Consumer Electronics Show: Moving your DVD collection to the cloud?


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The ability to rip CDs helped transform music consumption (and, some would argue, hasten the demise of CD sales) by making songs more portable and accessible. That revolution hasn’t come to DVDs -- it takes more technical savvy to convert a movie disc into an easily playable file, and it’s illegal in the U.S. to make software or devices to help people do that. Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show, at least one device maker demonstrates a new way to get around that hurdle (this year’s entry: Moovida), but stiff opposition from the studios (and their lawyers) has stopped most of those products from reaching the masses.

At this year’s show, though, studio executives opened the door to retailers converting their customers’ DVD collections into movie files stored online. Such conversion services are a likely part of Ultraviolet, the online video distribution initiative by a consortium of studios, tech companies, retailers and service providers. The first UV products and services are expected to hit the market later this year.


The catch is that the files stored online would be confined to Ultraviolet’s walled garden, playable only on devices compatible with UV’s standards. So it’s not clear at this point what compatibility problems might emerge. But with companies expected to develop UV-compliant applications and players for a wide variety of computers, mobile devices and set-top boxes, the disc-to-cloud conversion is likely to appeal to at least some movie collectors.

It’s those consumers -- the ones willing to spend the extra dollars to buy a movie instead of just renting it -- who are critical to the success of UV. The consortium’s platform is designed to promote movie sales by eliminating many of the off-putting restrictions that the studios impose on downloadable movies without abandoning the limits on copying and sharing that Hollywood demands.

UV-certified downloads can be shared between UV-certified devices and streamed to Internet-connected PCs, TVs and mobile devices running software that meets UV’s specifications. And UV-branded Blu-ray discs and DVDs will come with ‘a copy in the cloud’ that can be streamed, downloaded or burned to a disc, said Thomas Gewecke, president of digital distribution for Warner Bros.

But what about all the discs people already own? Several UV backers said they expected to see retailers offer consumer the chance to convert existing discs into UV files stored online. But ‘we don’t know what form yet that’s going to take,’ said John D. Calkins, executive vice president of global digital and commercial innovation for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ‘Nobody’s figured out ... how you go at that opportunity.’

Among the unknowns are what price, if any, consumers might be willing to pay for such a service and what compensation, if any, the studios would demand for the right to make a copy in the cloud. Nor is it clear how hard it would be to verify that the DVDs being converted were ones that had been bought. Ultimately, the lower the bar that studios and retailers set for converting DVDs, the more likely they’ll be to draw movie collectors into the UV fold.

The prospect of converting DVDs opens up all sorts of new opportunities for retailers -- for example, the ability to sell UV-compliant digital storage units pre-loaded with the customer’s entire movie collection. So retailers can be expected to push to make DVD conversion a reality. Whether consumers respond to the offer remains to be seen.



Ultraviolet here, BitTorrent there

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for the Los Angeles Times’ Opinion Manufacturing Division.