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CES Feature Articles

January 07, 2011

CES: UltraViolet Project Makes Content Truly Yours

Consumers should be rest-assured that the companies behind the production and sales of digital content have their best interests in mind.

Sixty companies, including major Hollywood studios, technology giants like Microsoft, HP and Sony, as well as consumer electronics providers such as Panasonic (News - Alert) and Samsung, are backing an effort for a new system that would eliminate the limitations of having to watch content on a restricted set of devices released by the seller, according to a PCWorld article.

The new system, termed UltraViolet and introduced at this week’s 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, would enable consumers to have a choice of what TV, computer or video game console to watch their purchased DVD or digital download on, no matter where it was purchased or what manufacturer produced it. In addition, expired or lost content would not be required to be repurchased, as UltraViolet would guarantee lifetime content ownership privileges, according to Richard Doherty, an industry analyst with Envisioneering Group.

At CES, the companies introducing UltraViolet said they hope for a mid-2011 launch in the U.S., and before the year-end in the U.K.

Perhaps too good to be true, the companies backing this effort are up against some major critics of UltraViolet, including Walt Disney Studios and Apple (News - Alert), which point to it as a hidden method of digital rights management. However, supporters say UltraViolet will be a gateway for customers feeling unconfident in their digital and physical content purchases since they really don’t own them, nor can they play them on any device.

"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.

Described as an “evolution of technology standards” such as the DVD and Blu-ray, UltraViolet will be an additional piece to existing DRM systems, as it would grant permission for content to play on any device.

With the existence of UltaViolet, consumers will be able to buy DVDs and digital downloads marked with a special UltraViolet logo from participating companies, such as Best Buy (News - Alert) and Netflix. Then, the user will be required to set up a free UltraViolet account online and register their purchase, thus creating a “digital locker” where information about each piece of content is stored. In addition, the user will be able to register up to 12 hardware devices where they desire to play the content, as well as have the option to provide six people per household to have access to the digital locker. This is quite a big difference from Apple and Microsoft (News - Alert), which both limit their users to register only five devices.

According to Doherty, Apple is not likely to hop on board but those involved in UltraViolet confirm that Apple users will still be able to access UltraViolent content. However, UltraViolet backers aren’t ruling out the possibility of Apple joining the effort.

“On the device side it's not an issue. On the services side, Apple has been incredibly successful, but just as we have struggled with making digital ownership in video a big business, they have struggled too," said JB Perrette, president for Digital and Affiliate Distribution at NBC Universal (News - Alert).

According to Mark Teitell of Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, which is helping to bring UltraViolet to market, a new file format will be introduced by UltraViolet by the end of 2011, allowing users to burn purchased movies to a disk or USB stick and play them on their chosen 12 devices.

Back in July, when the creation of UltraViolet was first announced, Teitell hinted at an invitation for Apple to join the efforts, as reported by TMCnet. “The door is always open for Apple to join UltraViolet. UltraViolet entertainment will play on all UltraViolet devices as well as Internet capable devices,” he said.

Teitell also added that the UltraViolet aims to drive growth for last year’s decline in DVD sales. “By creating a common framework that any company can use to help expand consumers’ choices of where to buy and what devices to use, Ultraviolet’s open market vision will drive growth,” said Teitell. “One reason for the slower than expected growth of today’s digital market, is that consumers don’t have choice or predictability.  That's what UltraViolet is designed to address.

It’s pretty certain that consumers, especially fans and users of Apple, will be rooting for UltraViolet to come to market.

Tammy Wolf is a TMCnet copy editor. Previously she was assistant to the editor at The Darien Times, a weekly newspaper in Darien, Conn., where she edited submissions, did page layout and design and helped manage the newspaper's website. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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