What is Ultraviolet?
Ultraviolet is an ecosystem for digital content with a centralized rights clearinghouse. It allows users to buy content from where they choose (e.g. brick and mortar stores, movie studios, or online retailers) and access that content via the web or on any UV-compatible player. In theory, it’s the digital version of a DVD: any content sporting the UV logo will play on any UV compatible device.
The alliance currently has over 70 members. The current list can be found here: http://www.uvvu.com/partners.php. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the two biggest members missing from the alliance are Apple and Disney, who are putting their weight behind Disney’s KeyChest. (Thanks Hollywood: don’t you think HD-DVD and Blu-ray was bad enough?) If these two companies stand fast and refuse to sign, they could contribute to the demise of the alliance.
How does it Work?
The process operates as follows:
1. Sign up
Create an ultraviolet account at http://www.uvvu.com. Then the tedious part…
For each studio
Link studio account to UV account
(First time you watch a title from that studio, login to UV again.)
If you want to watch on mobile devices (especially iOS), you’re going to need a Flixster account and their app too.
Buy a digital copy of TV show or movie from an online retailer or studio, or buy physical media with an Ultraviolet redemption code (e.g. Drive ).
Add a proof of purchase to your library. Any digital content purchases—if you can find any—will be automatically added to the library. (At the time of writing, I was unable to find a single piece of digital content to buy.) Physical media comes with an insert containing a redemption code. This is a 17 digit case-sensitive alpha-numeric string. A QR code would have been welcome here. Below is an example from the copy of Drive that I purchased.
Watch the digital version of the movie. Movies can be streamed via the web, played on a registered device, or downloaded (see restrictions below).
5. Get a Physical Copy
In the near future, there will be an option to obtain a physical copy (called a discrete media right) on DVD that will play in a regular DVD player.
Here’s the process in pictures:
Like all DRM schemes, there are restrictions about how many devices and users can be registered, and how many simultaneous streams will be permitted. UV allows the following:
– 12 registered devices per account
– 6 users per account
– 3 simultaneous streams (total)
Within a single account, different users can be setup with different profiles (e.g. different parental control settings). A great feature for families with kids.
In addition to the above, there are several clauses in the small print, which vary from provider to provider. The minimum rights are summarized below. Full rights can be found at http://uvvu.com/uv-offer-details.php
Free streaming is only for 1 year.
“UltraViolet rights include streaming from the selling UltraViolet retailer, at no extra charge above the original purchase price, for at least one year after purchase.”
After that, content providers are allowed to charge you to stream the movie again. The small print on the Sony redemption insert for Drive reads “Offer Expires 1/31/2014”. I can only presume this pertains to free of charge streaming.
Three downloads in first year.
“Members will be able to download at least three of these files from the selling retailer, at no extra charge above the original content purchase price for a period of one year after the purchase”
After that, content providers are allowed to charge you to download the movie again. (Flixster is allowing five downloads.) You can copy a downloaded version to any other UV player, so as long as you keep a copy somewhere safe, it’s unlikely this will be an issue.
Users have not taken kindly to Ultraviolet. Most of the 1-star reviews of Horrible Bosses on Amazon were rated as 1-star because of Ultraviolet. Reputedly Flixster gave away free iTunes codes for Harry Potter because of user dissatisfaction. I’ll agree it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the digital copy scheme that the studios tried to launch a few years ago. (I used to travel internationally quite a lot and ended up renting movies I already had for the flight back from Europe because I didn’t have the digital copy on my device. With UV, I can login and download the movie for the flight home.)
What about Titles I Already Own?
I have a reasonably sized collection of DVD’s and Blu-rays and it would be nice to have access to digital version of the titles I’ve already bought. I called Sony Pictures and asked them how I get an Ultraviolet version of an existing title. They couldn’t help. All they could tell me was that only movies since Friends with Benefits are available in UV format and I’d have to go to Sony Pictures website (which is where I got the helpline number from) and check for others. There is nothing on the site; hence, the need for the call to Sony. Scouring the Warner Brothers site (who own Flixster) turned up nothing. Ditto for Paramount.
Samsung are promising to address my needs in their new Blu-ray players due this spring (BD-E6500 and BD-ES6000). According to their press release, the built-in Flixster App will treat original media as proof of purchase and allow the owner to add that title to their UV library for a nominal fee. No pricing has been set for this yet.
How did it Perform?
Aside from the inconvenience of having to setup a multitude of accounts and incessant logins, it performed pretty well. I played it in a browser on my media center PC connected to my 50” Pioneer Kuro. Picture quality was on par with iTunes and Netflix streaming, but not as good as Vudu’s HDX format (my go to streaming choice). I successfully streamed and downloaded the movie to my Kindle Fire (Android) and iPad2 (iOS) using the Flixster app; although, the Kindle wouldn’t play the downloaded version when disconnected from the network. Picture quality was excellent on these small screens.
Would I Recommend It?
If you’re buying physical media (DVD and Blu-ray), it’s pretty much free for new titles, so if you don’t mind dealing with all the accounts that you need to setup and link, there’s no reason not to have it. If you travel regularly and want to be able to get access to your movie library from the cloud (or download some for a flight), it’s definitely worth the inconvenience of the multiple sign-ups.
No-one knows what download and streaming providers will charge after the first year. In my opinion, any charge over $1 will kill the service. I can already rent movies for about $3, so I’d be reluctant to pay 30% of that to stream titles I already own.
Personally, if I’ve bought a movie on Blu-ray, I want the quality of Blu-ray so I wouldn’t use UV for those when at home.
Try it for yourself
You can try Ultraviolet for free if you’re prepared to sign up for two accounts ad enter user id’s several times. Simply sign up for ultraviolet at the link above and then sign up for Flixstr. You’ll then be able to get one free movie (only 12 dated titles to choose from).
Mark Anderson is a long-time home theater enthusiast and lives on the bleeding edge of Home Automation. He will be covering everything related to Home Automation and AV. He is also a regular contributor to avystemsmag.com, where he covers commercial AV and automation.Please welcome Mark to the HomeToys team.