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Keep your Blu-rays and DVDs, Hollywood -- I've gone digital

Buying physical copies of movies seems to make little sense these days, even if they provide digital versions with the purchase, given the frustration involved.

It had been years since I actually bought a DVD or a Blu-ray copy of a movie. But over Christmas, I bought one. I really wanted those extra features that a physical disk provides. Why not get a Blu-ray with a digital copy, I thought, and have the best of both worlds?

Why not turned out to be because redeeming digital copies is a nightmare. Are you getting a copy for iTunes? Or for Amazon? Or whatever on earth UltraViolet is supposed to be, something that finally crashed into my awareness as a new Blu-ray owner?

The film in question? Pitch Perfect, which is aca-awesome. My kids loved it when we saw it the theater. When it became available for rental on Amazon and iTunes, I debated actually buying a digital copy, because I knew we'd probably watch it a couple of times more. 

Physical copies mean best of both worlds?
I thought getting a physical Blu-ray copy made more sense. After all, I could see that for about same price (at the time), I could get a digital copy plus the extras, including outtakes that might be funny:

Pitch Perfect for sale on Amazon

In the end, I did both. We wanted to watch that film that night, so we rented it. But, I also ordered the disc-version so we'd have it for later (take note, Hollywood, for all your piracy worries, I'm someone who paid three times for one of your films).

The disc came just before Christmas, so on Christmas Day -- after all the presents had been unwrapped and everyone was having some downtime -- I decided to redeem my digital copy.

In the past, this has been easy. While I haven't bought DVDs for ages, usually I get one each year as a gift. "Avatar," "Star Trek," "The A-Team" -- all have made it my way as birthday or Christmas gifts. A coworker even gave me Katy Perry's movie this year (thanks, Michelle!).

The discs often came with a digital copy, and that usually involved iTunes or Windows Media player. I'd put the disc in my laptop, enter some code, and then I had a digital copy on my computer. When iTunes Match came out, things got even better. Most of my authorized digital downloads suddenly became available to me through the cloud.

The bureaucracy of digital redemption
Getting my digital copy of "Pitch Perfect" turned into a nightmare. There was a little flier in the case, with a URL leading to the redemption area at Universal Studios, that provided multiple redemption choices:

Digital copy redemption at Universal

By default, the site tries to get you to create a Universal account as part of the redemption process for your UltraViolet copy. It also positions getting a digital copy through iTunes or Amazon as an optional, secondary thing ("no thanks, maybe later" is the default choice made for you).

I figured I needed to have the Universal account in order to get the code I really wanted, one that would let me get an iTunes or Amazon copy. So, I tried to create a Universal account, over and over again. Nothing worked. Along the way, I was also prompted to create a completely separate UltraViolet account.

My best guess is that I was one of millions of people who had gotten new DVDs and Blu-rays around Christmas, all trying to redeem digital copies that day -- and Universal wasn't up to it. In the end, I could never get registered properly. I fired off a support request and hoped for the best.

Redeeming to get a code I already had
A few days later, Universal's support sent a new code to use. The good news is that it worked. The bad news is that it quickly became clear that Universal had sent me into a redemption hell that I didn't need.

There was no need for me to make a Universal account. As best I can tell, that was something Universal simply did because it feels it wants to get in on the process. The code I was sent, I could have (and did) enter into iTunes directly, to redeem my copy.

There was no need for me to register anything that day, if all I wanted was an iTunes digital copy. I could have taken the code printed on the disc flyer, put that into iTunes and had my digital copy enabled without any of the nonsense Universal put me (and others) through. But nothing on the flyer that came with my copy made this clear, nor did anything on the redemption web site explain this.

The process was easier with the aforementioned Katy Perry movie that I was given, through Paramount. The "digital copy" provided was good for two digital copies -- one through the UltraViolet site and one through either iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, or Windows Media Player. That was nice. I originally feared that digital copy in this case would mean UltraViolet only.

But consider the redemption process at Paramount, to get your iTunes code:

You have to enter the code on the flyer that came with the disc, along with your email address and birthday. Supposedly.

As it turns out, I left the email and birthday choices blank, and I was still given my iTunes code -- which turned out to be exactly the same code that was already on the flier. So, what did going to the Paramount site do to aid my redemption process? Apparently, nothing more than helping Paramount ensure it had my email address and birthday, along with perhaps the ability to send me information.

The process was different for Amazon. Curious, I took my exact same redemption code and tried again at Paramount, after "redeeming" for iTunes. That did require me to provide an e-mail and birthday. After submitting, I was given a unique code to use at Amazon, one different than on my flier.

Buy digital, save the headaches
All this hassle and for what? To get "extras" from a DVD or Blu-ray disc that I'll probably watch once? No thanks.

And no thanks especially that in order to even watch those extras, as well as the feature film itself, I'm often forced to sit through previews and promotions that either can't be skipped or require hitting the next chapter button on your DVD or Blu-ray player repeatedly.

I went all digital on taking photos and buying music years ago; all digital on buying books last year. Now it's time to leave buying physical movies behind, especially as the digital options are more-and-more offering the same extras that a physical disc provides.

The downside, of course, is that potentially you lock your movies into one provider's platform. That's worrisome. That's also something I'll be looking at in a future column, as well as the new Vudu program that lets you convert DVDs and Blu-ray discs you have into digital copies all from home.