UltraViolet is a “digital locker” for your movies designed by the big movie studios. It’s a response to iTunes — studios don’t want all their customers using iTunes with Apple being the single company in control.

Most people generally ignore UltraViolet. It doesn’t work all that well.  These aren’t just teething pains, or at least they shouldn’t be — UltraViolet launched in 2011. It’s now 2014, so this service has had years to get its act together.

How UltraViolet Began

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Once upon a time, movie studios included an “iTunes Digital Copy” with many of their DVDs and Blu-Ray movies. Buy a physical disc and you’d get a free code to redeem digital copy on iTunes, saving you the trouble of ripping the DVD (which is illegal under the DMCA in the USA). This also encouraged you to buy a physical disc and get a digital copy rather than just buying a digital copy on iTunes. It helped prop up DVD and Blu-Ray sales.

The movie studios weren’t crazy about this system. They were empowering Apple and iTunes, which competed with their digital movie sales. The music industry got too cozy with Apple and iTunes became the main storefront for purchasing digital music — the movie industry wanted to avoid the trap the music industry fell into. So UltraViolet was born.

The Idea of UltraViolet

To their credit, the movie studios didn’t decide to each create their own incompatible iTunes competitors. UltraViolet is actually a nice idea — at least in concept. It’s a DRM system, but one that’s interoperable and allows you to choose between multiple stores and multiple services for storing, downloading, and stremaing your videos. You aren’t locked into a single store and a single service — or, worse, a separate store and separate service for each movie studio.

The first thing you’ll need to use UltraViolet is a digital locker to store your movies in. For example, you could sign up for a free Flixster account. You could then use the Flixster apps to stream or download the movies and TV shows in your UltraViolet account.

If you purchase Blu-Ray discs, you’ll likely notice that they come with UltraViolet codes. These codes can be redeemed for UltraViolet copies that can be stored in a service like Flixster. No matter the movie studio, their UltraViolet copies can be stored in the same place. You could also buy digital copies in UltraViolet format from different stores and store them all in your main digital video locker. You can use a “disc to digital” service that will give you digital copies of your physical DVDs or Blu-Ray discs for a fee, or purchase a digital copy online.

UltraViolet allows you to share your library with up to five people and allows for three simultaneous streams, so it even offers some nice sharing features

In theory, this is a nice idea — it should allow for choice, competition, and a vibrant ecosystem. In practice, the execution hasn’t been very user-friendly.

The Reality of UltraViolet

Most people don’t seem to bother with UltraViolet. UltraViolet recently received more public attention thanks to the Veronica Mars movie, which provided its Kickstarter backers with their digital copies via an UltraViolet redemption code. Many fans weren’t happy about this and struggled with UltraViolet and its buggy applications.

To actually redeem this code, you’ll need to sign up for a service like Warner Bros’ Flixster, Walmart’s Vudu, Best Buy’s CinemaNow, or Target’s Target Ticket. You’ll then need to sign up for an UltraViolet account at UVVU.com, link that UltraViolet redemption service to your digital locker, and redeem the code on the service, which would then make it available on your digital locker.

You may see an error message saying your service is “already linked to an UltraViolet account” if you ever signed up in the past — for example, to try redeeming an UltraViolet code that came with a Blu-Ray disc. You’ll then need to dig up your forgotten account or create a new one.

The apps associated with UltraViolet’s services also seem buggier and less feature-complete, according to the many disappointed Kickstarter backers.

Let’s be honest here – movie studios have failed at their goal of providing a compelling alternative to iTunes. They haven’t made the system easy to understand and easy to use, nor have they provided compelling applications that work as well as iTunes or even Amazon’s digital-movie-purchasing service. If they had, we wouldn’t be seeing the Veronica Mars Kickstarter backers flooding the Internet with their complaints. People would be happy to use UlraViolet because it provided them with more choice and convenience.

There’s no real reason to seek out UltraViolet. If you can get a free digital copy with your Blu-Ray disc, that’s one thing, but you’re probably better off using iTunes or Amazon if you want a digital copy of a movie.

Image Credit: brx0 on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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