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Oh My Tech!: Figuring out the mess that is Ultraviolet movies

Published November 27, 2013 8:21 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I have several digital copies [of movies] available to me, and I have registered for both VUDU and Flixster. I want to download the movies to an SD card from my desktop because my mother-in-law bought me an off-brand tablet that refuses to hold a WiFi connection. However, I cannot find any way to download to an SD card from my desktop. Help!

Katie Tremaine

Katie is trying to work with the video streaming service called Ultraviolet, which is hardly ultra-friendly or ultra-convenient.

You may have seen the Ultraviolet logo on DVD and Blu-ray boxes of movies. When you do, that means that the disc also includes a digital copy of the movie that can be used with the Ultraviolet streaming video service. It's a way for the studios to provide a digital copy along with the disc version so you can also watch it on a desktop computer or a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet.

Most of the movie studios have banded together to support the service, but so far it has been a mostly confusing and buggy system that can sometimes prove to be frustrating.

Here's how Ultraviolet works:

You register for an account with Ultraviolet. Then you register with one of several retailers that partner with Ultraviolet. The most popular ones are Flixster, Vudu (a service with Walmart), Target Ticket (a service with Target) and CinemaNow (a service with Best Buy).

You can either buy a digital copy of a movie directly from those retailers' websites or you get a free digital copy of a movie when you buy that movie on DVD or Blu-ray. When you buy a movie on disc, it comes with a code that you input on one of those retailers' websites to get your free digital copy.

Once you have purchased or redeemed an Ultraviolet copy of a movie, it's saved in your library of movies. You then can download the movie to your computer or mobile device to watch later. You also can stream it as you're watching it.

But what Katie apparently wants to do is download the movie to a portable SD card connected to her desktop computer, then transfer that SD card to her tablet where she can watch it.

Unfortunately, you can't do that.

That's because when you register with a retailer and start watching movies on your computer or device, Ultraviolet keeps track of what computers and mobile devices can watch movies on that account. Each account can activate up to five computers or devices. Additionally, you can't download and save an Ultraviolet movie to an external drive from a computer. And you can't download it to an SD card from, say, a smartphone, and then take out that card and put it into another device to play it.

Ultraviolet has a whole series of confusing rules and restrictions so users can't transfer, copy or play their movies on unauthorized devices. That's a big reason why the service is confusing, frustrating and sometimes not worth the effort. It's also occasionally buggy.

For example, this week I bought some movies on Blu-ray with Ultraviolet copies included and redeemed the codes. I'm registered with Flixster, Vudu, CinemaNow and Target's service. Once you redeem the codes, the digital copies are supposed to show up in the libraries of all four services. They only showed up in three of them. It apparently was a glitch.

I also learned that Ultraviolet inexplicably had two accounts under my name instead of one. I had to merge them together to get all of my movies into one account and spent a whole morning with several representatives with Ultraviolet and Flixster to work that out.

Hollywood wants the perfect solution to allow people to take their movies on the go. The solution they've come up with is instead a jumbled mess that only sometimes works. If movie studios don't figure this out, then more people will find that it's just easier to copy movies from discs to save for themselves.

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.