UltraViolet: what you need to know

The digital locker system laid bare

When it comes to the home, the movie industry is in a state of flux. No longer is the business model as simple as cinema first, disc second; there's now a myriad of ways consumers can get their film fix from the sofa.

Hollywood hasn't exactly been quick in offering consumers a 'one size fits all' approach to their movie buying needs but that's slowly changing with the introduction of UltraViolet. It's a service that has the backing of 75 companies, with the hope that it will become the main method for consumers to own a movie.

All these companies come under the umbrella of the DECE (Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem) consortium.

The problem is: the idea has been around for some time. And we all know that something that's been mulled over for a long time is usually a sign that things are, well, problematic.

When it comes to UltraViolet, however, the idea is sound. But it's a long way from being a perfect execution.

At its heart, UltraViolet is a simple digital locker system. Sign up to the service – it's free – and you will be able to access the movies you buy on a variety of devices.

From disc to digital

Interestingly, the idea is not to push people away from discs and onto downloads. Blu-rays and DVDs are very much part of the UltraViolet ecosystem – even if you don't buy a disc and just go down the road of just purchasing a digital copy, UV allows you to burn that content to disc without fear you are breaking any copyright laws.

This disc acts as a ticket to the license of the movie you have purchased, so you can view it anywhere and on any device, obviously with a number of caveats.


The UltraViolet eco-system

Currently, all but one of the major movie studios is behind the concept of Ultraviolet. The distributor which has not signed up is Disney. It has its own plans for a digital keychest that doesn't sit well with what UltraViolet offers.

The movie distributors backing UltraViolet

Warner Bros

Paramount Pictures

Sony Pictures


Roadshow Entertainment

Twentieth Century Fox

NBC Universal

BBC Worldwide

How does it work?

UltraViolet works in a similar way as Digital Copy used to. You buy a Blu-ray or DVD with the UV symbol and from the disc you can access that content online.

That's because you get a digital proof of purchase that you can add to your account. Once this is linked with the account, you have access to the digital stream and a download. You can have up to five people on the account but there is a limit to how many streams you can have going at once.

Blu ray

UltraViolet service to latch on to Blu-rays

As this is trying to combat piracy, UltraViolet gives you the ability to stream three things at the same time and there may well be territorial restrictions to what you can stream where.

When it comes to how many times you can download content. Well, UV is putting this in the hands of the distributor so there's no hard and fast answer for that one.

UltraViolet will work with most smartphones and tablets and all you have to do is download an app but this is where it gets more than a little confusing.

Stream team

The app you need won't be strictly a UltraViolet app but instead whichever streaming service is linked to the place you bought the disc from.

So if it's Tesco in the UK, then you will get free streaming of the movie from BlinkBox. If you bought the disc from, say, the Dixons Group, you would have to stream the movie through Knowhow, its own service.

All the retailers signing up UV have said that they will make it as clear as possible to the customer where they will get their content from – even if from the offset it sounds a tad confusing.

The DECE has likened this to the way you can get money from any bank. So, if you have a Barclaycard you can still go to a NatWest cash machine and so on.

When you sign up to UV, BlinkBox, Knowhow and the like are meant to be your cash machines, spewing out digital copies of movies for you whenever you purchase a disc from them.


"UltraViolet is a serious work in progress."

UltraViolet has launched in the UK with Warner Bros the first to bring out content. This was back in December 2011 with the release of Final Destination 5 on Blu-ray and DVD with UltraViolet rights.

Since then all their new theatrical releases being released on disc have come bundled with UltraViolet rights – there are now four additional titles: Dolphin Tale, Crazy Stupid Love, Contagion and Happy Feet 2 available in the UK.

Sony Pictures has announced content, too, but discs won't actually be out until June. You will see the service on Jack & Jill, The Vow and 21 Jump Street.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street coming with UV stamp

And herein lies another problem for UltraViolet – five major studios back it but only two so far are using it (in the UK at least). Fox has said that it is looking closely at the service and that it is "a serious work in progress" so expect something from them soon.

By the time the discs come out, the DECE should have agreed on what file format it will allow downloads of the movie to be in. This CFF (Common File Format) is a bit of a sticking point for some of the DECE and it does mean that the discs out in the US with UV on board don't and won't give consumers the option of a download.

When we'll get UltraViolet

This isn't to say that the US isn't behind UltraViolet – there's a lot more going on that brings hope to the service.

This includes the introduction of disc to digital upgrades at Wal-Mart. Essentially, for a price you can take your old DVDs to a store and they will give you a download of the movie for a nominal fee.

It's small steps like this which prove that UV could actually work. Couple this with some high-profile launches coming later in the year - Jaws on Blu-ray being just one and hardware set to get UV branding another - and UltraViolet is set to become a household name.


Jaws - coming September with UV

While Hollywood is reaping benefits from the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm, it still makes most of its money from people actually buying movies.

UltraViolet isn't a perfect solution but it is a solution and this is the closest most of Hollywood has gotten to agreeing on the way forward for movie buying that rather shakily bridges the gap between downloads and discs.

With 75 companies on board is it too big to fail? Definitely not; but it will be interesting to see how consumers react come June.


Content Team Lead

Marc (Twitter, Google+) is the content team lead for Future Technology, where he is in charge of a 14-strong team of journalists who write many of the wonderful stories that end up on TechRadar, T3.com and T3 magazine. Prior to this he was deputy editor of TechRadar, had a 10-month stint editing a weekly iPad magazine, written film reviews for a whole host of publications and has been an integral part of many magazines that are no longer with us.