Paramount’s Messy UltraViolet Debut
Earlier this week, we reported that Paramount released its first UltraViolet packaged title, Paranormal Activity 3, offering customers additional digital copy options for iTunes and Windows Media. Additionally, Paramount opened a digital video sales and rental storefront this week at paramountmovies.com. All good, right? Guess again.
UltraViolet à la Paramount
Let’s start with Paramount’s UltraViolet offering, in general. You may want to seriously consider those iTunes and Windows Media options, because Paramount’s flavor of UltraViolet doesn’t seem fully baked yet. You need to sign up for yet another account (just like at UVVU, Flixster, Sony, and Universal), so we’re up to five accounts now with only four of the majors in the pool. Once you’ve registered, linked, and logged in, you can redeem, view, and download your Paramount titles.
You’ll need to install yet another retailer-specific program to download and play Paramount’s UltraViolet titles offline on your PC or Mac. That’s about where the similarities end.
Like the other studios, Paramount’s site is designed to show you not just their titles, but all of the titles in your UltraViolet locker. At release time and as of this writing, this feature doesn’t work properly. We reported the issue to Paramount’s UltraViolet help desk and promptly received a message from Zukor LLC explaining that “you will only be able to see your Paramount Ultra Violet digital copies.” Actually…not true. The page is there—it’s intended to show the other titles; Paramount’s FAQs clearly state that “you will be able to see your entire UltraViolet library;” oh…and UltraViolet is one word.
Unlike with every other UltraViolet retailer, the only option for viewing UltraViolet titles on iOS devices is by streaming, over WiFi, from paramountmovies.com. You can’t watch them in Flixster, so you can’t watch them offline on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. To clarify, they’ll show up in your collection in Flixster, but you can’t play or download them there. That also means you can’t watch them on your Google TV and you can’t watch them on your Android phone or tablet. In one test, we couldn’t even stream a title on a 4-month old Windows 7 PC with no explanation as to why.
Paramount’s Digital Store
Paramount is the first retailer to offer direct sales of UltraViolet digital titles. No discs—just the digital copy. They’ve rolled out an initial offering of about sixty titles, ranging from catalog titles Chinatown and the Beverly Hills Cop series to newer releases like Super 8 and the Paranormal Activity trilogy [please let this end as a trilogy]. Purchasing a title couldn’t be easier—select a title to buy, provide your credit card or PayPal account information, and the movie appears in your UltraViolet library. No shopping carts, no redemptions codes. It’s simple.
That’s about the end of the good news. First, let’s talk pricing. While we all might like to think that digital copies should be priced notably less than their packaged equivalents, we know from services like Amazon, iTunes, and VUDU that this is not usually the case. Most digital movies from these retailers cost between 7 and 15 dollars, or 15 to 20 dollars for HD. On iTunes, many of these digital movies do come with extras, like those included with packaged discs.
Paramount’s UltraViolet pricing is higher. Much higher. All catalog titles—whether two years old or fifty years old—are $12.99 in standard definition and $19.99 in HD. Newer titles are $16.99 in standard definition and $22.99 in HD. Many [why not all?] titles are also available to rent by streaming with the usual 30 day/48 hour limitations.
To put this pricing model in perspective, the guys on Seen in HD used this week’s Paranormal Activity 3 release as an example. For the UltraViolet movie in HD (with no extras), Paramount is charging $22.99. On Amazon, you can buy the Blu-ray combo pack with Blu-ray, DVD, and standard definition iTunes, Windows Media, and UltraViolet digital copies for $21.99.
For catalog titles, it’s even worse. Paramount is selling a standard definition UltraViolet copy of Airplane—a thirty year old film—for $12.99. A digital copy of the same movie costs $9.99 on iTunes or $6.49 on Amazon Instant Video. Or you can get a Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams Double Feature DVD including Airplane at Amazon for $9.99.
So there’s that. Then there’s the issue of playback. We already established that you can’t play Paramount’s UltraViolet titles on any disconnected device except for computers running their proprietary player. And since there aren’t any connected TVs or Blu-ray players available yet that support UltraViolet (and even those recently announced depend on Flixster), you probably can’t play these digital purchases on your TV. You can, of course, if you have a home theater PC, but even then you have to play them using Paramount’s custom desktop software, so forget about using your remote control.
HD playback is even more limited. To play Paramount’s HD UltraViolet videos, you must have an HDCP-compliant PC. Forget the Mac—it’s not supported. Your only hope of enjoying HD-quality video is on a Windows Vista or Windows 7 laptop or HTPC connected to an HDCP-compliant monitor with a DisplayPort, DVI-D or HDMI cable. Get all that?
And finally, while the other retailers download UltraViolet movies to your Videos folder as MP4 videos so they’re easily identifiable and transportable, Paramount instead plops thousands of tiny data files on your computer. The video we used for testing comprised 6,630 separate files with clever names like 00a4db57-7774-4907-b155-f054bc12981c. And now all of the other video programs that depend on your Videos folder get to parse through all of that crap.
High Hopes Dashed
It’s widely recognized that UltraViolet has had a rocky start, and we’ve certainly hedged on recommending this technology, but we had high expectations for Paramount. These are the folks with some of the best movie franchises in their catalog, including, The Godfather, Indiana Jones, and Star Trek. Surely they’d want to make a big, successful splash at launch, right?
Instead, this launch is a big mess. It’s buggy, it’s extremely limited, and their digital titles are ridiculously expensive. Perhaps the only redeeming quality here is that Paramount is giving us an out as they continue to include iTunes and Windows Media digital copies in their combo packs. Our recommendation here should be obvious: save your money.