Can the Smurfs help UltraViolet kill off the DVD?

Sony releases a pair of movies you can get on the new UV home video format. More films are coming soon, but Hollywood still needs to make UltraViolet more down-home.

Sony Pictures Plaza in Culver City, Calif. Greg Sandoval/CNET

Hollywood continues to try to lay the foundation for UltraViolet, the technology that studio managers hope will replace the DVD .

Sony Pictures on Friday issued Blu-ray versions of "The Smurfs" and "Friends With Benefits" and also provided disc buyers with access to UV copies of the films. The studio will do the same with the release of the revenge flick "Columbiana" on December 20.

In addition, Variety, a film industry trade publication, is reporting that Sony Pictures will release a UV version of the Brad Pitt hit movie "Moneyball" on January 10. Universal, the studio owned by Comcast, is due to release the horror pic "The Thing" on UV in January, and Paramount is also planning its first UV release.

In October, Warner Bros. was the first studio to release UV-compatible titles with "The Green Lantern" and "Horrible Bosses."

Sony Pictures

UltraViolet is a set of standards designed to help make movies compatible with any Web retailer, cloud service, or device. Five of the six top studios, along with more than 70 other companies connected to the entertainment industry, banded together to look for the next-generation format in home video. The DVD appears to be in its death throes with sales plunging for years now.

One of the major problems with online film distribution is that movies are available in different formats or with different digital-rights management and that means a movie purchased from online store A often won't play on a device from electronics maker B. UV is supposed to end all that.

The first step in the studios' rollout strategy is to make video content available for UV and to make sure that the movies are indeed compatible across different services. Sony said they do.

It works like this: Buyers of "The Smurfs" on Blu-ray disc (the UV copy is not offered with DVDs) will also receive a code that enables them to retrieve a streaming version of the movie, as well as the ability to download a digital copy to a PC, from Sony Pictures' Web site.

To do that, buyers must create a Sony Pictures account and then also must create a separate UV account. The movie would be stored in the person's UV locker. If the user wants to watch the "The Smurfs" at, say, Flixster, the online store owned by Warner Bros., they can but they have to create an account there as well.

Note to studios: It's a pain to create this many accounts. These rough spots will have to be smoothed out, or else nobody's going to use the service.

The knock on UV, created by a consortium of over 70 companies, is that history has shown us that it's often very difficult to get numerous competitors, with their separate and often conflicting agendas, to cooperate.

In addition to limiting the number of accounts, for UltraViolet to be a true success, a major distributor, say Wal-Mart or an Internet service provider, must adopt the format, and getting some big device manufacturers on board couldn't hurt either. Expect to see some announcements about that at CES next month.

Sony's effort with its UV releases shows that some headway is being made. The studio's UV titles will be offered in high-definition. Warner Bros. titles are offered only in standard definition.

Correction, 11:31 a.m. PT: This story incorrectly stated the date when UV versions of "Moneyball" will be made available. They are offered with the Blu-ray release on January 10.

 

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