Following news that Amazon will sell codes for UltraViolet movies without forcing consumers to purchase physical discs, Paramount Pictures will be the first studio to offer digital movie purchases directly from its website. What does this mean for consumers? A movie or TV episode that can be played across multiple devices, not just one specific hardware set or operating system.
Or maybe not. The purpose of UltraViolet is to offer consumers one digital copy that can be accessed on Android and iOS mobile devices, desktops, notebooks, Blu-ray players and other compatible devices. Introduced in October 2011, select Blu-ray movies like The Smurfs and Green Lantern contained a code that essentially "unlocked" the digital version via UltraViolet. Consumers simply needed to create an UltraViolet account, enter the code, and bam! There's your movie in a virtual locker.
Even more, watching an UltraViolet movie on a mobile device means linking a free Flixter account to the UltraViolet account. While this process essentially calls for creating two accounts to watch a single movie, the payoff is watching it on all said platforms worry-free. This can be done by streaming via Wi-Fi, or downloading and watching the video offline. Both UltraViolet and Flixter report that downloading is allowed.
Paramount has apparently decided to change the rules, adding confusion to the new "digital locker" standard. According to the studio's FAQ, UltraViolet movies can be viewed on iOS devices in SD only, and only through the Safari browser by visiting Paramountmovies.com -- there's no mention of the Flixter app or any other DRM-laced app. Paramount also states that movies can be watched on multiple devices, just not on Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, or set-top boxes and gaming consoles.
The big shocker is that iOS customers cannot download the video file for offline viewing. If they want offline action, it will have to be via a desktop or laptop using Paramount's software which serves as a video downloader and player. Viewing on an iOS device must be done by streaming the movie across a Wi-Fi connection to the device's browser (or maybe via the iOS video player itself, that part is unclear).
For the record, Flixter was purchased by Warner Bros. on May 4, 2011 which may be why Paramount is bypassing the Flixter service altogether. That said, Paramount may be working on its own app that will be supported by multiple platforms in the near future. Until then, consumers are left with the same DRM-based limitations suffered prior to UltraViolet's October 2011 debut, making it not quite so attractive after all.
To get your UltraViolet Paramount collection started, head here. Unfortunately, the only Trek you can purchase for the moment is the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot costing $19.99 for the HD version and $12.99 for the SD version. For that price, you may be better off buying the Instant Video version from Amazon for $9.43...