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Oh My Tech!: Here's what Ultraviolet feature does and does not do

Published August 30, 2012 7:43 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you like to collect movies, as I do, then you've probably noticed one of the new features on many Blu-ray and DVD discs called "Ultraviolet" and wondered, "What the heck is that?"

Put simply, Ultraviolet is a good idea that Hollywood then wrapped in confusion and frustration. It's a way to watch on your mobile phone, computer tablet or laptop/desktop computer the DVD movie you bought. Sounds great, right? Yet the studios made the process to get a movie from that disc to your mobile device anything but easy. Maybe I can clear up some of the questions you may have about the service.

Since the advent of movie watching on computers, it only made sense that you should one day be able to buy a copy of a movie that you also could view on different devices. But Hollywood, bent on squeezing as much money as possible from each movie, instead forced consumers to buy the same movie multiple times for different formats.

Then came Ultraviolet, which was introduced by the studios late last year.

Before, in order to watch a movie on your phone or PC without buying a new copy for those devices, you had to use complicated software made by hackers to copy the movie from the DVD. Software such as Handbrake, for example, takes the movie from the DVD and compresses it to a manageable file size, then creates a file that can be read on computers or phones. The problem for most people is the software is too difficult to use, and the process of circumventing the copy protection on the DVD violates copyright law.

Ultraviolet is a way to copy the movie to another device legally. Unfortunately, it has a lot of hiccups that make the free service anything but easy.

In order to get a mobile copy of the movie, you first have to register for the Ultraviolet service at http://www.uvvu.com. But you may have to register on the studio's separate website, as well. Then you input a code that's printed on a piece of paper in the DVD or Blu-ray case. Once that's done, the movie should be unlocked.

Next, you can either wirelessly download the movie to your phone, computer or tablet, or you can stream it to your device given that the movie is stored in the cloud on the studio's server.

The problem is there are different portals to go to for watching certain movies. For some films, you have to go to Flixster.com, with which the Ultraviolet company apparently has an agreement. Or you have to go to Vudu.com, Walmart's downloadable movie service, which has partnered with Ultraviolet. Sometimes, the movies can be seen only by going to the specific studio's website. If you start building a library of Ultraviolet movies, you then have to remember where to go to view each movie. You can link your separate studio accounts to your Ultraviolet account, but that doesn't really improve anything.

The Ultraviolet developers should have made it simple. One place to go to in order to view all the movies in your library. Because different studios have different restrictions regarding how to see their movies, it's a complicated mess.

The service also doesn't give you an option to see the movie in higher resolutions if you have the right Wi-Fi connection. Instead, you're stuck with watching a standard-definition version of the movie on mobile devices, and the quality is just OK.

Finally, you can't merge multiple accounts — for example, if you and your spouse have separate ones. And although there are no ads with the movies, the Ultraviolet FAQ states that could be a possibility down the road.

There are two simple rules that companies have to embrace if movie-streaming services are going to work. Make them easy to use and make them inexpensive.

Ultraviolet got one of them right by giving consumers a free mobile copy of a movie with many DVDs or Blu-rays (for one-time use). Now, its owners have to redesign the whole process so viewers don't pull their hair out trying to use it.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.