The introduction of UltraViolet titles into the UK market happened suddenly last year, and Barry Fox found the experience somewhat user-unfriendly.
UltraViolet – developed by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem group (DECE) as a challenge to world domination by iTunes – has now limped onto the UK market. And I do mean limped.
There was just one launch title, Final Destination 5 from Warner Bros, available on December 26 2011. There was no press event or publicity for the launch, even though Tesco had got in ahead of UltraViolet with a rival system using blinkbox in which Tesco acquired a majority stake in early 2011. Tesco kicked off with 25 titles including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Customers who buy these discs can use their Tesco loyalty card to link them to a blinkbox account and access an online copy of the movie.
DECE’s appointed spokeswoman in the UK explained the curiously low–key launch for UltraViolet: “It’s a B2B, Business to Business roll out. There will be no huge consumer push because there is only one title. There is no press release, just face-to-face one-to-one media briefings for ten people with DECE General Manager, Mark Teitell. The people who attended were given a briefing note. We are now phoning others before sending them the briefing note. You were not briefed so should not have the note.”
I was not one of the chosen ten but sneakily obtained a copy of the briefing note. It paints a rather more upbeat picture than the one from DECE’s spokeswoman, variously referring to the single title launch as a “rollout”, “an operational launch” and “UK launch”. This must be the first movie service launch that the press and trade have had to learn about by playing detective. The briefing note we weren’t supposed to see promises consumers the chance to “download to multiple devices for offline viewing, including full HD copies.”
DECE’s spokeswoman thought the digital copy of the launch title would be available only for streaming via a Flixster account and with a redemption code packaged with the disc. Warner Bros then assured that consumers can “instantly stream to their PC, Mac, Android or iOS device, or download and store in the Flixster app (available on Android and iOS devices) for offline viewing.”
Final Destination is not a movie I would want to buy, but Warner Bros kindly sent me a copy. It soon became clear that more than three months after launch in the US, UltraViolet remains an obstacle course for consumers. The over-arching problem is lack of clear user advice on how to use UltraViolet and the stopgap measures needed because no-one yet has UV-capable hardware.
Although the sleeve is labelled “Triple Play, Blu-Ray + DVD + UltraViolet (UV) Digital Copy”, the jewel box contains only a BD and DVD, without the customary third Digital Copy disc from which the owner would copy-download to a PC. In theory this is much simpler. The owner just uses the redemption code to get online access to the digital copy of the movie that is already stored on the UV Cloud. In practice the lack of clear instructions makes the process more difficult.
The UV Cloud copy can be streamed to play on a home computer, downloaded up to five times, or streamed to Android or Apple iOS portables. But without UV-enabled hardware, this requires the installation of the Flixster software which Warner brought in last year.
To enter the code and access the copy, the user first has to register separately with both the UltraViolet and Flixster websites, then agree to let these accounts cross link, and also agree to link to Rovi for reasons which are not explained. Only those in the industry will know that DECE has previously said this will in the future let users upload some of their own discs. Which ones? Search me.
Accessing the UltraViolet or Flixster website throws up requests for login to the other site, making it difficult to know which program is doing what and why. During some of the sign- on processes the web sites offer UK users a free movie download but then say the offer only applies to the US.
Flixster on a PC streams the movie using Adobe Flash, which must be downloaded if not already installed. Downloading to a PC requires Adobe Air and another Flixster program, Flixster Collections. I felt engulfed, bewildered, and underwhelmed by the whole experience.
What appeared to be a programmer’s private error message often popped up: “Announcement Jayesh 1. Demo for Judi - Flixster Collections is unavailable at the moment. We'll be back up and running again before long, so please try again soon. Thanks for your patience.”
NO CLEAR INDICATION
The disc packaging gives no clear explanation of the key requirement for portable play. Accessing the UV website triggers Adobe Flash error messages when movie play is attempted and fails.
The sleeve note advises only: "Flickster and UltraViolet Digital Copy allow you to download and instantly stream the movie via Wi-Fi so you can watch on all computers and compatible iOS and Android devices.” A note in print so small as to be near unreadable advises: “Not Compatible with all devices...compatible devices subject to change."
I learned the vital requirements for portable play only by speaking with Warner’s Digital Marketing Manager, Nihal de Silva. The user should install a Flixster App on the portable, then use it to log in to Flixster, from there link with the UV My Collection Cloud and then play the UV file with Flixster. Thanks to this personal tuition I successfully used iTunes to install the Flixster App on an iPod Touch, logged into my Flixster and UV accounts, and streamed Final Destination on the Touch using Wi-Fi.
An Android HTC Desire successfully installed the Flixster App, but confusingly labelled it “Movies”. Logging into the Flixster and UV sites found Final Destination in the UV My Collection store, with the offer to “Watch Now”. Flixster then showed “Loading” but at 95% gave the error message “Playback Problem. Unable to play movie. Please try again and contact us if the problem persists (1).”
I tried again several times and got identical error messages. Nihal de Silva confirms this is because the HTC Wildfire uses Android 2.2.1 and Flixster requires Android Honeycomb 3.0 or later. Honeycomb did not arrive until early 2011 so Android devices more than a year old will be incompatible with Flixster and UV unless they can be updated, which often they can’t be.
The new Nokia Lumia 800 Windows flagship phone installed the Flixster App OK, but then offered no option for login. Flixster’s FAQ advises only “Can I watch free movies on your app? Nope! Sorry.”
GET A GRIP, GUYS
I sent detailed notes on my miserable experience to both DECE and Warner Bros for comment, with a couple of extra questions, but heard nothing back.
Separately, a “Dear User” consumer email winged in. “You have been selected,” it said. “Share your opinions to help us shape your entertainment experience: Tell us about your UV experience.”
As I had already sent carefully written notes on my horrid UV experience and had them ignored, there seemed little point in spending more time on a vanity survey.
Get a grip, guys.