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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

UltraViolet Aims to Bring Visual Media to the Cloud

Watching a movie at home used to be a simple proposition: You’d go out to buy or rent the movie, then come home and pop it in your VCR or DVD player. Now, although options for buying or renting movies have exploded, being able to watch them can be more problematic. If it’s a physical format (DVD or Blu-ray), do you have the right hardware? If you’re watching via PC or portable device, do you have the right software or app? If you select something for one device, is it compatible with another?

Many major movie studios and content distributors have recognized this problem and have banded together to create a solution.

Introducing UltraViolet
UltraViolet is a cloud-based system that will allow consumers, once they have purchased or rented a title, to access it via whatever device they choose. Rather than purchasing a title in a specific format, UltraViolet instead lets viewers purchase the rights to the title, which can then be viewed in whatever format is appropriate for a particular device.1 For example, under the current system, a consumer who purchases a title for streaming to their HDTV would be unable to watch that same title on their phone or tablet while they’re on the go, because the portable device is incompatible with the HD format. Or, if they purchase a DVD or Blu-ray, they would be unable to watch it on any device without the right optical drive. The UltraViolet system aims to eliminate such distinctions.

UltraViolet is a collaborative effort between movie and television studios, content distributors, hardware manufacturers, and Internet service providers, a consortium calling itself the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE). DECE includes such notable companies as Netflix, Best Buy, Microsoft, Sony, and the RIAA.2 The consortium does not currently include Disney (the only major movie studio not involved) or Apple (which is planning a similar service of its own). Unlike a subscription service, like Netflix, an UltraViolet account is free; account holders will pay for each individual purchase or rental.3

The benefits of such a system are obvious for the consumer, and the companies involved are hoping it will revive (like Blu-ray) the home entertainment market. However, there are some drawbacks or possible stumbling blocks involved as well. The non-involvement of Disney and Apple is just one of those. Another is that there is no provision for including content consumers have already purchased.4 Also, the UltraViolet system currently calls for a cap of six users, twelve devices, and three simultaneous streams per account, which may create issues for some households.5 The system is also dependent upon Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, which has not been a successful strategy for other media formats.6 And, of course, if the system fails and is eventually abandoned, consumers will lose any purchases for which they don’t have a hard copy.

Cloudy Future
UltraViolet-compatible discs and apps are slated to launch this fall in the U.S.7 Until it actually happens, it’s difficult to know how successful it will be or if it will have the desired effect on the home entertainment market. As with other innovations in streaming and subscription services, it stands to reason that it will not threaten patrons’ interest in DVDs and Blu-rays at their local libraries for quite some time, if at all.

Is this the first you’ve heard of the UltraViolet system? If not, what have you heard or read? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.


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