UltraViolet: An informal look at their product

I’ve been meaning to take a closer look at the Ultraviolet service provided by various media companies. A recent news article by our fearless leader Domi, reminded me of this.

UltraViolet is a cloud based licensing system which allows you to have a digital copy of a dvd or blu ray movie that you have purchased, or you can stream the movie to your player rather than going through the process of downloading.

UltraViolet is not a locker for the movies themselves, but rather a central point for the storage of the license used to access the movies. You are not restricted to any particular store when purchasing movies. As long as the studio is part of the UltraViolet consortium, and they have included a code for a digital copy, you can add it to your account in UltraViolet.

UltraViolet is compatible with a great many different devices, pc’s, smartphones, tablets, blu ray players…as long as they have internet access. You are allowed to use your library on as many as 12 devices.

Ok, so now you have a rough idea of what the service is.

Since I had a movie from Warner Brothers with a digital code, I thought I’d start there. The movie is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2. The instructions found on the movie insert directed me to Flixster, where I had to fill out forms and set up both an UltraViolet account and a Flixster account. Also had to answer an email.

Once I got through that, I had to download the Flixster program. This program turns out to be necessary to play the movie, because the movie that you download is encrypted. No surprise there.

The Flixster program does not install into the list of programs in Windows. Rather it inserts itself into the User directory inside the hidden folder AppData/Local/Flixster. This is also where the movie will download. You have no choice on where the downloads go by the way, and this is a big sore point for me. I have 4tb of storage on this computer, and a relatively small amount on my SSD that I use for my operating system disc. Yet that is where they choose to put my downloads.

I’ve got a support email going in asking if the download area can be relocated, or if the movie can be moved after downloading. I believe I’ll get a big fat NO on both of those, but I’ll report back in on that.

I was a bit surprised that MediaInfo was able to give me any information regarding the downloaded movie, but here it is:

Complete name                            : C:\Users\Kerry\AppData\Local\Flixster\Storage\938672929\E047DE0130948ECD793A68CA41BA0A5D
Format                                   : MPEG-4
Format profile                           : Base Media
Codec ID                                 : isom
File size                                : 2.00 GiB
Duration                                 : 2h 10mn
Overall bit rate mode                    : Variable
Overall bit rate                         : 2 197 Kbps
Tagged date                              : UTC 2011-10-27 01:40:13
Writing application                      : Lavf52.93.0

ID                                       : 1
Format                                   : AVC
Format/Info                              : Advanced Video Codec
Format profile                           : Baseline@L3.0
Format settings, CABAC                   : No
Format settings, ReFrames                : 4 frames
Codec ID                                 : encv / avc1 / mp4a
Duration                                 : 2h 10mn
Bit rate                                 : 2 072 Kbps
Width                                    : 640 pixels
Height                                   : 360 pixels
Display aspect ratio                     : 16:9
Frame rate mode                          : Constant
Frame rate                               : 24.000 fps
Color space                              : YUV
Chroma subsampling                       : 4:2:0
Bit depth                                : 8 bits
Scan type                                : Progressive
Bits/(Pixel*Frame)                       : 0.375
Stream size                              : 1.89 GiB (94%)
Language                                 : English
Tagged date                              : UTC 2011-10-27 01:40:13
Encryption                               : Encrypted

ID                                       : 2
Format                                   : AAC
Format/Info                              : Advanced Audio Codec
Format profile                           : LC
Codec ID                                 : 40
Duration                                 : 2h 10mn
Bit rate mode                            : Variable
Bit rate                                 : 119 Kbps
Channel(s)                               : 2 channels
Channel positions                        : Front: L R
Sampling rate                            : 44.1 KHz
Compression mode                         : Lossy
Delay relative to video                  : 83ms
Stream size                              : 111 MiB (5%)
Language                                 : English
Tagged date                              : UTC 2011-10-27 01:40:13
Encryption                               : Encrypted

A few things jump out at me immediately.

The movie that I bought was a blu ray. What I got in my digital copy is obviously standard definition, and not even up to dvd resolution at that. 640 x 360, level 3 and 2078kbps, using H264 and AAC audio.

So you lose high def. video and audio in this copy.

The Flixter program is quite horrible for playback. There is no fast forward, reverse, or chapter points. You have play, volume control, closed captioning (if available) and full screen toggle. That’s it. The quality of the video is really poor. But I don’t know how much is due to this flash based player and how much is just a truly bad encoding job.

Here is a snapshot I took:

And yes, it looks that bad when in motion too.

Here is a shot from the same scene, but not the same frame…that’s not possible when using the Flixter program and then my regular blu ray player.

http://upload.cdfreaks.com/Kerry56/Harry Potter 2nd shot.png

This was taken from my copy on the hard drive which was extracted using AnyDVD HD and ClownBD, and the main movie is about 21gb.

Not really fair to compare the two versions, since my good copy is ten times the size. But it gives you a better feel for what is missing.

I didn’t think I would be impressed by the quality of the video. Reports around the net have been uniformly negative in this regard. If you are playing these files on a tablet or phone, the Ultraviolet copies may be perfectly serviceable. On a large screen, this one at least is appallingly bad.

You can do much better decrypting and converting your own movies to fit your devices. And with programs like Handbrake, VidCoder and Ripbot264, its not difficult. It just takes some time and a bit more effort than streaming or downloading a premade copy from Ultraviolet.

Just as an experiment, I tried to make a 2gb file with the same general settings for resolution and audio as seen in the UltraViolet copy. I used a very slow, 2 pass encode with VidCoder and tweaked settings to improve this low bitrate file as much as I could.

The output was not acceptable to me, but a step or two above the quality seen in the UltraViolet copy. I am not an expert on low bitrate encoding with X264, so it could probably be done better than this attempt.

But since you were a step or two better, apparently neither are they…

UltraViolet looks very nice from where I’m standing… unless there’s something I’ve misunderstood?! :smiley:

[QUOTE=DrageMester;2662969]UltraViolet looks [I]very[/I] nice from where I’m standing… unless there’s something I’ve misunderstood?! :smiley:


I think we can forgive you for that one! :bigsmile:


If anyone is interested, I got a reply on my question to Flixster. My question to them was:
“Can you download the movies to a different drive other than the C: drive in your computer, or can you move the movie once downloaded to a different location for storage and still access it using the Flixster program?”

Here is what I got in reply:

[I]Flixster Desktop is an application designed to play your UltraViolet collection offline. It is completely self-contained – you do not need to search on your hard drive to play or delete the files.

The first time you use the application will likely be after clicking on a “Download” link on Flixster.com. The application will install and launch, and your movie will begin downloading.

After installing the desktop player, you can go directly to the application to download movies. Sign in at the upper right, then click on “All” in the left sidebar. Any movie that has not been downloaded will have a blue arrow icon on the poster image. Click on the arrow, and the movie will begin to download.

To play a movie, click on “Downloads” in the left sidebar, then on the poster image for the movie. Finally, click on “Watch Now” and enjoy the movie.

To delete a download, click on “Downloads” in the left sidebar, then on the poster image for the movie, then on the Delete button under “Watch Now.” There is no need to clear the files from your hard drive, or to empty the trash. The application will permanently delete the files for you.[/I]

This of course is boilerplate straight off their website and doesn’t address my question at all. I submitted a second email for clarification, but they have ignored me.

So far, nothing about this service has impressed me in the slightest. These people don’t seem to have a clue how to make quality copies, nor how to make a player with decent controls. And their customer service is less than stellar as well. If anyone can point out a selling point to this, I’d be glad to find one.

Oh, and I did find a way to change the download spot on the computer. It is in Preferences in the Flixster program. It is the only option in Preferences for that matter. Why they didn’t point this out in their reply to me is beyond my comprehension.

To make it work, I had to download the movie again.