The concept of a Digital Copy in the home video market has always interested me, but it wasn’t until recently that the format has really stepped forward as a serious essential for movie fans and home video collectors. I will get into the rise of UltraViolet and VUDU and why they should become very important to movie lovers shortly, but I think a quick trip through the hurdles the Digital Copy has taken sets a nice frame of reference for how far we have come and where we are going.
Where Digital Copy Started and Why It Became “Pointless”:
Since 2009/2010 studios began adding Digital Copies to their Blu-ray and DVD releases. This novelty was exciting as the iPad had just been released by Apple. Apple was firmly behind the format as the majority of Digital Copies were redeemed through iTunes. After downloading you could easily load it on to your iWhatever and watch the movies on the go. Great for trips, distracting the kids in the car, ect…
There were some drawbacks to this setup, the biggest being picture quality. By no means terrible, the SD picture was just that, SD leaving anyone hoping to watch their Digital Copy in HD hung out to dry. The problem of storage, if you were buying Blu-rays as frequently as me, quickly became a problem as well and my HD was filling up in a hurry; TB of storage weren’t as readily available as they are now.
Data loss was also a serious problem with this setup. What happened if your HD crashed or you needed to delete some of those movies to make space for all your new movies? Getting a new Digital Copy (of a title you already redeemed) wasn’t an easy process and re-downloading through iTunes was never an easy guarantee until recently.
Lastly, and most importantly, you were stuck watching Digital Copies on the small screens of your computer, iPads and iPods. There wasn’t an intuitive way to watch them on your big screen TV at home and Digital Copies were regulated, and predominantly sold, as a movie to watch on-the-go. Where was our digital movie locker of the future? This is where UltraViolet (UV) enters our story.
A Rough Start:
Late in 2011 almost every major studio (Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros., Universal, DreamWorks, Lionsgate) got together and launched UV. UV is an online digital locker that lets you store your Digital Copies online; no local HD needed.
UV got off to a terrible start. My personal experience with it was miserable, slow customer service, password retrieval/loss was painful, and it was difficult to watch/download your movies. I was quickly ready to give up on the format after the first few UV bundled releases lead to a number of frustrations.
After six months or so, it was impossible to avoid UV any longer. Universal was giving out iTunes and UV codes with their releases, but all the other studies had gone strictly UV, meaning I had to get my UV account straightened away. After a couple weeks of back and forth with customer service, account consolidating and password resetting, I finally was able to access my UV account and appropriately link it up with Flixster. Flixster is the only way to download UV titles to your devices currently (more on that later) and while not being the most intuitive app it got the job done. I could now get my UV movies on my mobile device in a manageable manner; this was progress.
VUDU, UltraViolet and Big Steps in the Right Direction:
It’s when I discovered VUDU and their partnership with UV that the potential of the format really began to burn bright. VUDU is an HD VOD service that is standard on most TV’s & Blu-ray players. Alternatively, VUDU apps can be downloaded on PS3 and Xbox360 or you can access it through the web. I had messed around with VUDU before (their HD trailer section looked great), but it was their new relationship with UV that spurred this article. I linked my VUDU and UV accounts and magically most of my titles with UV were available in 1080p, 5.1, through VUDU on my PS3. Finally my digital copy is actually worth something, and in full 1080p!
You might be asking, “Yeah, but how good does it really look?” and my answer is that my Digital Copies look pretty damn good via streaming through VUDU. Streaming not your thing? You can also download the movies to your device to watch offline.
So now that your Digital Copies are available in full 1080p on any TV device with VUDU (after a quick sign in of your account) the access to your titles anywhere makes that Digital Copy sticker worth a lot more than it used to. Just looking ahead in the coming months of releases and I will have movies like Jaws, E.T., Cabin in the Woods, The Amazing Spider-Man, Magic Mike and The Dark Knight Rises available on any of my devices and at any location in 1080p. TV is getting into the game as well as HBO and other networks are now putting UV copies of full seasons on many releases including True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones.
Disc to Digital – Preserving Your Past:
However, the biggest breakthrough of the VUDU/UV partnership is Disc to Digital. VUDU has created a partnership with UV’s studios to allow anyone who owns an existing movie on a disc currently in VUDU’s select catalog to “unlock” a 1080p Digital Copy to watch through VUDU. To add a Digital Copy to your VUDU/UV locker in HD, it costs $2 to unlock if you own the Blu-ray, $5 if you own the DVD. The title will show up in your collection on VUDU and you get to keep your disc too. Not a bad deal. You do this by verifying your discs at your local Wal-Mart (only location offered so far) and after you check out your Digital Copies will be ready and waiting for you to view, immediately, just as if you entered a UV code from a new release.
Now this service is great for a few reasons. First, being able to backup and create a digital locker for your existing library for an extremely reasonable price is essential in this growing digital age. Having bought plenty of Blu-rays pre-UV, I can add a Digital Copy of my favorite films to VUDU for a minimal charge and access them anywhere. Adding Digital Copies of films you already have in 1080p might seem redundant to some, but the really exciting feature is that there are a lot of titles only available on DVD that you can upgrade and get a 1080p copy of for a couple bucks. Just the other day I was able to get Soderbergh’s Solaris, Junet’s A Very Long Engagement, Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, Rian Johnson’s Brick, James Gunn’s Slither and a few more titles that will never have the audience to get a Blu-ray release, as HD Digital Copies in my VUDU locker.
Making Things Even Easier and Righting the Wrongs:
All this isn’t without a few issues in the new VUDU/UV relationship still need to be ironed out. First and foremost, VUDU needs to release their own app. Streaming through VUDU.com works great, but there isn’t an option to download to your tablet. The only way to download UV movies to your portable device is through the aforementioned Flixster app and a number of older releases through Disc to Digital, including all of Paramount’s (new & old), aren’t available to stream or download on Flixster. I am sure VUDU can create an app that easily out functions the current setup on Flixster and will be able to avoid these licensing hurdles.
The HD streaming/downloading is also currently only available on TV devices, not your computer and other devices. Most monitors, lap or desktop, can do at least 720p HD easily and the new retina iPads even go beyond 1080p. VUDU needs to provide HD options for these formats ASAP, but there are most likely pirating concerns that are holding up this breakthrough.
VUDU also needs expand their Disc to Digital system from just existing at Wal-Mart. Expanding this will only help boost brand awareness. Wal-Mart also has a reputation that doesn’t please a lot of people and there are a number of knowledgeable, potential customers that won’t even step foot in their stores.
This next one is a major stretch, but all of the studios in UV’s camp should allow people to redeem their existing Digital Copy codes to unlock a copy in their VUDU/UV locker. I know I am not the only one that still has all of those inserts sitting in all of my cases; I would gladly plug in all those long codes if they honored them to unlock those films in VUDU/UV. A couple of early UV releases are also currently locked into SD only on all devices and VUDU needs to unlock all formats for viewing as this has become the standard for UV (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, The Thing (2011), Contagion and Crazy Stupid Love are all currently SD only on TV & portable devices in my collection).
Bringing It All Under One Roof:
Lastly, VUDU needs to sign Fox and Disney. Disney has their own locker system that they recently re-launched as Disney Movies Online. VUDU should allow customers access to the titles they have already unlocked through Disney. Disney’s locker saves all Magic Codes you have entered and grants you online access to all the movies you have bought either free of charge or after you pay a $5.99 unlocking fee. VUDU already has a large Disney catalog and it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to link accounts and unlock the titles already in your Disney locker in Voodoo. This would also be a great way for consumers to get all digital copies in the same location while allowing Disney to stay out of the UV party. And as for Fox, my Digital Copy for Shame was a .wmv file that I could not get to play on any device I own.
VUDU and UV are on to something and with a little more time, and more awareness, Digital Copies could become an essential piece of the home video market. If the public became more aware that a UV Digital Copy is a 1080p copy available to watch from any location from your VUDU account, it will become essential for every new release. I personally love my discs, but with the studio’s desires to go full digital in the not so distant future this current VUDU/UV model is a huge step in the right direction to help movie fans get their current collection in the digital space; making this inevitable transition a lot harder to swallow.
Follow Me… @Indy7Solo