Content Mobile Portable Media

Sony Releases First UltraViolet Titles, Warner Brothers Backpedals

It was a rough week for the UltraViolet digital content locker solution as Sony’s entrée further complicated the marketplace and Warner Brothers scrambled to compensate frustrated customers with iTunes redemption codes. Yes…iTunes. More on that later.

Sony Enters the Market…

Sony released its first two movies with UltraViolet digital copies, making them the second studio to support the UltraViolet ecosystem. Like Warner Brothers, Sony’s first titles, [amazon_link id=”B004EPZ0BQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Friends with Benefits[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”B003Y5H5AQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Smurfs[/amazon_link], seem strategically chosen to gently test the company’s UltraViolet infrastructure. (Remember, each studio or retailer is responsible for delivering its own content from the cloud.) Unlike Warner Brothers, Sony has included UltraViolet digital copies in their Blu-ray and combo packs only. The DVD-only versions of these titles do not include UltraViolet copies.

Sony’s UltraViolet experience is similar in some ways to Warner Brothers’ and different in others. Similar in that you need to create an account with Sony Pictures. If you purchased any of Warner’s UltraViolet titles and you’re keeping a tally, this is your third account—one for UltraViolet, one on Flixster, and now one for Sony Pictures. It’s similar in that, when registering, you have to link your Sony account to your UltraViolet account. It’s similar in that you can stream the movies online but different in that Sony offers HD streaming from its site (but only for PCs; not for Macs). It’s different in that you can stream to your iPad or iPhone, over WiFi and 3G, right from Safari.

Like Warner Brothers, Sony lets you download your UltraViolet content to your mobile devices using Flixster’s apps. This is good news, because it was unclear if you’d need a different mobile app to watch each studio’s offerings. Like Warner Brothers, you also need to download a desktop program to then download (standard definition only) copies of your purchased titles to a computer. Unlike Warner, Sony’s software uses Silverlight, not AIR—so it’s a different desktop program.

Sony’s site shows and gives you access to all of your UltraViolet titles, regardless of the provider. Based on Sony’s FAQs, it sounds like all of the providers’ sites will do the same. The idea is that you can see and access all of your titles from one place, regardless of where the content resides and where you’re logged in—at or at one of the studio’s sites.  It’s a good idea, and it should help to make the experience less fragmented, but Sony’s language choice when selecting a non-Sony title adds some confusion back into the mix.

Sony Releases First UltraViolet Titles, Warner Brothers Backpedals
Click to watch offsite. What does that even mean?

All in all, if you’re buying into the UltraViolet world, Sony’s offering seems pretty good. The differences between the studios’ products and services add confusion to the market, but in all fairness you can’t blame that on Sony—that’s how UltraViolet works. And Universal joins into the mix this week with [amazon_link id=”B004EPYZSU” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Cowboys & Aliens[/amazon_link]. Another soft hit to test the waters? It should be interesting to see how they’re implementing UltraViolet.

…While Warner Brothers Appeases an Angry Mob

While the start of December marked Sony’s UltraViolet debut, earlier in the week November’s end had Warner Brothers scrambling to ease consumers’ frustration and confusion with [you guessed it!] UltraViolet Digital Copy.

Accounts of consumers spending 30 to 45 minutes getting started with UltraViolet, angrily contacting Flixster and Warner Brothers, or just giving up altogether were quickly spreading on the web. So Warner Brothers released a how-to video to walk customers through the registration and download process.

Then a bug in Flixster caused downloaded videos to disappear, and reports started surfacing of Flixster giving customers who experienced registration, streaming, or download difficulties redemption codes to download their purchased titles on iTunes.

Since we experienced the disappearing videos issue firsthand, we decided to test out this customer service experience. Within an hour of reporting the issue, an email from Flixster included an iTunes redemption code for one or the two reported titles and a note that more information would follow for the other. Three days later, an email message requested a mailing address so they can send a disc that will provide iTunes and Windows Media digital copies of the second title.

So things are so bad in Warner Brothers’ camp that they’re resorting to iTunes—the incumbent (and still dominant) Digital Copy marketplace—to allay customers’ concerns and sending discs to customers in the mail? Sounds like things don’t look so rosy for UltraViolet.


About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard is a product experience consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.