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UltraViolet could mean you'll really 'own' that movie

James Niccolai | Jan. 7, 2011
The industry pushing a new system at CES for how we'll own movies and other digital entertainment

FRAMINGHAM, 7 JANUARY 2011 - A group of Hollywood studios and technology companies has come up with a system for buying digital movies and TV shows that's supposed to do away with the problem of content being locked to a narrow set of devices by the company that sold it.

They say the system, called UltraViolet, will allow consumers to buy a DVD or digital download and then watch it on almost any TV, computer or games console from any participating manufacturer, regardless of where it was bought.

It should also give people lifetime content ownership rights, instead of having to repurchase the work if it gets lost or wears out, said Richard Doherty, an industry analyst with Envisioneering Group, in Seaford, New York.

"If it works, I won't have to buy 'The White Album' eight times any more," he said.

The effort faces some big obstacles, including getting consumers to understand it and buy into it. Some critics have complained that UltraViolet is just another form of DRM (digital rights management) in disguise. And at least two big players -- Apple and Walt Disney Studios -- have declined to get on board.

But the effort is backed by virtually every other major U.S. studio, technology giants like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Sony as well as consumer electronics makers like Panasonic and Samsung.

After three years of work, the 60 companies behind the effort gave a timetable for its introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Thursday. They plan to start rolling it out in the U.S. in the middle of the year, followed by Canada and the U.K. before the end of 2011.

The studios see it as a way to boost flagging sales of their products, which they think have slowed because people are fed up with buying digital content and feeling like they don't really own it, because they can't play it wherever they want.

"Consumers aren't confident they'll be able to watch content in the future on devices of their choice, so they've stopped collecting content," said Mitch Singer, CTO for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Doherty said UltraViolet won't replace the existing DRM systems, but that it will be a layer on top of them that provides the permissions for content to play on various devices. It's been described as an evolution of technology standards like Blu-ray and DVD.

The system is supposed to work like this: Starting this summer, participating companies like Netflix and Best Buy will start selling DVDs and digital downloads marked with the UltraViolet logo. Consumers are supposed to go home, set up a free UltraViolet account online and register their new purchase there, perhaps with a numerical code.


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