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Warner Bros set to launch Ultraviolet video streaming, downloads with The Hobbit

Warner Bros. Entertainment is planning to be the first distributor in Australia to release its Blu-ray and DVD movies and TV shows with a free bonus: the UltraViolet movie streaming and download service.

Importantly, the cloud-based video streaming service will be included at no extra cost to consumers when purchasing a DVD or Blu-ray disc.

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Every copy of The Hobbit, set to hit store shelves on May 1st, will include a coupon for buyers to add the movie to UltraViolet -- an online, persistent collection that can be streamed, or downloaded permanently, on computers, smartphones, and tablets.

The Hobbit will be the first movie released locally to include an UltraViolet coupon, but WB says the plan is for every major movie release after The Hobbit to be UltraViolet-ready, as well as most of its TV series.

Warner's PR manager Jonathan Hollett explained that, initial availability hurdles aside, the distributor wants UltraViolet to be in all its discs : "All our new release products will have it as a matter of course."

UltraViolet is not a Warner Bros.-only initiative -- almost all of Australia's major film and TV distributors will be including UltraViolet codes in their titles' Blu-ray and DVD disc releases in coming months. Notable exceptions to the UltraViolet cause are Disney and Apple -- the latter already has the current digital streaming market cornered with its iTunes Store, and the former has agreements in place with Foxtel.

The cloud-based UltraViolet service has been available in the US since October 2011, and many Blu-ray discs and DVDs sold in the country have an UltraViolet redemption code included on a slip of paper in the case's inside cover.

UltraViolet is the closest thing the worldwide film and TV industry has to a standard online streaming and download hub -- it is used in some way by 74 companies, including the 'big six' major film studios and mini-major Lionsgate, as well as technology giants like Samsung, LG, Sony, IBM, and Intel.

UltraViolet is a single, unified service for consumers' digital copies of their purchased DVD and Blu-ray movies. Since it is not restricted to any one distributor, all a buyer's UltraViolet movies and TV series will be added to the one collection, and will be accessible on any UltraViolet-compatible device regardless of its manufacturer.

There is no single UltraViolet app or streaming website, though. Instead, the service can be accessed through any of a wide number of portals set up by distributors.

The portal that Warner Bros. demonstrated today was Flixster, which is a movie-discovery service which incorporates movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Through these portals, UltraViolet videos can be accessed through a PC or Mac's Web browser, and the service will also be available at launch through iOS and Android apps.

The UltraViolet service will definitely be available through Flixster come May 1st -- the company, its website and accompanying apps are owned by Warner Bros., so the distributor could confirm that today. It is likely that other members of the UltraViolet consortium, like Sony or Paramount or Fox, will launch their own branded portals for redeeming codes, and navigating through collections, but any user's entire UltraViolet collection should be accessible through any company's particular portal.

What does this mean for movie buyers, though?

The slow but inevitable release of movies with bundled, bonus UltraViolet codes by Australian movie and TV distributors is a good thing -- a representative of Warner Bros. said that the service would come at no extra cost to consumers, although this may be re-assessed at a later date -- depending on consumer uptake, and the cost of maintaining the network.

If you're going to be buying The Hobbit on May 1st or afterwards, every copy -- whether it's DVD or Blu-ray -- will include an UltraViolet coupon inside the disc case's front cover. You don't pay anything extra to add the movie to your UltraViolet collection, and you can stream it from any PC or Mac or Android or iOS smartphone or tablet.

UltraViolet-ready apps, like a Flixster app, for Smart TVs and other Smart devices from companies like Samsung and LG, will likely be released in coming months -- they may even be part of the companies' upcoming yearly product announcements in April and May.

There is some hard-and-fast data around UltraViolet to go with the service's May 1 local launch. You'll be able to maintain a maximum of six user accounts per household, with a maximum of 12 streaming/downloading devices tied to any one account. Each account will be able to view up to three simultaneous streams or downloads -- so you could conceivably be watching one movie while you're downloading two others for later use.

A unique file container and baked-in DRM makes it nearly impossible to format-shift UltraViolet videos; you're effectively locked in to only the devices that have official UltraViolet-capable apps like Flixster on PC, Mac, iOS and Android.


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