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UltraViolet universal movie format still a no-show

But the online film locker has 5m members

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UltraViolet, Hollywood’s attempt to tie physical media to movie downloads through an online locker, now has more than 5m accounts under its belt, but it’s still not ready for prime time: it’s key feature, a universal file format, is still not ready to be rolled out.

UV was launched a year ago. By February 2012, it had clocked up some 800,000 accounts, most of them in the US. Eight months on, UV remains a predominantly US affair, but the number of accounts has rocketed by more than 500 per cent, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the company overseeing the technology, claimed this week.

Some 7200 UV-enabled Blu-ray Discs and downloads are available in the shops and online in the UK and the US - the BBC announced earlier this month that it will be contributing more to the total - with five virtual outlets now supplying UV-compatible content.

Brits can make use of Warner’s Flixster service, but in the US Walmart's Vudu, Sony, Paramount and Universal also sell UV content and allow you to claim digital copies of UV-branded BDs. Barnes & Noble will be rolling out the UV-compatible Nook Video service over here and over there by the end of the year.

The DECE wants other, big name, suppliers to get on board, but it’s easy to say you “hope” Apple, Amazon and Netflix join in, rather more difficult to persuade them to do so, favouring as they do their own, tightly controlled technology and business ecosystems.

However, at an event held in California this week, DECE executives said online stores will be opening and UV discs rolled out in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France and Germany in 2013.

By then, UV’s Common File Format (CFF) might be ready. This technology will allow content bought from one UV retailer to be accessed through another’s site and software. It is the download equivalent of a disc - a file that will play in suitable software no matter where you bought it from.

Unfortunately, the DECE people admitted, it’s not yet ready. The format is not yet complete, though it is being tested by UV supporting businesses. But no one seemed willing to say when consumer availability will kick off other than a broad “soon”.

At the moment, download content is tied to suppliers’ own playback apps, or streamed. But if the DECE has defined the infrastructure correctly, rolling out CFF versions of films will be just a matter of replacing one lot of files with another. UV accounts store access rights, not the content itself, so only films already downloaded will need to be replaced if you want full interoperability. ®

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