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Warner Brothers Archive DVDs: Classic Movies On-Demand

The latest example of a media company finding a way to profit from their archives, Warner Brothers has launched the Warner Brothers Archive. Nestled neatly within the the WBshop.com website, among the TV shows and promotional merchandise, the movies from the archives include everything customers have come to expect from an online shop. We have user reviews, video clips and the ways to share links. You can browse by genre or decade. They are currently holding a vote to see what title should be added to the inventory next.

One of the films available from the archives is the 1975 action feature Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Embedded below is a 30 second clip showing Doc Savage entering his “Fortress of Solitude”. They could have made it easier for me to embed this (I had to go figure out how to embed FLV files into this blog post) – but I am happy that they let me embed it at all. If you don’t see a video below, you probably need to install adobe’s shockwave. You can always go watch the clip on the Doc Savage page (click on Video Trailers & Clips).

Each film page carefully notes “This film has been manufactured from the best-quality video master currently available and has not been remastered or restored specifically for this DVD and On Demand release.” and then directs the customer to view the preview clip to evaluate the film’s quality.

The details comes out when we dig into the Warner Archive FAQ. It is here that we learn that the DVDs we can purchase for $19.95 are produced “on-demand”. How are they different from the DVD’s you buy at the store?

DVD’s produced on-demand are similar to, but not quite same as, DVD’s you’d buy at the local video store. DVD movies you buy at the local video outlet are manufactured from a mold via a stamping process whereas on-demand DVDs are “burned”. Each carries information read by the DVD player, but the physical properties of the two are different.

Most DVD players are compatible with both commercial DVD-Video and one or more of the “recordable DVD formats. Our on-demand DVD’s are manufactured using the most widely accepted format, DVD-R.

They also answer this question about copying the DVDs:

Q: I’m trying to make a few extra copies of my DVD, for “safe keeping” and for a surprise present to my mom. When I copied the disc it was un-playable. Why is that? And what can I do about it?

A: This DVD on-demand disc was recorded using CSS encryption. CSS is designed to prevent unauthorized reproduction of the DVD. We’re delighted that you’d like to surprise your mother with the gift of a Warner Bros classic movie. May we suggest she’d like an officially produced and packaged DVD even more? As such we welcome your visit back to the Warner.com classic store at any time.

In addition to being able to purchase DVD-Rs with CSS encryption, many of the archives films permit a download option. Archives movie downloads appear to cost $14.95. The Digital Products FAQ explains the details, but these are the highlights of what comes along with that $5 in savings:

  • Downloads are protected by DRM
  • Downloads only play on MS Windows boxes – no Mac or Linus support
  • You can burn the movie to a CD or DVD, but they “are Digital Rights Management (DRM) protected, so you will only be able to watch the video on the computer or device on which it was originally purchased.”

I give a big thumbs up to Warner Brothers for coming up with a way to leverage their archives. I am less impressed with the non-open format and DRM restrictions they are placing on both the DVD-Rs and downloads. A model that states that a purchased download can be played as often as I want – but requires a specific operating system and only permits play on the same machine from which I made the purchase seems untenable. If I were to buy one of these films, I would spend the extra $5 and get the DVD-R which at least can be played on multiple machines, even if it can never be copied!

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