UltraViolet: Building a Movie Library in the Cloud

I half expected an ordeal as I walked into Walmart carrying a small shopping bag with several movies, ready to take the new Disc-to-Digital service for a spin. I was directed to the electronics department where I was greeted by a large placard that read: “Access your movie collection. Any time. Any place. 3 Easy Steps...” Offered in Walmart stores across the country, the service is operated through the chain’s online streaming service, Vudu, and is intended to provide an easy way to set up a cloud-based digital movie library with DVDs and Blu-ray Discs you already own. It works in conjunction with the UltraViolet (UV) cloud-based clearinghouse established last fall by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a consortium backed by five major movie studios—Warner, Paramount, Sony, Fox, and Universal (see “Ultra Mobile” in May 2012’s Perfect Focus).

I told the sales clerk, Jeron, I had a few discs I wanted to convert to digital and followed him to the photo department where I handed him Mission: Impossible III and Talladega Nights on Blu-ray and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Bruce Almighty, and Pink Panther on DVD. He asked if I had an UltraViolet or Vudu account and smiled with relief when I told him I had both. “This is my first time doing a conversion,” he said. Setting up the free accounts was easy, and you don’t have to enter credit card information on Vudu unless you’re making an online purchase. Vudu maintains your digital library and facilitates streaming and downloading from the cloud while UV keeps track of the digital movies you acquire (and the rights associated with them) so you can play them on a variety of Internet-connected devices. I was asked to list the movies on a simple form along with my name and phone number; next to each title, you specify disc type and indicate if you want to upgrade DVDs to HD. It costs $2 to add an HD copy of a Blu-ray Disc or an SD copy of a DVD to your Vudu library and $5 to upgrade a DVD to HD.

Jeron walked over to the computer terminal and started registering the movies but found that Pirates (Disney) and Pink Panther (Sony Pictures) weren’t available for conversion; Disney is the only major studio that doesn’t support the UltraViolet system and, among the supporting studios, the selection of movies available for conversion is limited but growing. (There’s a search bar on Vudu’s Disc-to-Digital page where you can find out if a title is available for conversion.) A couple minutes later, I got the thumbs-up—digital copies of the other discs were available in my Vudu account. Jeron told me he was supposed to stamp the discs (to prevent authentication under another account), but he couldn’t find the stamper. Oops. I paid the $6 (plus tax) for three digital conversions and headed home. I was in and out of the store in 20 minutes.

I logged onto Vudu at home, and the movies showed up in the My Vudu section, ready for streaming to my iPad and streaming or downloading to my PS3 and PC. The service also supports Xbox 360 as well as Vudu-enabled Blu-ray players and HDTVs but does not support streaming or downloading to iPhones or Android smartphones. Vudu is set up for streaming directly to the iPad (no app required) but only in SD, and downloading is not an option. Even so, image quality was very good. And while I was able to stream or download M:I III to my PS3 in HD (720p or 1080p), SD was the only download option for the PC. You’re supposed to have to register your devices, but that part of the UltraViolet system is apparently not yet functional. Clicking on the Our Apps & Devices tab produced this message: “UltraViolet Devices Coming Soon! Adding a device will be as easy as clicking a button.” It left me wondering if the UV process will become more cumbersome once device registration is active.

To broaden my experiment, I bought the Special Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy version of Tower Heist. A card in the box instructed me to go to a Website and follow prompts to redeem my Digital Copy, but first I had to set up an account with Universal Studios. While it was a painless affair, I was a bit annoyed that I had to set up yet another account (three and counting). When I logged in, I was prompted to sign into my UV account and enter the 12-digit authorization code on the card. The movie immediately showed up in Vudu, ready for streaming and downloading. While I was clicking around on the Universal site, I stumbled on a page that said I could also access my digital movies through Flixster, which—unlike Vudu—supports streaming to iOS and Droid phones, so I set up a Flixster account (four and counting). My budding digital library showed up on Flixster, but not until several hours later. I downloaded the Flixster app to my phone and was able to stream and download my movies to the tiny screen (not that I plan to make a habit of doing that). I could also stream and download Tower Heist to my PC, but only in SD, even though a Blu-ray Disc was included in the package. Disappointing to say the least. While the movie was downloading, an onscreen notice said only five downloads were permitted. Adding insult to injury, fine print on the sticker touting the “All-New UltraViolet Movies in the Cloud” read, “Stream/Download by 7/27/12,” which was only two months away. You snooze, you lose. What’s more, I couldn’t stream or download M:I III from Flixster as it was “not yet available for streaming or download.” All those restrictions left me feeling cheated.

The idea behind the UltraViolet ecosystem is a noble one, and my limited experiment showed that the system works. But it is far from perfect. The biggest frustration for me is that there are no standard procedures and rules. Where you can play your digital movies is not a given, nor is HD resolution when you convert a Blu-ray Disc. The upshot: Be sure to read the fine print before you start building your digital library.

kevon27's picture

UV suppose to be an easy process but it's not. I have Wrath of the Titans, which requires me to register it with Flixter. I have to create an account for Flixter, UV, and VUDU (with vudu I had already done awhile ago) very annoying. How many accounts do we have to create?
Anyway, now that Titans is registered, I went to Vudu to watch the movie. Well, no Titans on Vudu and can't even use the registration code on Vudu (not valid). Thanks to forums, I found out I have to unlink my Vudu account from UV and re-link it. Ah, now I have Titans on Vudu..
Wait, there's more.. I got The Smurfs Blu-ray and last night I tried to add it to UV.. But, get this, I have to create an account on Sony's site to register the code.. So now I have accounts with Flixster, UV, VUDU and now Sony --- RIDICULOUS ---. Okay, so I registered and went to VUDU to watch the movie.. Lo and behold, the Smurfs is not on VUDU.. Guest what, I have to un-link Vudu from UV and re-link. Done, Smurf appears, but Wrath of the Titans disappears. Why do I even bother.
And the industry want people to stop ripping discs..

Billy's picture

I live out in the country where bandwidth causes me to never have to worry about such things as streaming. (Try 1.5 Mbs on a good day, never mind the fact that the phone company dug up my ditch and put in fiber optics but refuses to allow me to upgarde, but I digress, thats another touchy subject) If I DID ever get so lucky as to have REAL high speed internet at a fair price (I pay $70/month for my sometimes, try 4AM, 1.5 Mbs) then I might be more interested. For as much as I spend on Blurays and my 2000+ DVD collection, ya think they might consider allowing me to stream those titles off the cloud for free, but they don't have a clue, do they? No wonder everyone I know except me steals their goods. With that smirky smug additute, I can almost agree with my friends theft. Our local library has almost any DVD you might ever want, blurays too. Many I know burn them onto now cheap hard drives and have archived truly impressive cinema collections. The studios make nothing from this, it costs my friends, zilch. Call me old fashioned, call me foolish, but I still believe right is right and wrong is still wrong,,, but they make it so darned hard to stay on the proper side of that line. If you pay for a movie honestly, they should throw you a bone. Digital distrubution costs them nada, pure profit. Make the fees nominal and watch the profits escalate. Of course the record companies are shooting themselves in the foot as well with thier stupidly high prices. I recall almost 30 years ago now when CDs came out we were told they would dramaticly lower the cost of ownership because they were so easy and cheap to make. Did that happen? Nope, greed took over and Napster did later. Still time for the studios to learn that lesson. A cheap and decent distrubution system will work, anything else is doommed to fail. They will still have me being a fool and paying for thier services, but will anyone else?

Eagleshadow's picture

This concept is just silly. If you can't bear to be away form your Blu Rays or DVD's when out and about, you have a problem that calls for an intervention.

Beryl's picture

Not at all "silly". Physical media can break, get lost, or become obsolete. Having digital rights enables you to watch it now and in 40 years. This is the concept behind the success of audible. You don't have to worry about broken cassette tapes or warped disks once you purchase the rights to an audiobook.

I'm staying away from Vudu because they've "lost" media I've purchased and registered on their site. I think the Apple or Amazon ecosystems are more reliable.

Robert J. Phillips's picture

Today cloud computing is used allover. I think the potential profits come along with new technology and those people or companies who are able to implement it will win the market. For instance virtual data rooms are known to replace old-fashioned ineffective physical data rooms.