Talk about a bad first impression: The first two Blu-ray discs featuring Hollywood’s new UltraViolet cloud locker have been met with a lot of criticism from consumers, who have been calling the technology an “awful move,” “bogus,” a “joke” and a bunch of other things we can’t reprint here in numerous reviews on Amazon.com. (s amzn) Many consumers took issue with the fact that they couldn’t download the digital version onto their iPad, and one wrote: “All I can say is that their digital cloud is a bunch of hot air that smells REALLY bad.”
UltraViolet is Hollywood’s attempt to prolong the life of its physical disc business, create an alternative to digital movie rentals and sales through Apple’s iTunes store and at the same time curtail piracy by controlling what users can do with downloaded copies and cloud-hosted versions of a movie.
Warner Bros. (s TWX) was the first studio to market with two UltraViolet-enabled discs, The Green Lantern and Horrible Bosses. At least in theory, consumers can use Warner’s Flixter service to access digital streams of both titles. However, in practice, it looks like the experience isn’t quite as streamlined as the studio had hoped for. Check out the Amazon reviews for both movies, and you’ll hardly find a good word about UltraViolet. Instead, you’ll find a number of accounts like this one:
“After creating accounts for both Flixster and Ultraviolet, [sic] linking the accounts, enabling WB to view my personal information, the system hangs and doesn’t download the movie. I contacted Ultraviolet first with the issues and error messages. After a day, I was told this is not an Ultraviolet issue, but a Flixster problem. I then contacted Flixster. They responded by sending me to the FAQ. To date, I have not gotten a proper response from Flixster on the error messages. I plan on canceling both accounts and will NEVER buy another DVD tied to Ultraviolet.”
Other consumers report problems playing streams in Firefox, a crashing Flixster app and disappearing streams in their cloud lockers. What seems to enrage most reviewers, however, seems to be the fact that Warner labeled the discs as having a “digital copy”: a term that previously was synonymous with a separate file that can be played back through iTunes (s aapl) or Microsoft’s Windows Media Player. (s msft) UltraViolet does allow downloads that can be played through a dedicated application, but the emphasis is on streaming. The inability to play files in iTunes seems to anger many consumers, and quite a few mention returning the movies. Said one:
“I called the store and returned this Blu-ray… they have had numerous complaints and returns.”
Warner Bros. downplayed these issues when contacted by me. Studio representatives insisted that the vast majority of consumers had “an absolutely great experience,” with fewer consumers complaining than during previous digital access initiatives. I was also told that the ability to download files to tablets and mobile phones would come soon.
However, consumers will still have to sign up for two separate accounts when first using UltraViolet for the foreseeable future. That’s because UltraViolet set out to bring multiple studios and CE vendors together to allow cross-platform compatibility.
Still, everything will work itself out, according to a spokesperson for DECE, the initiative behind UltraViolet, who told me:
“The development process for creating a breakthrough new media ecosystem, such as UltraViolet, is an ongoing one. DECE is actively involved in overseeing UltraViolet’s gradual rollout driven by individual companies, who are working tirelessly to address consumers’ concerns to ensure the most enjoyable, user-friendly digital home entertainment experience possible.”
This almost convinced me that everything will be just fine. The I went back to Amazon for a quick reality check: Horrible Bosses currently has 36 reviews. 16 of those are complaints about UltraViolet, which has resulted in the movie’s rating dropping down to 2.5 stars. It seems like Warner Bros. and the other participating studios have their work cut out for them if they want to convince consumers that UltraViolet is more than just hot air. And remember: If access to DRM-protected online copies is too difficult, then people may just go back to ripping their DVDs or downloading files from various Torrent sites.