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UltraViolet is Coming, But Will it Burn?

In non-Apple, non-Microsoft, non-Google news from CES 2011, a consortium of media providers have announced last night that UltraViolet, a cloud-based digital media management standard, will be coming very soon. Hinted at last summer, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), which backs  UltraViolet, claim it will provide consumers with life-time rights to the media they buy in addition to the flexibility to watch that content on a variety of devices.

It works like this: You, the consumer, purchase a DVD or digital download of a the latest M. Night Shyamalan masterpiece. You then register it via the UltraViolet web portal, granting you access to the movie through the cloud-based UltraViolet system. Now, you can download a copy to your phone, to your set-top box, wherever you want to watch Shyamalan’s brilliant twist ending.

While movies are the most-hyped portion of the UltraViolet platform, music and television shows are also part of the scheme, which the DECE expects to ramp up sometime this coming summer.

But this is Hollywood we’re talking about here, so there are some pretty major restrictions.

First off, your media is limited to a six-member household. You are free to define that household however you choose, but if you have eight far-flung children you’ll have to choose favorites.

Also, the backers of UltraViolet play up the parental controls that are available, preventing your kids from accessing your Bang Bus horde through UltraViolet. However, parental controls do imply that the system’s creators intend for users to create accounts for every single person who plans on using the system.

Second, CNET reports that your UltraViolet account will also be limited to 12 registered devices. So if you’re a real power user, you’ll have to choose favorites between your game systems, phones, laptop, etc.

The announcement does come with some other quirks. For instance, the official website keeps making mention of purchasing physical copies, perhaps signaling an effort to not alienate existing retailers. It is, at the least, a hedge against any future format changes.

Also, a system like this is only as robust as the media companies behind it. After all, if a studio isn’t a part of UltraViolet, its content will not be available. While there are many big names involved, most notable are the two that are missing: Apple and Disney. It’s hard to see how UltraViolet will be fully successful without these two juggernauts of media onboard.

Those of a more liberal mindset when it comes to digital rights will of course deride UltraViolet as another unnecessary layer of corporate control. And they have only to look at the list of partners in the scheme to find fodder for their fears: The RIAA, that sterling champion of consumer’s rights, is a member.

The full list of DECE members, 21 of whom joined up yesterday: (via)

Adobe, Akamai Technologies, Alcatel-Lucent, Arxan Technologies Best Buy, British Sky Broadcasting Limited, BT, CableLabs, Catch Media, Cineplex Entertainment, Cisco, Comcast, Cox Communications, CSG Systems’ Content Direct, Dell, Deluxe Digital, Dolby Laboratories, DTS, Fanhattan, FilmFlex, Fox Entertainment, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei Technologies, IBM, Intel, Irdeto, LG Electronics, Liberty Global, Lionsgate, LOVEFiLM, Marvell Semiconductor, Microsoft, MOD Systems, Motorola Mobility, Nagravision, NBC Universal, NDS Group, Netflix, Neustar, Nokia, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Philips, QuickPlay Media Inc., RIAA, Red Bee Media, Rovi, Saffron Digital, Samsung Electronics, Sonic Solutions, Sony, Switch Communications, Technicolor, Tesco, Toshiba, Verance, Verimatrix, VeriSign, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Widevine Technologies Inc. and Zoran

But there are some real advantages to UltraViolet. On the outside, it has the looks of the next logical move for an increasingly cloud-based digital economy. Your music and digital media would be far more portable, allowing you to pick and choose what you want and when. It’s also safer, since you’re no longer tied to keeping physical or digital copies safe; with UltraViolet you’d simply download a new one.

The success of UltraViolet will, of course, be decided in its execution. Some may find the system too restrictive, and others will likely struggle with how to integrate it into their lives. But for now, it’s hard not to write off UltraViolet as another example of the industry’s continued uncomfortable relationship with a purely digital media landscape.

(Ultraviolet via CNET)

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