Imagine that after you buy a movie — either physically in a store or online — you can watch it on any device, in any format. That's the promise of UltraViolet, which will begin testing in the fall. If it delivers, it could be more popular than Hulu.
Virtually every major electronics manufacturer and content provider has dreamed of true "convergence," where all our devices become simple windows to our movies, music, photos and everything else. The device would truly become independent of the content. UltraViolet, which just happens to be backed by virtually every major electronics manufacturer and content provider (disclosure: DVICE's parent, NBC Universal, is one of the members), is the closest thing we've seen to this concept realized.
Here's how it would work: When you buy a title, you gain access to a copy of it in the cloud, regardless of what format you bought it in. So if you bought, say, an Amazon download of Glee to watch through your Blu-ray player, that would also enable the capability of streaming that same episode to your smartphone. Having an UltraViolet account will be free — it's just the content that costs money.
Sounds fantastic, but will it work? It seems doubtful Apple will play nice, considering this is essentially bypassing iTunes. If you couldn't stream UltraViolet content to your iPad or iPhone, that would really suck. And Disney happens to be developing a competing system, so it's probably out, too. But if deals can be worked out, the concept promises a future where you could seamlessly transfer a stream from phone to computer to TV and back again. We've had tastes of it before, but that would be real convergence, and it's about time.