By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Streaming By Studio: The Ultraviolet Story 2012
As we wrap up the year, my curiosity got the best of me again and once again, I decided to see where things were with Ultraviolet, spurred on particularly by the CinemaNow offer to “download to stream” movies from your home/office computer… basically allowing you a digital library for 2 of 5 bucks, depending on whether you have or want Standard Def or High Def.
So starting there…
CinemaNow doesn’t work with Blu-rays. So if you have the Blu, you can’t get the digital version without – if the program is still active – going to a Wal-Mart to show them the disc. I was about to get a standard DVD to convert. There are very few current releases on my shelves in DVD. So after going through a bunch of them, The Devil & Daniel Webster worked. I paid my $5 for HD and it became part of my Ultraviolet collection, which I can stream or download to various devices.
But as I looked for discs to convert via CinemaNow, most of what I found were Blu-rays I had not signed into Ultraviolet. I had tried it out last March and was frustrated by how complicated it was, that the streaming was iffy, and that there were limited ways to stream to an HDTV. Since then, the system has improved on all fronts.
The oddest part is that each studio involved has a different site for uploading. Warner Bros has Flixter, Sony, Universal, and Paramount have their own home sites. On one Universal title, E.T., I was sent to Amazon Prime to put in a code that put a credit in the Amazon Prime account that could then be used to purchase the film. The credit showed up on the Amazon site with no noted limitations, so since I was poking at the system, I tried to use the credit to buy a different film. So I am the proud owner of a streaming version of The Incredibles now. I then bought the copy of E.T. that the credit was intended to cover. Fox, which was announced as part of the consortium at the launch of Ultraviolet, is really just getting started in the format, with only 9 titles available via the service so far.
So aside from having to go to 3 different sites to load 9 movies last night (two were from indies – CBS Films and The Weinstein Company, both distributed via Sony Home Ent) and then having to go to 4 other sites to link Ultraviolet (the Ultraviolet site, the Flixster site, the Vudu site, and the Amazon Prime site), it was a piece of cake. (I was also on an eighth site, CinemaNow, which ended up with me converting one title.)
There was more than one set-up that had a streaming version on Ultraviolet and a download available with the same code. But Universal offered a rather clean version, offering streaming through a service of your choice and download to a location of your choice.
I also ran into an unloadable Scott Pilgrim from 2009 that was formatted for a different Mac operating system. This one was connected through iTunes, so I tried putting in the redemption code even though the software was offering an error message. But iTunes kept asking for the disc—that was in the drive—because, I am guessing, it couldn’t see it through the software it automatically launched (which wasn’t working). I’m waiting on a response from customer service if there is a workaround.
But the improvement seems to be that each of the studio has found a streaming partner (or bought one, in the case of WB and Flixster) so essentially, they are outsourcing to get more consistency and better service overall. It’s a smart play. Though it does complicate the process for consumers at this point.
And then there were the attempts to view the content once it was in the system and all interconnected.
Better, but still not as great as you might expect or hope.
If you use a streaming service, like Vudu or Flixter or Amazon, you will need to connect Ultraviolet. But not everything turns up via all streaming services. Further, not all of these services allow AirPlay on the iPhone and/or iPad to stream to an HDTV through Apple TV. In most cases, if you wish to stream a film that is on your Ultraviolet list, but is not directly associated with the site you are using, it will send you to the originating site, asking you to sign in again.
Other issues include steaming in HD. Using the Vudu app on PS3, gor instance, I can watch films that were harvested via Blu-ray or for which I paid a premium to own in HD as well as SD. But on the iPad, it’s SD only. So even though I can AppleTV Vudu to the HDTV, I only get a small box in the middle of the screen. There is an odd thing where some streaming apps—like CNN—allow Apple TV to show a full signal on your TV. So if you are using AirPlay Mirroring, as I had to in order to get an image and not just audio, sites that do allow an Apple TV connection look significantly worse in Mirroring… it’s not just the size of the image.
Still, that’s still better than Amazon Prime, which will send only the audio of what you are watching to your TV. No HBO Go, mirroring is not allowed and the app doesn’t allow a normal Apple TV connection.
Basically, it’s a lot of work to make it work. Again, it is 10x better than it was last March when I started experimenting.
My curiosity about this happens to coincide with a trip to Sundance with my family and business colleagues in a couple of weeks. My landlord—8 years running—is a bit on the cheap side. We now have one HDTV in the house, in the living room, and everything else is a tube set with limited cable. This means when my 3-year-old needs to hang out in the bedroom upstairs and his mom wants to put on some show to amuse him, DVD has been the only option. So… he can watch things on the iPad or I can bring an Apple TV box, though it will likely only be an option on that one HDTV, or I can bring the PS3… though now we are in full pain-in-the ass territory.
But forgetting the peculiarities of this house and this landlord, even with proper HDMI and HDTV, would my son be able to easily watch The Pirates: Band of Misfits on the upstairs TV via Ultraviolet and Apple TV? The answer is yes… but it would be a boxed-in SD version from Vudu.
Yes, it’s very cool that I can stream The Incredibles onto my phone (or iPad) in a near instant… if I spent some time setting it up beforehand. But there is a still a checkerboard of options about how to watch the things we pay for in this system. Hopefully by this time next year, it will be properly standardized and it won’t feel like you still need to go around the system to get what you want when you want it. Until that time, there is still an odd draw to piracy as a less complicated alternative… which is a shame (not to mention illegal and immoral, when you consider that big bad studio is not the only victim of that economic crime).