have to copy it to your computer within a certain timeframe or else lose the capability to do so forever. Typically there is a window of one year from the DVD's original release date. Wait a day longer and authorization will fail.

This generally shouldn't be an issue for a DVD, but Blu-ray discs may be another matter. With significantly lower sales numbers than DVD, Blu-ray discs often take much longer to sell. The chances of getting a Blu-ray disc with an already expired, and therefore useless, Digital Copy are not insignificant.

And if you don't happen to live in the United States or Canada they're all useless.

The Video

Assuming the DRM hasn't left too bad a taste in your mouth there's the video to consider. There are only so many general statements you can make about all video on all Digital Copies, so we'll stick to talking about a particular movie - Watchmen Director's Cut. However, you can expect similar things from other movies, especially with the iTunes versions.

But before talking about the video it's worth considering what would be preferred. Since the basic idea behind these copies is watching them on a portable media player of some kind it's reasonable to assume a small filesize is important. Because portable devices have lower resolutions than even a standard definition TV and the video is either MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) for iTunes copies or VC-1 for Windows Media this shouldn't be any problem.

The Windows Media files for Watchmen do a pretty good job in that regard. There are two copies of the movie included. One is standard DVD resolution, but without the matte (black bars) required to keep the horizontal resolution DVD compliant. This is the version you would want to play on your computer. At just over 1.6GB it's fairly compact. Keep in mind the movie is more than two and a half hours long. There's a single 2 channel audio stream encoded to 128kbps WMA format.




The second Windows Media file is encoded at a resolution of 320x136, making it more suitable for portable devices. As you would expect this results in a significant size reduction. In fact this file is less than 700MB. The audio stream is 2 channel WMA encoded at 96kbps.




The iTunes file is another story. For starters, since there's just one file it has to be suitable for both larger screens, like a computer or TV, and the much smaller (and lower resolution) iPod screens. Instead of retaining the DVD's size or being reduced to the size of an iPod screen it has a resolution of 640x254 and a bitrate of 1445kbps.




It features two audio streams. One encoded to 2 channel 128kbps AAC and the other is a 5 channel Dolby Digital. The total size for this file is just over 2.2GB.

This actually wouldn't be too bad if you were transferring it to an AppleTV box. But what if your destination is an iPhone or iPod Touch? With no more than 32GB of total storage, and commonly only 16GB or less, that eats up a pretty big percentage of the total space. And for what? The iPhone and iPod Touch only have a resolution of 480x320. On other iPods it's even less. And of course if you're watching the movie on your iPod the surround sound audio track is completely wasted.

That's not to say there's no use for a higher resolution file on your iPod. If you happen to have a dock with video outputs you could connect it to a TV. In that case you'd certainly be better off with the higher resolution. And if you have an iPod Classic you might not even care about the file size.

But considering iPhone and iPod Touch users certainly outnumber AppleTV users and people outputting video to their TV from an iPod it would be nice to have a smaller file.

And that just underscores an obvious problem with Digital Copy. When you encode your own video files from a DVD they can be optimized for the device you'll be playing them on. As long as you own the DVD anyway, and if you're using the Digital Copy it's a safe bet you do, you can always make another copy with different settings to play on a different device.

If you want a 480x204 copy for your iPhone, a 640x272 copy for your HTPC, and a 720x364 copy for your computer it's no problem. With Digital Copy you're stuck with what they give you.

And in the case of the Watchmen Director's Cut what they give isn't what you would probably expect. The included iTunes and Windows Media files are all from the theatrical version of the film. You can get the Director's Cut, but only after waiting 8-10 weeks to be sent a new disc.

Not only are you paying for a DRM infested file that will only play on a couple of devices and getting files which aren't optimized for the portable devices they're supposed to be designed for, you have to wait several weeks to get the same movie found on the DVD.

Unless you're looking for video files that are more restricted than DVDs and not optimized for your portable device you're better off doing your own encoding.

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21 user comments

118.11.2009 6:08

"In the nearly two years since the first Digital Copy enabled DVD went on sale it has become a common feature on new DVDs, and even spread to Blu-ray discs. So instead of just poking fun we're going to take a serious look at the Digital Copy included with the Watchmen Director's Cut DVD to give you a more accurate assessment."

"There's also a time restriction to think about. You can play a Digital Copy forever (or at least until you upgrade your computer or portable device), but you have to copy it to your computer within a certain timeframe or else lose the capability to do so forever. Typically there is a window of one year from the DVD's original release date. Wait a day longer and authorization will fail.

This generally shouldn't be an issue for a DVD, but Blu-ray discs may be another matter. With significantly lower sales numbers than DVD, Blu-ray discs often take much longer to sell. The chances of getting a Blu-ray disc with an already expired, and therefore useless, Digital Copy are not insignificant. "

So there are DVDs with this feature that have been out for about two years; and this shouldn't be an issue with DVD, despite dismal sales due to the economy, and more people than ever buying from the discount racks?

"And if you don't happen to live in the United States or Canada they're all useless. "

-I'm sure that the rest of the world is just thrilled about that! No, seariously...they don't have to deal with this BS, they must be thrilled!

What a joke, DRM sucks, and the files would be terrible quality even if the DRM was stripped. My favorite part about DVD & blu-ray is the ease of DRM stripping, we don't need more DRM.

FAIL

218.11.2009 10:32

Luckily for me I don't encounter the issues discussed in this article.

318.11.2009 12:29

Yeeaahhhh, me neither. :)

419.11.2009 0:17

Originally posted by 5fdpfan:
Luckily for me I don't encounter the issues discussed in this article.
Thanks to AnyDVD, I have not had to worry about these problems either. :-)

519.11.2009 0:36

Originally posted by KillerBug:
So there are DVDs with this feature that have been out for about two years; and this shouldn't be an issue with DVD, despite dismal sales due to the economy, and more people than ever buying from the discount racks?

Since Digital Copy is only available on a given movie's initial pressing or 2 it's generally not a problem with DVDs, which in fairness I probably should have mentined. There will obviously be exceptions, but in most cases the initial run of DVDs will be sold long before the first year is up. Having said that, I'd be curious to see how many of these discs end up being bought by rental shops and sold used after the Digital Copy expires.

619.11.2009 4:41

Quote:
Originally posted by KillerBug:
So there are DVDs with this feature that have been out for about two years; and this shouldn't be an issue with DVD, despite dismal sales due to the economy, and more people than ever buying from the discount racks?

Since Digital Copy is only available on a given movie's initial pressing or 2 it's generally not a problem with DVDs, which in fairness I probably should have mentined. There will obviously be exceptions, but in most cases the initial run of DVDs will be sold long before the first year is up. Having said that, I'd be curious to see how many of these discs end up being bought by rental shops and sold used after the Digital Copy expires.
I was just thinking about all the new releases that they print too many of, then they sell them off over the course of 2-3 years...the second pressing can be as much as 4 years after the first. I guess it does not matter anyway...if they are not even going to include this "feature" on the second pressing, then it won't catch on...even if the DRM and quality problems were fixed.

719.11.2009 8:02

Quote:
Quote:
Originally posted by KillerBug:
So there are DVDs with this feature that have been out for about two years; and this shouldn't be an issue with DVD, despite dismal sales due to the economy, and more people than ever buying from the discount racks?

Since Digital Copy is only available on a given movie's initial pressing or 2 it's generally not a problem with DVDs, which in fairness I probably should have mentined. There will obviously be exceptions, but in most cases the initial run of DVDs will be sold long before the first year is up. Having said that, I'd be curious to see how many of these discs end up being bought by rental shops and sold used after the Digital Copy expires.
I was just thinking about all the new releases that they print too many of, then they sell them off over the course of 2-3 years...the second pressing can be as much as 4 years after the first. I guess it does not matter anyway...if they are not even going to include this "feature" on the second pressing, then it won't catch on...even if the DRM and quality problems were fixed.

To the best of my knowledge Digital Copy isn't pervasive enough to be used on those sorts of titles yet. If anything the complaint (about the DVDs) is that they've been gone within a month or 2 after release. But it's certainly valid to suggest it eventually would be part of those lower volume releases if, as the studios suggest, it's such a big part of their strategy.

819.11.2009 10:40

Digital Copy is a joke why would one waste their time when you can use better alternatives. And if you had to use this garbage you would be screwed in the long run.

I would NEVER buy a used barely playable movie from a rental shop that really isn't too bright when you think about it. So your example wouldn't apply and for those that would they probably wouldn't know how to even use Digital Copy anyhow.

Watchmen Director's Cut, who would want to copy that horrible worthless movie anyhow. That has to be the absolute worst movie I have seen in a very, very long time. It was so bad I couldn't watch it further then half way through and wanted my money back for renting the garbage, it would have put me to sleep forever, I've seen bad B movies that were much better.

Other then the poor choice in movies you did a very good job on the artical, good job in that sense.

919.11.2009 11:37

I stead of downloading a Digital Copy with Sux Fer Sure compatibility, I opted to rip and encode my own copy. But Star Trek was only about 50% as good as I expected, and I'm not really tempted to watch the movie on my netbook after all. Oh well.

1019.11.2009 11:51

Interesting article.

I love digital copy, it is so much better that to try to rip the DVD and so much faster.

1119.11.2009 12:44

I bought "Star Trek" the other day. I laughed when I saw that it had a digital copy. Im thinking to myself, "I can make my own"! And probably be better quality, and the size that I want it to be...

I think digital copy is a waste of effort. But I don't speak for everyone...

1219.11.2009 12:57

Originally posted by salsa36:
Interesting article.

I love digital copy, it is so much better that to try to rip the DVD and so much faster.

Good to see someone with an opposing viewpoint joining the discussion. Which type of Digital Copy do you use (iTunes or Windows Media) and what type of device(s) do you use for playback?

1319.11.2009 20:06

Nice try movie studios. I'll stay with either DVDFab or the combination of AnyDVD and CloneDVD (and CloneDVDmobile when I want it on my cell or iPod) thanks.

1419.11.2009 23:29

While I would have no use for digital copy, I just realized their strategy:

-They release movies that are not very good, and that most people will watch only once or twice.
-They add digital copy to the disc, so you can watch the movies on your iPhone, at a resolution so low that you can't tell how bad the acting is.
-You watch the movies 1 or 2 times each, then try to forget about them and never watch them again.

This scenario will probably account for about 95% of all movies. For those who want to have higher quality or drm-less freedom, they can always do it the old way.

So I guess my only complaints about this features would be:
1.) If they try to up the price for a movie because it includes digital copy.
2.) If they try to outlaw usefull rippers like AnyDVD on the grounds that they do the same thing.
3.) There is very little space on a DVD9. If they have to lower the quality of the DVD video to make room for the digital copy files, then it is certainly bad.

1524.12.2009 0:53

Originally posted by Mr-Movies:
Digital Copy is a joke why would one waste their time when you can use better alternatives. And if you had to use this garbage you would be screwed in the long run.

I would NEVER buy a used barely playable movie from a rental shop that really isn't too bright when you think about it. So your example wouldn't apply and for those that would they probably wouldn't know how to even use Digital Copy anyhow.

Watchmen Director's Cut, who would want to copy that horrible worthless movie anyhow. That has to be the absolute worst movie I have seen in a very, very long time. It was so bad I couldn't watch it further then half way through and wanted my money back for renting the garbage, it would have put me to sleep forever, I've seen bad B movies that were much better.

Other then the poor choice in movies you did a very good job on the artical, good job in that sense.

Since you don't know the difference between "than" and "then" I'm not sure why anyone would think you are smart enough to decide what's a good movie.

1622.8.2011 14:55
A Dawg
Unverified new user

Quote:
Since you dont know the difference between "than" and "then" Im not sure why anyone would think you are smart enough to decide whats a good movie.
Seconded.

1722.8.2011 15:50

That's actually a fairly common mistake amongst the masses. Hardly worth insulting the man...

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 22 Aug 2011 @ 15:50



To delete, or not to delete. THAT is the question!

1812.12.2011 15:35

I'm most grateful for this. I recently bought my first "Triple Play" disc and was intrigued.

Now, what I want to do is download a High Def digital copy onto my main PC, have a copy I can carry about with me on my netbook, and copy it to a network media player I have in the weekday accommodation I use when working. It appears that I can do absolutely none of this. So I'll take your advice and rip the DVD copy.

You've saved me a lot of time and hassle:)

1914.12.2011 6:23

Originally posted by luckykaa:
I'm most grateful for this. I recently bought my first "Triple Play" disc and was intrigued.

Now, what I want to do is download a High Def digital copy onto my main PC, have a copy I can carry about with me on my netbook, and copy it to a network media player I have in the weekday accommodation I use when working. It appears that I can do absolutely none of this. So I'll take your advice and rip the DVD copy.

You've saved me a lot of time and hassle:)
In fact these days I use several programs to rip Blu-rays to movies I can watch on my netbook. It's much the same as I did with DVDs.

2028.12.2012 9:40

Totally worth it!!! We have an appleTV and it was amazingly simple to take the new movies the kids got for Christmas, pop them in iTunes, and then play on the Apple TV! So glad Disney has this feature in all their new movies!!!

2111.1.2013 19:29

Any DVD is the way to go.

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