The illusion that is UltraViolet

Recently I read the headline that the CEO of Sony Pictures thinks UltraViolet needs improvement. The headline made me chuckle because I could have told them that two years ago. In fact I pointed it out in reviews back then. These days I do not even bother to check for UltraViolet, because to this date still, it is completely useless. What made me chuckle is also the fact, %%% % % % that Sony CEO Michael Lyndon made the comments for all the wrong reasons. The fact that “it’s not easy enough to use” is not the reason UltraViolet fails and despite what he says, This is not the “early days.” Those were two years ago. Technology is moving fast, as we all know, and two years are a lifetime in the digital domain. During this time period, UltraViolet could have – and should have – matured into a solid platform. It didn’t, because unless it goes through a complete paradigm shift, it simply can’t.

The real problem with UltraViolet, from my point of view, is not so much its technical implementation but the actual presumptions the underlying paradigm makes. UltraViolet is a streaming video format for mobile platforms, and as such it has very limited value and even less applications.

Even though we live in a world where everyone is connected and always-on, watching a streaming movie requires a bit more than an Internet connection. It requires a broadband connection that is always-on, and that’s where the problems start.

My iPad, for example is Wifi enabled but has no 3G, which means that as soon as I leave the house, I’m disconnected, and without Internet connection, there’s no UltraViolet. Silly, I know. I really don’t watch movies on a tablet at home. That would be just weird. I have TVs around the house that have been installed for that very purpose, and I evidently bought a DVD or Blu-Ray Disc, because that’s where I got my UltraViolet copy from, so why would I want to view a movie in an inferior format riddled with compression artifacts and in low resolution when I could instead watch it in 1080p on a large TV screen?

So, the moment I *would* be interested in watching a movie on my tablet is the very moment that UltraViolet disconnects and becomes unavailable. Epic fail! The logic that this would make sense or would even remotely be attractive for consumers boggles the mind and it stuns me that Hollywood executives are evidently still not seeing the real problem with UltraViolet.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I wanted to watch an UltraViolet movie on my iPhone. Not sure why anyone would want to watch a movie on such a tiny screen, but fair enough, let’s just say…

The problem I have now is that for some time already phone carriers have begun charging for bandwidth for the most part. The glory days when the iPhone was first introduced and you could get unlimited Internet and Data on your phone for 30 dollars a month are long gone. As a result I am very reluctant to stream a 1 gigabyte movie to my phone, exhausting my monthly data plan allotment in the process. But even you have unlimited data and don’t mind to pay through the nose for it, you still have to content that many carriers are throttling the bandwidth on many of these data plans. The result is degrading the quality of your video even further as it streams. Not to mention that connectivity or download speed are far from being guaranteed. Every AT&T user can tell you that. So once again, UltraViolet’s proposition and appeal falls flat in its face.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment, and let’s just assume I am still not deterred and really, really want to watch an UltraViolet movie on my iPhone. The problem now is that with all the crowd noise around me, it is impossible to actually hear the movie. (How I wish the guy yelling into his cell phone so you can hear it all across the airport would just shut up… yeah, you know the type.) Sure, I could use headphones or earbuds, but sadly I refuse to turn myself into a Borg just yet, and do not enjoy wearing an earpiece, or maybe, I simply forgot them before I left the house. Since UltraViolet does not offer subtitles either, I am once again flat out of luck, and once again UltraViolet has no value to offer.

Ah, my stop just came up, twenty minutes into the movie, and I am asking myself why I even bothered trying to watch a movie on the go. I don’t know about you, but I rarely have two hours – the equivalent of the length of a typical Hollywood movie – available to me while I am on the go.

So, with all that in mind, is the failure of UltraViolet to connect, really surprising? It is clear to me that UltraViolet is simply a bad idea that has no practical real-world application as long as it does not offer digital download capabilities in addition to its streaming services, and adds basic accessibility factors such as subtitles to the mix. It was created in a bubble and sold to Hollywood studios as a technological illusion at a time when the studios had licked digital blood and were zealously looking for ever-growing opportunities to resell their catalogs. Well, it’s a pipe dream and it’s not going to go anywhere anytime soon.


5 Replies to “The illusion that is UltraViolet”

  1. Justin Cooney

    Guido, hey, I have a few questions / comments regarding your post, as I find it an interesting topic for sure.

    1 – Personally, I equate Ultraviolet / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / PSN as digital lockers per se, and all have that same value to me. Digital lockers are, from a convenience perspective, convenient, even if ultimately your library fragments far too much depending on purchasing habits.
    2 – Being part of a larger extended family, multiple family members have the ability to share our account and watch the digital versions of the movies we have purchased (just like we would give the DVD versions, from combo-pack we buy, as we believe in sharing as much as we can). While perhaps not part of the original intent by Ultraviolet folks, it is a nice perk.
    3 – You can pre-download movies and watch them on your device without network connection (at least I think you can, not sure if I have specifically tried it with Flixster for UV).
    4 – I do agree that watching a movie on a mobile device away from the home base is highly unlikely unless travelling (long drive where you are not driving, or flying). And in your specific case of not liking headphones, you are still out-of-luck 😉
    5 – I guess it depends on the phone and the application itself, but I would hope there was some transcoding taking place to save on bandwidth because for any phone, high-resolution is pretty impractical. But regardless if the end resulting file size is 1GB, or 700KB, or whatever, still a significant chunk for those of us no longer on unlimited data plans, let alone potential 3G streaming limitations beyond that. Not pretty I agree.
    6 – Still having to have multiple accounts just to activate your UV movie kinda sucks, but at least you only have to link it once. That being said, I just wish I could register the movie on a standard UV site, and then I could access it from whatever UV-based application out there, instead of having to pick Flixster or Vudu when I register it. Seems like potential for fragmentation at the very least, although sometimes I still think it shows up on both anyways, which begs the question, why bother having a decision that has no impact?

    Anyways, great stuff !


    • Guido

      You’re making some good points there, Justin. The registration and activation is a joke, really, at this time, and I cant’ believe it is still so tedious two years into it.
      As for the pre-loading movies, the last time I checked this was still not an option. I gave up on UltraViolet a while ago, because I realized it has nothing to offer that I am interested in, so they may finally have added that feature, though it may, once again, be simply too late. They’ve let two years pass without doing any improvements on their end, and you know – better than I – how deadly two missed years can be in the digital world.

  2. Randomshire

    I agree totally. I was not willing to waste the time blogging about it though as you did 🙂 I have not redeemed a single one of the dozens of UV titled I own for all the reasons above.

    It would be one thing if my SONY 3D BD player allowed me to play UV titles, but again…It is a BD player?! so I would just put in the Disc. I could see how someone would like to pack the player and take it somewhere without having to port around all their Bluray discs though…. maybe something they should look into.

  3. Andrea Fradin


    I’m a French journalist and I’m working on an article about UltraViolet (a big French retailer, Carrefour, just launched a VOD platform with UltraViolet).

    I’ve just read your post and I’m wondering if you are still using UltraViolet. And if so, if you still think that it’s far from perfect.

    For instance, about the main problem you talked about (the Internet connexion), I have the impression that UltraViolet offers now to download the movies (but maybe I’m wrong).

    Any case, I would be happy to have your feedback.

    Best regards,


    • Guido

      UltraViolet is still far from perfect. While they now have download options for offline viewing, the biggest problem, in my opinion, has become that they require third party software for viewing their content. As you may know, on iOS devices, iTunes is the de-facto standard for videos. People manage their music and video libraries through iTunes and yet, UltraViolet does not support iTunes. Instead you have to download some bizarre app to manage and view UV content. To make matters worse, you will actually need different apps because each studio seems to have its own preference or self-rolled version of the app, turning video management into a complete mess. And all simply because UV does not want to play ball with Apple and is trying to bully them into compliance. As long as UV makes people jump through hoops the way they are, it is a broken and useless system that only fragments the market.

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