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UltraViolet: A new DRM, or a new way to buy movies?

Posted by: , 13:18 AEDT, Thu January 13, 2011

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The way we buy movies may just be about to change, thanks to a new system called UltraViolet unveiled at the CES

UltraViolet's release timetable may have just been released at the CES, and the specs finalized, but this has been something that the major movie studios and computer companies have been planning for a long time.

Just what is UltraViolet? On the surface, it looks like yet another DRM, which sits on top of all the other existing DRM for digital video. And the fact that Sony are behind makes it look like bad news for the consumer straight away. But while the DRM is there, UltraViolet may offer consumer more freedom than before.

UltraViolet is a 'digital locker' type technology, allowing you to purchase not just a specific version of a movie on a particular format, but the movie itself (in all available UV formats). Clear as mud? Okay, let's go through a typical scenario then.

You go to your favourite brick and mortar shop, pick up a copy of a new movie on DVD. It has the UltraViolet logo on it, which at this point, means nothing to you. You go home, read up about what UltraViolet is, and follow the instructions to set up a new UV account online (which is free). During the setup process, you need to nominate up to 6 people that can have access to your UV 'digital locker', as well as up to 12 UV compatible hardware devices, be it your Xbox 360 (assuming it supports UV - it should, as Microsoft is one of the major backers of the format) or Blu-ray player or iPhone. Once that's done, you enter the code from your newly purchased UV compatible DVD, and you've just added this movie to your digital locker. Instantly, all the people that you registered will instantly be able to access the same movie on all the hardware devices you've registered as well, in whatever format those devices support (be it a download, or instant stream). Rinse and repeat for all your future UV purchases (whether they're DVDs, or digitally from the Internet). And even when new devices come out, you don't have to re-purchase the same movie over and over again -  just change the up to 12 devices, retiring your old equipment so you can add new equipment.

Sounds good so far, so what's wrong with it?

Well, it all depends on just what devices are supported. It's no good if UV is only supported on Android phones, but not on iPhones, or vice versa. Or that not all movies are available with UV support (Disney films will most likely not support UV, since they are going ahead with their own digital locker initiative, called Disney Keychest). And while it feels like we're being given new freedoms with our media purchases, in reality, we've just given over control to the movie studios. Who's to say that they will always honor their pledge to allow you lifetime access to your digital locker, or that if new UV supported devices come out, that you won't need to re-purchase everything again? They have the power, and they can do whatever they want, subject to the contract between you and them that they have wrote (and you won't bother to read), and which they can change at any time most likely.

But hopefully it won't come to that.

Discuss UltraViolet and its implications in our forum:


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