six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

A little of the old UltraViolet

Lawrence of Arabia 50th Anniversary Edition

In case you’re not familiar with UltraViolet, it’s the movie industry’s attempt to deal with the popularity of digital video. On the face of it, that’s a good thing, because it means that the studios are taking piracy head on, rather than sticking their fingers in their ears and humming “la la la la la la” as loud as they can.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into a system that is particularly consumer-friendly. Allow me to recount the steps I had to take to redeem the free digital copy of Lawrence of Arabia that came with the 50th anniversary Blu-ray I received for Christmas.

First, in the time-honored method of free downloads everywhere, I had to go to a URL and type in a lengthy code printed on an insert in the Blu-ray case. 1

After fighting with the redemption page for twenty-odd minutes, I had the (Hobson’s) choice of using the code on one of three different services: Walmart’s Vudu, Flixster, or Sony’s own movie store. I chose the last because, hey, I’m an idiot.

At that point, Lawrence of Arabia was added to my digital library, available for streaming or download. Great, right? Well, until I realized that the bundled version is the standard definition version. Of an almost four-hour movie renowned for its gorgeous cinematography and epic vistas. (And which, I will point out, I already own on standard definition DVD.) But, have no fear, I can upgrade to the HD version of the movie for just $3 more!

Sony Pictures Store
I decided to check out Vudu and Flixster, in case they had better offerings. After going through the process of connecting my UltraViolet library to my Vudu account, I also had the option of streaming or downloading the SD version of the movie—which I could then rent or buy in HD (720p) for $4 or $14 respectively. (Vudu also offers purchases in HDX, its 1080p format, for the same amount, or an HDX rental for $5.) Flixster too let me add the movie to my library, so I’ll at least give UltraViolet credit for not locking me to a single DRM-encumbered service, but it didn’t even seem to have an HD version on offer.

Look, I get it: There’s little incentive for the studios to give me a free digital version of the same quality as the movie I’ve already got, especially when they can attempt to squeeze another few bucks out of me. But consider this: My opinion of the studios went from “Ooh, cool, a free digital version of the movie I can watch on my iPad! That’s nice!” to “Ugh, why is this process so cumbersome?” to “Ah, typical commercialist money-grubbing” in the space of about an hour. Imagine the goodwill that would be engendered by actually acknowledging the way that people consume media these days.

In this era of high-definition, a standard def version of the movie—especially one that’s encumbered by digital rights management—is kind of pointless, especially when I can just as easily rip my existing DVD copy or, with a small investment, my high-def Blu-ray copy. (Several folks immediately recommended this course of action to me on Twitter.)

With the rise of streaming movie services, I’m less likely than ever to actually purchase a digital-only version of a film—and the industry’s slavish adherence to the way things used to be is just reminding me why.

  1. This took longer than usual because the redemption site did not like Safari, and Chrome currently crashes on my MacBook Air whenever you touch the trackpad—apparently a known bug that has, perplexingly, yet to be fixed. So I resorted to using screen sharing from my phone to navigate Chrome on my MacBook. Readers, this is the kind of dedication you get from the Six Colors team.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]