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UltraViolet (UV) is a digital rights authentication and cloud-based licensing system that allows users of digital home entertainment content to stream and download purchased content to multiple platforms and devices. UltraViolet claims to adhere to a "buy once, play anywhere" approach allowing users to store digital proofs-of-purchase in their account to enable playback of purchased content on different devices.
UltraViolet is deployed by the 74 members of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium, which includes film studios, retailers, consumer electronics manufacturers, cable TV companies, ISPs, network hosting vendors, and other Internet systems and security vendors, with the notable exceptions of Disney and Apple. Disney had been developing its own competing Keychest format, which was never launched while Apple has added movie storage to its iCloud service.
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Content consumers create a free-of-charge UltraViolet account, either through a participating UltraViolet service provider, or through the UltraViolet website, with six users allowed per household. An UltraViolet account provides access to a Digital Rights Locker where licenses for purchased content are stored and managed irrespective of the point of sale. Downloads will be interoperable once the UltraViolet Common File Format (CFF) is released. The account members may register up to 12 shared devices for playing downloaded CFF files. Once downloaded, an UltraViolet CFF can be copied between devices, stored on physical media (e.g. DVDs, SD cards, flash memory) or cloud services, and can then be played on any UltraViolet player registered to the household account, but it will not play on devices which are not compatible with UltraViolet CFF. Files can also be streamed over the Internet to an unlimited number of devices, depending on the content license rights held by the streaming provider. Up to three streams can be simultaneously transmitted. CFF Compatible devices will include set-top boxes as well as Internet-enabled devices such as computers, game consoles, Blu-ray Disc players, Internet TVs, smartphones and tablets.
UltraViolet does not store files, and is not a "cloud storage" platform. Only the rights for purchased content are stored on the service. UltraViolet only coordinates and manages the licenses for each account, but not the content itself. The content may be obtained in any way, in its multi-DRM container format. By creating a digital-rights locker rather than a digital media storage locker, UltraViolet bypasses the cost of storage and bandwidth used when the media is accessed and passes that cost on to various service providers. In addition, by only managing the rights and licensing of content, UltraViolet insulates itself from future technological advances, allowing users to keep watching content they have purchased.
The Walt Disney Company was backing its proprietary Keychest digital file service, this service was later abandoned and now Disney is promoting "Digital Copy Plus." Disney is not a member of DECE. Non-participation in the DECE consortium does not preclude Disney from licensing use of the technical specifications; API-enabled interaction with the UV Account infrastructure; and promotional and marketing use of the UV logo for UV content and devices. In 2012 Disney CEO Bob Iger said Disney had not ruled out UltraViolet but were taking a "wait-and-see approach" and that it was too early to make conclusions.
The Common File Format (CFF)
The CFF is not yet available to the public as of October 2013. UltraViolet content will be downloaded in the Common File Format, using the Common Encryption (CENC) system. This format is based on the ISO Base File Format, and ensures that a consistent set of codecs, media formats, DRMs, subtitling, and other kinds of data, are used across the whole UltraViolet ecosystem. Because every UltraViolet title should arrive in this format, it will generally play on any UltraViolet registered device.
DECE members are developing a common file format (CFF) designed to play in all UltraViolet players and work with all DECE-approved Digital rights management. The format is based on existing standards from MPEG, SMPTE, and others, and was originally derived from the Microsoft Protected Interoperable File Format (PIFF) specification. The goal was to avoid the problem of different file formats for different players and to make it possible to copy files from player to player.
There are two profiles for files and players: standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). SD players can play only SD files. HD players can play both SD and HD files.
Much of the work done by DECE is being adopted by MPEG in updates to the MPEG-4 container format and as part of the MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) format. Therefore, the common file format can be used in other systems and is expected to become broadly deployed.
UltraViolet files use the fragmented MPEG-4 container format (fMP4, technically known as ISO/IEC 14496-12 and often called an ISO container, not to be confused with an ISO disk image.)
UltraViolet files are not required to be encrypted, but it is expected that they usually will be. The files are encrypted using AES keys, which are then protected using each of the required DRM systems, with the DRM-specific information placed in the header. Both ISO scheme (PSSH/CENC) and IPMP frameworks are allowed. A player device only needs to implement one DRM.
UltraViolet files use H.264/AVC video (ISO/IEC 14496-10). Multiple resolutions, aspect ratios, and frame rates are supported. Only progressive-scan video is allowed.
UltraViolet files use stereo MPEG-4 AAC LC audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) as a required base format, with optional multi-channel AAC, HE AAC v2 (optionally with MPEG surround), Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD (MLP), DTS, DTS HD, DTS Master Audio, and DTS Express (low bit rate).
UltraViolet files uses SMPTE Timed Text (SMPTE TT), which is in turn based on the W3C Timed Text Markup Language (TTML). TT incorporates both Unicode text and PNG graphics for captions, subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH), and other types of subtitles and subpictures such as sign language and written commentaries.
In addition to CFF packaged content, UltraViolet content can also be offered from some existing movie streaming services, using their existing streaming and DRM technologies. However, such content can only be viewed online, not stored for later viewing like the CFF content. This legacy streaming is likely to be the first way of receiving UltraViolet content from the cloud.
Selected DRM technologies
UltraViolet initially selected five DRM technologies allowing restrictions management on a broad range of devices: televisions, set-top-boxes, DVD & Blu-ray Disc players, games consoles, PC, tablets and smartphones.
The selected DRM technologies are:
- Google Widevine DRM, chosen for its strong position on set-top boxes
- Marlin DRM, chosen for its compatibility with many Connected TVs
- OMA CMLA-OMA v2, chosen for its strong position on mobile devices
- Microsoft PlayReady, chosen for its wide availability on PC and CE devices
- Adobe Flash Access 2.0, chosen for its wide availability on PC devices
Using the Common Encryption technology, any of these DRMs can be used to play the same file. There is no need to download another version to use a different DRM. The same file works everywhere (for a given screen size).
DECE announced that beta testing of UltraViolet would start in the autumn of 2010 in the United States. The first titles, Horrible Bosses and Green Lantern, were released beginning October 11, 2011, by Warner Home Video using redemption codes bundled with Blu-ray Discs and DVDs. The service was launched in the United Kingdom in December 2011. In October 2012 three participating studios announced UltraViolet releases in Canada before the end of the year, and DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group stated that UltraViolet would next launch in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, and France.
In the United States, UltraViolet is supported by Flixster, Walmart Vudu, Barnes & Noble Nook, Best Buy CinemaNow, Target TargetTicket, and M-Go (a joint venture of DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor), as well as services from Sony Pictures, NBC Universal, and Paramount Pictures.
In Australia, UltraViolet is supported by JB Hi-Fi.
Comparison of Streaming Providers
|United States||Canada||United Kingdom||Australia||UV Titles||Resolution|
|Vudu||?||SD, HD, HDX|
Titles are redeemable on the streaming services own websites: a DVD title sold in WalMart for example is redeemed on Vudu, the same title sold in Target is redeemed on TargetTicket (both have separate user signups). A title bought in WalMart that requires redemption on Vudu, however, cannot be redeemed on TargetTicket and vice versa even if they are the same movie and both UltraViolet compatible titles. This also means there is no standardized player across services, it is possible that a user has to install separate UV Players for content from each studio/streaming provider used even if the same codecs are utilized.
It is possible that a user can hold a right to watch a movie online but be unable to view the film if a streaming provider goes out of business; this would occur if no other streaming provider or studio carries the title even if UltraViolet says a user has the right to watch it.
User complaints about UltraViolet's initial rollout and difficulties in playing streaming content led to Flixster issuing iTunes codes for select titles to upset customers during the 2011 Holiday Season.
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