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UltraViolet Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)


This is the Sep 17, 2015 revision of the UltraViolet FAQ.
(See below for what's new.) Send corrections, additions, and new questions to Jim Taylor <jtfrog@usa.net>.

This is a work in progress, so please forgive unfinished sections and unfinished links. Glib answers will be replaced by real answers at some point.

This FAQ is usually updated at least once a month. If you are looking at a version more than a few months old, it's probably an out-of-date copy. The most current version is at UV Demystified.


Recent changes:

[0] About the UltraViolet FAQ

This is a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document about UltraViolet, the online entertainment ecosystem. It's not about wavelengths, women's rights, sterilization, music albums, the perfume, or movies starring Milla Jovovich.

[0.1] Where can I get the UltraViolet FAQ?

The most current version of this FAQ is on the Web at <UVDemystified.com/UVfaq.html>.

[0.2] Has the UltraViolet FAQ been translated into other languages?

Not yet.

If you'd like to translate the UltraViolet FAQ into another language (Klingon, anyone?), please contact Jim.

[0.3] Is this FAQ any good? Who wrote it? How do I know it's accurate?

The UltraViolet FAQ is written by Jim Taylor, the author of the DVD FAQ and the books DVD Demystified, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About DVD, and Blu-ray Disc Demystified. Jim has worked with interactive media for over 30 years, developing educational software, laserdiscs, CD-ROMs, Web sites, and DVDs, along with teaching workshops, seminars, and university courses. Jim began participating in the UltraViolet alliance (DECE) in 2008 when he was Chief Technologist at Sonic, started this FAQ in 2010, and joined the staff of DECE in 2011.

For better or for worse, Jim probably knows more about UltraViolet than anyone else on the planet. Which doesn't mean this FAQ is 100% accurate, but if FAQs were horses this would be a good bet.

[1] General

[1.1] What is UltraViolet?

UltraViolet (UVVU or UV for short) is an ecosystem for interoperable electronic content. It's a branded set of specifications and agreements along with a centralized rights clearinghouse that allows retailers to sell movies that work across multiple UltraViolet-compatible services.

Put another way, UltraViolet is DVD for the Internet. Just as the DVD logo means that you can buy a DVD from any seller and expect it to play in any player with a DVD logo, the UltraViolet logo means you can buy UltraViolet movies from any seller, keep track of your "online library" or "virtual collection" of movies, and expect them to play anywhere you see the UltraViolet logo (PCs, tablets, smartphones, Blu-ray players, cable set-top boxes, game consoles, and so on -- see 1.6.6 for a list).

Here's how UltraViolet works:

[1.1.1] What is DECE?

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) is the international cross-industry group that runs UltraViolet (see 6.1 for more). DECE was originally called Open Market. DECE member companies developed the policies, specifications, and license agreements. DECE member companies are not obligated to support UltraViolet or produce UltraViolet products, but many of them have already done so or stated their intention to do so.

[1.1.2] How is Neustar involved?

Neustar, a company that provides number portability, text message short codes, DNS service, and .biz domain registration among other things, was chosen by DECE to run the central component of UltraViolet (see 3.1.1).

[1.2] Why do I need UltraViolet?

Most online video services have their own "ecosystem" of formats, players, and usage models. A movie purchased from iTunes won't play on an Xbox, and a TV show purchased from Amazon Instant Video won't play on a Walmart VUDU player. Without an interoperable system like UltraViolet it's impossible to have the "buy anywhere, play anywhere" model that DVD supports and move from physical media to purely digital media.

Of course for UltraViolet to ultimately succeed it needs participation from many companies. As of the end of 2015 there were 15 online services supporting UltraViolet (see 1.7.1) with content from most Hollywood studios as well as studios such as BBC, Lionsgate, and Roadshow Pictures. And many significant companies are members of DECE, the consortium behind UltraViolet (see 6.2).

[1.3] What are the features of UltraViolet?

[1.3.1] What happened to some of the original features?

In 2014 and 2015, based on a feedback from the first three years of operation, DECE made UltraViolet simpler for consumers to use and for services to implement.

[1.4] What are the disadvantages of UltraViolet?

[1.5] How much does UltraViolet cost?

It's free to set up an UltraViolet account. Retailers set their own prices for movies and other content.

Once you buy an UltraViolet right it lasts forever (see 1.6.1). It's possible that a service might require a subscription or might charge a fee (kind of like a "shipping and handling" fee) for you to stream or download, but so far none have. In general there is no cost other than buying movies and TV shows (or buying a disc that comes with an UltraViolet redemption code).

UltraViolet licensees pay annual fees and may pay usage fees. See 6.2.1.

[1.6] How do I buy and use UltraViolet movies?

You go to a web site and buy a movie. Or you buy a movie directly on your TV. Instead of getting a box in your hands or in the mail, you instantly have the movie added to your UltraViolet Library. You can then stream or download the movie from UltraViolet-compatible services.

In many cases you can buy a DVD or Blu-ray with UltraViolet included for free (see 1.6.5). In a call with analysts on Aug 3, 2011, Jeffrey Bewkes, Time Warner's chairman and chief executive, told analysts during a conference call that 'beginning with the releases of Horrible Bosses and Green Lantern in the fourth quarter, the vast majority of our future home video new releases will be UV enabled.'

You can also use the disc-to-digital service offered by some retailers to upgrade to UltraViolet from your existing DVDs and Blu-ray Discs and even upgrade from standard-defintion DVD to high-definition in UltraViolet (see 1.6.4).

[1.6.1] How long do my UltraViolet Rights last?

The right to an UltraViolet movie is perpetual and remains in your Library unless you delete it. UltraViolet rights never expire. Once you download a movie you can play it as many times as you like.

Online access to movies in your UltraViolet Library is provided by services that participate in UltraViolet. Most of them provide free streams and downloads, but there is no obligation for them to provide free access forever.

There is the rare possibility that a video might be recalled because it turns out that the studio didn't have proper rights. In this case any copies of it that you've already downloaded will most likely continue to play, but you won't be able to stream it anymore or download additional copies.

[] What if DECE or one of the UltraViolet companies goes out of business?

If DECE goes out of business you will still be able to play UltraViolet movies that you have downloaded. You won't be able to buy new movies with UltraViolet rights. Your movie rights will still be available from the retailer who sold you the movies, and may be copied to other UltraViolet retailers.

If an UltraViolet retailer goes out of business, your UltraViolet Library will be available from other UltraViolet services. More than one UltraViolet-compatible service has shut down over the past few years. Rights to non-ultraviolet movies sold by those services disappeared, but users were able to switch to different services to watch all their UltraViolet movies.

[1.6.3] Can I get a copy of my new UltraViolet movies on recordable DVD?

This is an as-yet-unfulfilled promise of UltraViolet, potentially extending the ecosystem to hundreds of millions of DVD players worldwide.

UltraViolet purchases may include the right to get a physical copy (called a discrete media right). [Note: As of late 2015, no retailer has chosen to offer this feature.] The copy can be on a DVD or an SD card. You might get a DVD right there in the store, or you might be able to request that a DVD be mailed to you later, or you might be able to burn the movie to a DVD or SD card in the store or at home.

UltraViolet rights are often included with new DVDs or BDs. (See 1.6.5)

You might ask "What's the difference between copying an UltraViolet file onto a DVD-R or an SD card myself and a DVD or an SD card I get from the retailer?" You would be clever to ask this, since downloaded UltraViolet files can often be copied onto any storage device, including SD cards and recordable DVDs (see 3.3.6). However, such files will only play on the device or app you downloaded them with, not on standard DVD or Blu-ray players. On the other hand, a DVD copy from the retailer will be a regular DVD-Video that will play in any DVD or Blu-ray player. And an UltraViolet SD card you get from the retailer will use the CPRM-SDSD, Vidity, or SeeQVault format, which will play on some mobile phones and some DVD players with SD card slots.

[1.6.4] Can I add my old DVDs and Blu-ray Discs to my UltraViolet Library?

You can "upgrade" an existing disc to UltraViolet if the studio allows it. This is usually called disc-to-digital. You either take your discs into a store (i.e., Walmart) or insert them into the drive in your computer so they can be identified. Essentially the physical disc is treated as a proof of purchase that's extended to UltraViolet. Once you have added a movie to your UltraViolet Library you can download and stream it like all your other UltraViolet movies.

Typically you pay $2 to convert DVDs to UltraViolet SD or to convert BDs to UltraViolet HD. You can often upgrade DVDs to UltraViolet HD for $5. Over 13,000 discs are eligible for UltraViolet conversion.

Warner Bros. was the first studio to mention this in August 2011. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012, Samsung announced a Blu-ray player with a built-in disc-to-digital feature, but it never materialized. In March 2012, Walmart announced an exclusive disc-to-digital program in cooperation with five major Hollywood studios to convert DVDs to UltraViolet. The initial program was in-store disc-to-digital, which requires you to take your discs into the store to prove that you own them. Walmart stamps the disc so they can't be converted again. (They still play in your DVD or BD player.)

In January 2013, CinemaNow and Walmart announced in-home disc-to-digital, where you can put a disc into a computer for electronic identification. The feature is now available from Flixster as well. 

[1.6.5] How do disc redemption codes work?

Many DVDs and Blu-ray Discs come with UltraViolet rights included. You buy the physical disc then go to a website where you enter a redemption code, sign in to an UltraViolet retailer account, and add the movie to your UltraViolet Library. You can redeem most codes at www.myuv.com/redeem, although some require you to visit a particular studio website.

Look for an insert inside the disc package, go to the indicated website, sign in if needed, and then enter the code from the insert. In some cases you can simply scan a QR barcode to go directly to the redemption web page with the code entered for you.

The UltraViolet right bundled with a disc may not match the resolution of the disc. That is, you might get an HD UltraViolet right with a Blu-ray disc or you might only get an SD UltraViolet rights with a Blu-ray disc. You usually get an SD UltraViolet  right with DVD, but you might get an HD UltraViolet right. If the code redemption page doesn't indicate the resolution then the only way to tell is to enter the code, then check your Library to see what the resolution is. (Or try a Web search to see if someone has posted the details.)

[1.6.6] Where can I play UltraViolet movies?

UltraViolet was originally designed to support standalone players but it turned out that most retailers provided their own apps and websites from playing on almost every device imaginable, so the common file and common player feature was made optional (see 1.3.1). Each UltraViolet service provides different websites, smartphone/tablet apps, connected TV apps, or other specialized applications and players for a total of over 700 million UltraViolet-compatible devices. See 1.7.1 for a list of services.

UltraViolet movies can be streamed and/or download on the following devices in the US and Canada. Not all of the devices below are supported by services in other countries where UltraViolet is available.

[1.7] Where and how is UltraViolet available?

UltraViolet launched in the US on October 11, 2011. It's available in the following countries. (See 7.1 for historical launch dates.)

 Support for other countries is planned, including Japan, but no dates have been set.

[1.7.1] What services support UltraViolet?

The following online services support UltraViolet. Some offer disc redemption (see 1.6.5), some offer disc-to-digital (see 1.6.4), and some offer online direct purchase (often called electronic sell-through or EST).

Service Countries
blinkbox (Talk Talk) UK
CinemaNow US, Canada, UK
Cineplex Canada
Flixster US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg
JB Hi-Fi Australia, New Zealand
Kaleidescape US, Canada, UK, Ireland
M-Go US, UK, Ireland
Nolim (Carrefour) France
Nook (Barnes & Noble) US
Paramount Movies US
Sainsbury's UK
Sony Pictures Store US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg
Universal Hi-Def US, Canada
Videociety Germany
Vudu (Walmart) US

[1.8] What types of content does UltraViolet support?

UltraViolet supports any form of video — movies, TV shows, and so on— as long as the content owner licenses it for use in the UltraViolet ecosystem.

[1.8.1] Does UltraViolet support music, games, or ebooks?

Not yet, although it could add support in the future.

[1.8.2] Does UltraViolet support personal content such as photos and home video?

No, UltraViolet is intended for commercial content. Although an UltraViolet service could combine your Library and your personal content. See 4.5 for more on personal video.

[1.9] Does UltraViolet provide parental control?

Yes, through each service or player. Setting a parental control in one service does not carry over to other UltraViolet services.

[1.9.1] Does UltraViolet allow adult content?

UltraViolet does not restrict what movies are made available through the system. The ratings information identifies adult content, and the UltraViolet parental control feature allows each user (or the parent of an underage user) to choose whether or not they can see adult content.

[1.10] What business models does UltraViolet support?

UltraViolet currently provides only digital ownership, also called electronic sell-through (EST). In other words, you can buy movies but you can't rent or subscribe. DECE may add more business models in future versions.

[1.10.1] Does UltraViolet support rental?

Not currently. However, retailers and streaming services that support rental can easily integrate UltraViolet buying, download, and streaming with their existing offerings.

[1.10.2] Does UltraViolet support subscription?

Not in the usual sense. You don't get monthly access to thousands of movies and TV shows on demand, as with Netflix. However, existing video subscription services can add features for you to download or stream movies already in your Library, subject to content license agreements. And you can subscribe to ongoing series that automatically add new episodes or movies to your UltraViolet Library as they are released.

[1.10.3] Does UltraViolet enable free or ad-supported content?

Sort of. Retailers are free to make content available based on any transaction they wish. So content may be acquired for free or in exchange for something such as watching an ad or joining a club or signing up for a service, but the acquisition is permanent. Retailers and streaming services can't, for example, provide one-time views if you watch ads. UltraViolet currently has no mechanism for inserting ads into content during playback.

[1.11] What usage models does UltraViolet support?

Here's the basic model for Libraries and content:

(UltraViolet was designed with a limit of 12 download devices per Library and 3 simultaneous streams, but these limits were later decentralized. See 1.3.1.)

[1.11.1] Do I have to register players and how do I do it?

Retailers may require you to register players to your account before you can download movies to them. A "player" can be a device such as a web-connected TV, a game console, or Blu-ray player, or it can be an app on a smartphone or computer. Retailers usually limit the number of devices you can register to your account. These limits come from the studios and may not be the same. (Which makes things complicated for retailers.)

In some cases you have to specially register a player, but in many cases the retailer automatically registers each new player when you download to it.

UltraViolet services usually don't require you to register players for streaming.

[1.11.2] I don't want (or don't have) one of my players anymore. Does it prevent me from registering new players?

Retailers provide different ways for you to see which players you have registered, and to remove players you no longer use. If you have reached the maximum number of players for a specific retailer, you can unregister one. Visit the retailer website and go to the account settings page.

[1.11.3] What's linking?

You link your UltraViolet Library with each UltraViolet service you want to use. This is a shortcut to logging in with your UltraViolet username and password every time you use an UltraViolet service, and it establishes a persistent connection between the service and your UltraViolet Library.

You can see which services are linked to your UltraViolet Library by going to myuv.com and choosing "Linked Services" from the User Settings section. You can unlink services from here, or in some cases you can unlink from the service.

[] Are there limits to linking?

You can link an unlimited number of UltraViolet services to a single UltraViolet Library. In other words, you can link an account at Vudu to an UltraViolet Library, an account at Flixster to the same UltraViolet Library, an account at CinemaNow to the same UltraViolet Library, and so on.

You can only link one UltraViolet Library to a single account at an UltraViolet service. In other words, you can link your UltraViolet Library to your Nook account but you can't then link someone else's UltraViolet Library to the same Nook account. You also can't link more than one account a service to a single UltraViolet Library. For example, if you have two M-Go accounts you can't link both of them to one UltraViolet Library.

Linking may also refer to registering players to an UltraViolet service. See 1.11.1.

[1.11.4] Does UltraViolet support side-loading?

Not easily, now that the common file format is not mandatory for all services (see 1.3.1). Downloaded files can sometimes be copied onto USB sticks, SD cards, hard drives, and other forms of storage for playback on another computer or device using a playback app from the same retailer.

[1.11.5] Does UltraViolet support superdistribution?

Superdistribution refers to unlimited distribution of files before they are purchased. Any method can be used to deliver a file (even BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer networks), as well as pre-loading files onto players or storage media such as SD cards. The first time the file is played, the player will discover that the content is not licensed and will give the user the opportunity to purchase it. Once the purchase is complete the file will play.

The DECE Common File Format supports superdistribution, but it was made optional (see 1.3.1) and is not widely used by UltraViolet services.

[1.12] Is UltraViolet a worldwide standard? Does it have region codes like DVD or incompatibilities like NTSC and PAL?

In general, UltraViolet works around the world. (See 1.7 for a list of currently supported countries.) UltraViolet does not have region codes. However, purchase and playback between countries may be restricted based on studio distibution agreements.

Sale of UltraViolet movies depends on distribution agreements, so not all movies can be purchased in all countries. Access to streams and downloads is available in the country where your purchased the movie, but may not be available in all other countries. Once a file is downloaded, it can be played anywhere.

The UltraViolet file format supports 60Hz and 50Hz frame rates. Players are only required to support 60Hz video, and almost all content is in 60Hz format, but it's possible to have a 50Hz movie that won't work on a player that only supports 60Hz.

[1.13] Is UltraViolet a DRM?

No! UltraViolet is not a new DRM (digital rights management) system. One of the many things UltraViolet does is make existing DRMs interoperable (see 3.3.2). In other words UltraViolet makes it possible to buy content that works on different players using different DRMs.

Snide note: For years, people have complained that one of the biggest problems with DRMs is they aren't interoperable. That is, if you buy content protected by one DRM you can't play it in a player that uses a different DRM. UltraViolet made huge advances in solving the DRM compatibility problem, yet some people are now griping —inaccurately— that UltraViolet is another DRM.

[2] UltraViolet's Relationship to Other Products and Technologies

[2.1] Does UltraViolet compete with or replace DVDs and BDs?

In spite of what you may hear from pundits, discs are not going away any time soon. Jim's prediction in 2005 was that it would take at least 20 years for typical American consumers to switch from DVD and Blu-ray Disc (BD) to digital downloads and streaming. As of 2015 most rental is now online, but ownership has not yet flipped, so it will probably take closer to 25 or 30 years. That said, physical media will inexorably and inevitably be replaced by electronic media. More and more people are turning to the Internet for television, movies, news, and other video.

UltraViolet and other online video systems provide alternatives to DVD and BD, but ironically UltraViolet arguably extended the lifecycle of physical media by easing the transition, since many discs come with UltraViolet rights (see 6.2.3).

[2.2] How does UltraViolet compare with DVD?

You can hold a DVD. You can't hold an UltraViolet right.

Video and audio quality of UltraViolet SD movies can be better than DVDs (or of course can be worse). UltraViolet supports chapters, but does not yet support DVD-like menus and interactive features. This is planned for a future release.

[2.3] How does UltraViolet compare with Blu-ray Disc (BD)?

It's a little farther down the electromagnetic spectrum.

Video and audio quality of UltraViolet HD movies can be on par with Blu-ray Discs (or of course can be worse). UltraViolet supports chapters, but does not yet support BD-like menus and interactive features. This is planned for a future release.

[2.4] How does UltraViolet compare with other online services such as iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and CinemaNow?

Their names are different, for one. (There's actually a lot to say here ... I'll get to it eventually.)

[2.4.1] Does UltraViolet work with iTunes, iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV?

There are many UltraViolet apps for Apple iOS devices, giving you a choice of services and features. Using Apple AirPlay mirroring, newer iPads, iPhones, and Macs can play the movies through Apple TV.

The iTunes service could work with UltraViolet, but only if Apple chose to participate in UltraViolet. Until then, UltraViolet movies will play on Apple devices but won't show up in iTunes. 

[2.5] Does Disney Movies Anywhere compete with UltraViolet?

After work had been underway on UltraViolet for a year or so, Disney announced its own KeyChest project, which was immediately held up by others —not Disney— as competition for UltraViolet. Disney stated that KeyChest would be a lightweight system to track rights, without all the additional usage models and business models that were being worked out for UltraViolet. Since then, KeyChest morphed into a Disney-only service under the hood of Disney Movies Anywhere (originally Disney Movie Rewards, then re-announced as Disney Studio All Access in February 2011 and launched as Disney Movies Anywhere in early 2014).

It would be technically possible for KeyChest to be connected to UltraViolet, so that KeyChest rights would appear in UltraViolet Libraries and vice versa. The decision to join UltraViolet is up to Disney. In the meantime, some services such as Vudu support both UltraViolet and KeyChest, making it relatively easy to collect movies using both systems.

[2.6] Is UltraViolet a cloud service?

Yes, in the sense that your Library is stored "in the cloud" and accessed using the Internet. One important distinction is that the UltraViolet system itself doesn't store or deliver content. UltraViolet keeps track of which movies and TV shows you own. Different retailers and streaming service providers store and deliver your movies over the Internet (see 3.1).

[2.7] Do Amazon Cloud Drive/Google Drive/Microsoft SkyDrive/etc. compete with UltraViolet?

No. These services are essentially large hard drives in the sky. Some have music streaming/download features.

[2.8] Does UltraViolet work with DLNA?

Yes. UltraViolet allows in-home streaming using the two DLNA link protection formats DTCP/IP and WMDRM-ND. An UltraViolet-compliant DLNA server (a DMS) or a DLNA-compliant UltraViolet player (a DMP) can stream to other DLNA devices (DMRs).

[3] UltraViolet Technical Details

[3.1] What are the components of UltraViolet?

UltraViolet defines a set of "roles" within the ecosystem. Each role has certain requirements and obligations, along with technical specifications on how the role operates. Each role is detailed in the following sections.

[3.1.1] The Coordinator and the Web Portal

There is one Coordinator, currently operated on behalf of DECE by Neustar. The Coordinator is the central clearinghouse that holds information about UltraViolet content and UltraViolet users. The Coordinator does not store or deliver content. It only stores information about users and what content rights they own, as well as basic information about movies and TV shows in the ecosystem.

A Web Portal is a central web site providing user access to the UltraViolet ecosystem. Currently there is one Web Portal, at www.myuv.com. After logging into the Web Portal, users can manage their account, view their Library, and manage the services that are linked to their account. (The original Web Portal was built by Neustar. It was replaced at the end of 2013 by a new version built by Digitaria, which was replaced in 2014 by a revised version built by Redspace.)

[3.1.2] Content Providers

A Content Provider, such as a Hollywood studio, publishes content for use in UltraViolet. Each Content Provider negotiates bilateral deals with retailers, allowing them to make UltraViolet rights available through their retailer service.

[3.1.3] Retailers

A Retailer, such as Best Buy or Wal-mart, sells UltraViolet content to users by putting the right to access the content into the user's Library. Retailers can sell online or in physical stores.

Retailers also redeem disc codes and provide disc-to-digital services.

[3.1.4] Download Service Providers (DSPs)

Following the simplification of UltraViolet (see 1.3.1), the DSP Role is no longer used. In practice it was never implemented.

A Download Service Provider (DSP) was intended to provide services to Retailers for delivering content to users' UltraViolet players. DSPs would provide downloads and DRM licenses. A Retailer could have been its own DSP or could have used a third-party DSP.

[3.1.5] Locker Access Streaming Providers (LASPs)

A Locker Access Streaming Provider (LASP or streaming service provider) streams content to users' players.

Most retailers stream the content they sell, as well as content sold by other retailers, so they take on a combined Role of Retailer and LASP. A streaming-only service can take just the LASP Role.

[3.1.6] Client Implementers (Device Makers)

Following the simplification of UltraViolet (see 1.3.1), the Client Implementer Role is no longer in place. Software clients were built and tested, but none were commercially released.

A Client Implementer was expected to make stand-alone UltraViolet-compatible players, called Devices. Devices could be physical players such as web-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, or mobile phones or software players that run on open systems such PCs, tablets, or smartphones. 

[3.1.7] Access Portals

An Access Portal provides a way for users to login to UltraViolet without going to the Web Portal or to a Retailer or LASP.

An example of an Access Portal would be a social media service that doesn't sell, stream, or download content, but helps user share information about their UltraViolet Libraries with friends, or find others who share their taste in movies.

[3.2] What is the DECE Common File Format?

DECE members developed a common file format (CFF) designed to play in all UltraViolet players and work with all DECE-approved DRMs. The format is based on existing standards from MPEG, SMPTE, and others, and was originally derived from the Microsoft Protected Interoperable File Format (PIFF) specification. The goal was to avoid the problem of different file formats for different players and to make it possible to copy files from player and player.

CFF originally supported download only, and was later expanded to support adaptive bitrate streaming.

There are different profiles for files and players: standard definition (SD), high definition (HD), and ultra-high definition (UHD), as well as variations of high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamut (WCG), high frame rate (HFR), object oriented audio, and stereoscopic video (3D). Dolby Vision is supported for backwards-compatible high dynamic range encoding.

(The CFF specification defines a third portable definition format [PD], but UltraViolet currently doesn't use it.) An SD player plays only SD files, and an HD player plays SD and HD files. See 3.2.4 for details.

Much of the work done by DECE was adopted indirectly by MPEG in updates to the MPEG-4 container format and as part of the MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) format.

DECE designed the format to be used outside of the UltraViolet ecosystem. New profiles can be defined to constrain the base format for various applications and systems. CFF is used for the UHD Blu-ray Digital Bridge feature and is the underlying file format for Vidity (SCSA). SCSA-compatible devices, such as Samsung UHD TVs, are therefore CFF players.

CFF was originally intended to be a mandatory part of UltraViolet. Studios were required to encode all their content in CFF and Retailers were required to provide downloads in CFF. However, UltraViolet was launched in a "pre-CFF" phase, allowing retailers to stream and download using non-CFF technologies. Retailers were also required to support all DECE-approved DRMs so that download CFF files would work on any compliant Device. DECE later made CFF optional (see 1.3.1). Most UltraViolet retailers use their own proprietary formats instead of CFF.

[3.2.1] What are the container details?

CFF uses the ISO MPEG base file format (ISO-MBFF, also known as the fragmented MPEG-4 container format [fMP4], technically known as ISO/IEC 14496-12, and often called an ISO container, not to be confused with an ISO image file for CD/DVD/BD disc images or the ISO shipping container format, and often using the .mp4 extension, not to be confused with MP4 audio players, which are really just fancy MP3 players that can also play AAC audio files, which usually use the .m4a extension, which is defined by MPEG-4 Part 7, technically known as ISO/IEC 13818-7, so they really should use .mp7 as the extension, but I see your eyes glazing over so I'll get back to the topic at hand). The MPEG-4 container format is based on the Apple QuickTime file format.

Individual files such as audio tracks, subtitles, and extras can be packaged into a Digital Media Package (DMP), which is a Zip file with additional manifest information.

[] Are the files encrypted?

Encryption is optional. The files are encrypted using AES keys, which are then delivered using one or more DRM systems, with the DRM-specific information placed in the header of the file. This is known as the ISO MPEG common encryption method (cenc), which allows a file to be encrypted once, then used with any compatible DRM (see 3.3.3).

[3.2.2] What are the video details?

CFF uses H.264/AVC (ISO/IEC 14496-15) and H.265/HEVC (ISO/IEC 23008-2) for video encoding. See 3.2.4 for resolutions, aspect ratios, and frame rates. Only progressive-scan video is allowed (none of that last-century interlaced stuff).

[3.2.3] What are the audio details?

CFF specifies stereo MPEG-4 AAC LC audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) as a required base format, with optional multi-channel AAC, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (Enhanced AC-3), Dolby TrueHD (MLP), Dolby Atmos (AC-4), DTS, DTS HD, DTS Master Audio, DTS Express (low bit rate), DTS:X, and MPEG-H 3D Audio.

[3.2.4] What are the subtitle details?

UltraViolet files use a profile of SMPTE Timed Text (SMPTE TT), which is in turn based on W3C Timed Text Markup Language (TTML). TT incorporates both Unicode text and PNG graphics for captions, subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH), and other types of subtitles and subpictures such as sign language and written commentaries.

[3.2.4] What are the media profile details?

Profile Video Resolution
(px) (aspect ratio)
Frame Rate
(max channels, sampling rate, max bitrate)
Standard (SD) 640 x 480 (1.33) 23.976, 29.97, 25, 50, 60 MPEG-4 AAC 2ch 48kHz 192 kbps * CFF-TT Profile of SMPTE TT
(text and graphics)
MPEG-4 AAC 5.1ch 48kHz 960 kbps
AC-3 (Dolby Digital) 5.1ch 48kHz 640 kbps
854 x 480 (1.78) EAC-3 (Dolby Digital Plus) 5.1ch 48kHz 3024 kbps
DTS 5.1ch 48kHz 1536 kbps
DTS-HD 5.1ch 48kHz 3018 kbps
High (HD) 1280 x 720 (1.78) 23.976, 29.97, 25, 50, 60 MPEG-4 AAC 2ch 48kHz 192 kbps * CFF-TT
MPEG-4 AAC 5.1ch 48kHz 960 kbps
AC-3 (Dolby Digital) 7.1ch 48kHz 640 kbps
EAC-3 (Dolby Digital Plus) 6.1ch 48kHz 3024 kbps
1920 x 1080 (1.78) 23.976, 29.97, 25 DTS 5.1ch 48/96kHz or 6.1ch 48kHz 1536 kbps
DTS-HD 7.1ch 48/96kHz 6123 kbps
DTS-HD Master Audio 8ch 48/96/192kHz 24500 kbps
MLP (Dolby TrueHD) 8ch 48/96/192kHz 18000 kbps
UHD (various profiles) 3840 x 2160 (1.78) 23.976, 29.97, 25, 50, 60 same as HD plus
Dolby AC-4

* = Mandatory

[3.2.5] Why isn't interlaced video used?

We're in the 21st century now! Almost every modern display is natively progressive scan, so rather than have all the players or displays convert interlaced video with varying degrees of quality, UltraViolet expects the content producer to do a one-time, high-quality conversion.

[3.3] What about copy protection?

Like DVD and Blu-ray, UltraViolet services uses technical methods to prevent unauthorized copies of streams and downloads. Each service is free to choose protection systems approved by the content providers.

[3.3.1] What DRMs does UltraViolet use?

In December 2008, UltraViolet provisionally approved five DRMs for download protection, plus additional DRMs for stream protection. Later, DRM requirements were dropped, allowing downloads and streams to be protected using any protection system approved by the relevant content provider.

Original download DRMs:

[3.3.2] What's a DRM and why does it matter?

A digital rights management (DRM) system combines copy protection —encryption of video and audio so that it won't play if accessed or copied in an unauthorized way— with a usage model —rules about when and where something is allowed to be played. Because DRMs use technological protection measures, attempted circumvention triggers laws such as the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty.

A perfect DRM is invisible to normal users. It only appears when someone tries to do something illegal. Unfortunately there is no perfect DRM system, and most DRMs get in the way of doing legitimate things with purchased content. That's why people don't like them.

An early example of a DRM is the CSS technology used on DVDs. A CSS-protected DVD is encrypted, but every DVD player has built-in keys to decrypt the DVD while it plays. It's only when someone tries to make a copy that the encryption gets in the way. Getting in the way of someone trying to make copies to sell or give away is a good thing, from the copyright owner's point of view. Getting in the way of a teacher trying to use a film snippet or a home user trying to make a legally allowed personal copy is not.

UltraViolet makes DRMs more invisible than before. UltraViolet does this with interoperable rights and a liberal usage model that allows multiple users to download and stream on many devices using any number of DRMs.

[3.3.3] How does UltraViolet make DRMs interoperable?

Mojo and Vaseline. (See 3.3.5.)

[3.3.4] Why can't the studios just get rid of DRM like they did for MP3 files with music?

The attempts to use DRMs on downloaded music in late 1990's early 2000's were too limited and too restrictive, making it impossible to move music from player to player. Studios eventually gave up and allowed music to be sold unprotected.

The home video business generates tens of billions of dollars every year. Movies are very expensive to make, and studios are unwilling to let the content flow freely. Studios protect their movies for the same reason people lock their houses and cars—not everyone can be trusted to do the right thing. Many initial attempts at online video were too limited and restrictive (see 1.2), but UltraViolet is an attempt to find the right balance between control and flexibility for honest users.

[3.3.5] How exactly does this business of interoperable DRMs and licenses and players and file copying work?

When CFF was made optional, file-level interoperability was no longer a key part of UltraViolet (see 1.3.1). DRM interoperability was acheived at the rights level, since UltraViolet services can use any DRM to stream or download movies in a user's UltraViolet Library. However, it's still possible to achieve file-level DRM interoperability using CFF. It works as follows.

Every CFF player has a DRM client in it. Each DRM client can be registered to a DRM domain — a group of players associated with a single user or a single account. The domain can be managed by a centralized system or by individual services. When a player attempts to play a CFF file it first checks to see if there's a DRM license in the file that matches its domain ID. If so, the file plays.

If there's no matching DRM license then the player requests a DRM license from the DRM license server at the original retailer or at a centralized service. The retailer or licensing service checks to see if the associated user or account has rights to the content. If so, it sends a DRM license to the player, which can then play the file. The player stores the DRM license in the file for future use.

If the DRM license doesn't match the player's domain (e.g., the file was copied from a player in one account to a player in a different account) or there is no DRM license or license acquisition info (e.g., it's a superdistributed file, see 1.11.2), then the player may give the user an option to buy rights to the file. Once the right has been added to the account associated with the domain, a DRM license can be acquired and the file will play.

CFF uses MPEG common encryption, so the video and audio are encrypted using AES instead of DRM-specific encryption. The AES key can then be distributed to retailers and licensing services. After a player is authorized to play a file, the corresponding AES key is wrapped into the DRM license (using encryption and other protection systems specific to the DRM) and sent to the player. The player can then use the AES key to decrypt and play the content. This allows content providers to encrypt a file once and have it work with any number of DRMs, even DRMs not in existence when the file was encrypted.

This approach allows files to be freely copied from player to player and for players to be registered to an account at any time. As long as the account associated with the player "owns" the content there will either be a matching DRM license in the file or the player will be able to request a license.

All of this happens invisibly and very quickly behind the scenes, apart from the case where a user doesn't own the content and is prompted to buy it.

[3.3.6] Can I copy an UltraViolet file?

Yes, if you can find it on your device. It might play on another device using an app from the same retailer, or might not.

[3.3.7] Does UltraViolet use watermarks?

Ultraviolet does not specify or require watermarking for content protection or forensic use.

Forensic watermarks (to help track down where a copy came from) can be applied to any audio or video stream, regardless of format, so it's possible for forensic watermarks to be inserted before content is published into the UltraViolet ecosystem, but UltraViolet does not require services to check for watermarks of any kind.

[4] UltraViolet and CFF Creation

[4.1] How is UltraViolet content created?

It involves chickens, arcane symbols, walking backwards widdershins, and bits. Lots and lots of bits.

[4.2] What CFF authoring systems are available?

Encoding and packaging systems are available from companies such as Digital Rapids, Elemental Technologies, and Rovi. 

[4.3] Who can produce CFF content for me?

Some of the same services that produce DVDs and Blu-ray Discs are now able to prepare content in the Common File Format (see 3.2) for download and/or streaming.

[4.4] What testing/verification services and tools are available?

DECE members have access to test files and a file verifier. DECE member companies such as Solekai, BluFocus, and Testronics, who provide DVD and Blu-ray testing services, are working on new CFF tools and testing services.

[4.5] Can I copy my home videos/movies/slides to UltraViolet?

UltraViolet is designed for commercial video produced by licensed content provides and sold by licensed retailers. Unless you sign up as a content provider or use a service that's a licensed content provider, you can't get your content into UltraViolet.

[4.6] I'm a small video producer. How do I get my video titles into UltraViolet?

If signing up as an UltraViolet licensed content provider (see 3.1.2) is too expensive you need to find a content aggregator who's licensed as an UltraViolet content provider. A content aggregator can put your titles into the UltraViolet ecosystem and market and sell your titles directly (as an UltraViolet retailer) or license your titles to other UltraViolet retailers.


Do you believe the government is secretly implanting tracking chips in children as part of the vaccination program? (If yes, stop reading. Go hunt for crop circles or Elvis.)

The amount of misinformation spread around about UltraViolet, not to mention downright emnity, is surprising. People are of course free to dislike UltraViolet, and it's far from perfect in design or execution, but this section attempts to counter certain outright lies and misstatements that tend to circulate, like stories of microwaved poodles and Pop Rocks with soda.

[5.1] Isn't the ulterior motive to get people signed up to UltraViolet, then after a few years start charging them to watch and rebuy movies?

No. Hundreds of people worked on UltraViolet for years, and this was not an agenda item in any of the meetings.

Here are the facts:

It's in the best interests of every participating company to get you to use UltraViolet as much as possible so they can sell you more movies. Is a company more likely to give you free downloads and streams so that you'll buy movies from them, or will they try to squeeze money out of you for a download or stream that costs them pennies? 

UltraViolet originally guaranteed free streams and up to three free downloads for one year after purchase. Ironically Warner choose to extend the original guaranteed free period from one year to three years, which led to allegations that you would be forced to rebuy UltraViolet movies after three years. The Warner Bros. UltraViolet Digital Copy insert in packages says "If offer redeemed prior to deadline, delivery of streaming and downloads available at no additional charge for 3 years from date of redemption." The redemption deadline is just over 2 years after the disc went on sale. Warner doesn't say whether they will or won't charge for downloads or streaming after 3 years.

Bottom line: You might be able to download and stream for free until you die, or you might have to pay after one year or two or three. We don't know today what one year or five years or one decade will bring. Assuming UltraViolet succeeds, it will continue to work on hundreds of millions of devices for decades, and unlike VHS and DVD and BD it won't get out of date because of advances in technology.

There you have it: UltraViolet is clearly a nefarious plan hatched by dinosaur-brain Hollywood execs to restrict the use of your legally bought digital purchases. 

[5.2] Isn't UltraViolet a sneaky way way for studios and others to spy on consumers and track their viewing?

The UltraViolet system has a record of all your purchases, of course. Your Library is visible to all UltraViolet services, but unless you give a particular service permission to use your information for marketing purposes that service is not allowed to use it for anything other than UltraViolet functions (managing your account, viewing your Library, downloading, and streaming).

The UltraViolet system keeps track of your streams. It does not have a record of your downloads. Once you download an UltraViolet file you can play it as many times as you like without ever being connected to the Internet. It's impossible for UltraViolet or studios to track your offline playing habits.

UltraViolet usage data is available to licensees, but only in aggregate or anonymized form. For example, a studio will know how many copies of a movie were sold in a given month and how many times the movie was streamed, but it does not get identifiable information about individual users, their purchases, or their streams.

In other words, UltraViolet does not enable data mining by studios, retailers, or anyone else in a way that can be connected to you personally. UltraViolet licensees have limited access to your data unless they ask you first for your permission.

If you're really worried about this scenario the first thing you should do is cut up all your grocery store loyalty cards. Then cancel all your online shopping accounts and buy everything in person using cash. Then stop using the Internet altogether.

[5.3] I don't really own my UltraViolet movies, right? Can't UltraViolet shut off my account so I lose everything?

UltraViolet rights belong to your account and cannot be removed by studios or retailers (unless, for example, you return the movie for a refund). Once you download an UltraViolet movie it's yours forever (see 1.6.1) even if UltraViolet fails and shuts down (see

UltraViolet retailers typically provide unlimited free streams and downloads, but there's no guarantee you can stream or download forever. It's possible a retailer will lose rights to a particular movie as a result of renegotiations with a studio, but you will usually be able to stream or download the movie from a different UltraViolet retailer.

UltraViolet can suspend your account for violations of the Terms of Use. It can't, for example, shut off your account if you download movies through a torrent site or have DVD ripping software installed on your computer or torment young children or tear those tags off your cushions, because none of that is covered in the Terms of Use.

A more metaphysical question is do you really own content that is in the cloud? With UltraViolet have a right that is in the cloud, and you have access to playable files that you download, but you aren't guaranteed perpetual ability to download and stream from the cloud.

[5.4] Is there a lawsuit against Warner Bros. for "lying about UltraViolet being a digital copy when it's not"?

From all the vitriolic complaints at Amazon and elsewhere you would think so. But consider what you get when you buy a DVD or BD with an "UltraViolet Digital Copy." You get a copy of the movie in the cloud and you can download and stream more than one copy of the movie to an iPhone, iPad, Android device, Windows PC, Mac, or Xbox 360. Your UltraViolet "copy" often isn't contained on a disc in the package, although it can be. You have to download it or stream it. But it doesn't work with Apple iTunes and iCloud. Crivens! Good thing Warner Bros. didn't call it an "iTunes Digital Copy."

[6] Miscellaneous

[6.1] Who invented UltraViolet and who owns it?

UltraViolet was developed by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, LLC (DECE), a non-profit group of companies that owns and licenses the specifications and the logo. DECE operates the UltraViolet ecosystem. More information is available at myuv.com.

[6.2] How can I get specifications and licensing information?

The UltraViolet specs were made available in February 2011. The license agreements and most of the specs are public, available for download. The Coordinator API specification is not confidential but is only available on request.

[6.2.1] What are the license fees?

Companies participating in UltraViolet must pay annual fixed license fees. Certain roles also pay usage fees.

Most roles pay US $50,000 per year per territory, with a cap of $150,000.

Each transaction resulting in placement of a rights token costs $0.25 for a long-form movie or $0.02 for a short-form TV show, split between the retailer and the content provider. There are no fees for streaming or downloading (retailers were originally charged $0.01 per stream).

A portion of transaction fees is capped at $250,000 per year. Companies taking multiple roles pay the fixed license fee for each role, capped worldwide at a total of $300,000.

A special partner developer license, which allows companies to develop products or components only for full licensees, costs $5,000 annually.

Small companies (annual gross revenue <$100M) pay only 20% of fixed fees but have an increased transaction fee cap to make up the difference.

More details are available in the license agreements (see 6.2).

[6.3] What companies support UltraViolet?

UltraViolet is supported by DECE member companies comprising studios, consumers electronics companies, computer companies, retailers, service providers, and more. A complete list is available at myuv.com.

[6.4] Who is making or supporting UltraViolet products?

DECE provides a purple pages list of licensees providing components and services. Many DECE member companies are working on UltraViolet products and services that aren't yet announced. The following high-profile companies provide or have announced UltraViolet services.

[6.5] How can I get involved with UltraViolet?

Visit the DECE inquiry form and send in a request for information. You can become an UltraViolet licensee (to develop UltraViolet products or services) or a DECE member (to work on the specifications and features) or both.

[6.6] Where can I get more information about UltraViolet?

What, you still want more information after reading all the way through this? Lucky for you there's more out there on the Internet.

[7] Leftovers

[7.1] What's the history of UltraViolet?

UltraViolet timeline:

2007 OpenMarket proposed by Mitch Singer of Sony Pictures.
Jun 2008 DECE LLC formed by original OpenMarket founders and opened to all interested companies.
Jan 2010 Common file format and initial set of 5 DRMs announced; Neustar announced as Coordinator provider.
Jul 2010 UltraViolet brand announced.
Jan 2011 CES announcements with more details and expectation of availability in second half of 2011. Evaluation specifications released.
Mar 2011 UltraViolet FAQ unveiled to the world in quiet obscurity. High-Def Digest Forum members and others find it within weeks.
Jul 2011 UltraViolet licensing program started and 1.0 specifications released.
Oct 2011 UltraViolet launched in the US with the release of Warner Bros.' Horrible Bosses, the first Blu-ray disc to include UltraViolet rights.
Dec 2011 Sony Pictures and NBC Universal released their first Blu-ray Discs with UltraViolet copies included.
UltraViolet launched in the UK when UltraViolet rights were bundled with Final Destination 5 on Blu-ray.
Jan 2012 DECE announced that in less than 90 days since launch UltraViolet passed 750,000 accounts, representing over 1 million users.
Paramount Pictures released first UltraViolet EST-only titles.
Feb 2012 IHS estimated that UltraViolet passed over 850 million users and 1 million titles (representing over 5% of the EST market, which sold 19 million titles in 2011). PaidContent.org later quoted DECE that user count was more than 1 million.
UltraViolet is a question on Jeopardy ("uvvu.com is the website for this 'colorful' system that can unite your discs and downloads into 1 digital library").
Mar 2012 Walmart announced its participation in UltraViolet, including a disc-to-digital program.
Apr 2012 Walmart Vudu service added UltraViolet.
Jun 2012 UltraViolet passed 3 million users and 6,000 titles.
Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures release UltraViolet titles in the UK.
Sep 2012 Barnes & Noble announced its participation in UltraViolet.
UltraViolet passed 5 million users and 7,000 titles.
Oct 2012 BBC Worldwide announced its first UltraViolet releases, including Doctor Who Series 7.
Warner, Universal Studios, and Sony Pictures announced they will release UltraViolet content in Canada before the end of the year.
Redbox announced plans to join DECE and promote UltraViolet.
Nov 2012 Best Buy CinemaNow began participating in UltraViolet.
Dec 2012 UltraViolet passed 9 million users and 8,000 titles.
Cineplex (in Canada) and M-Go began participating in UltraViolet.
Apr 2013 Over 12 million users.
UltraViolet launched in Ireland with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
May 2013 JB HiFi and Flixster launched UltraViolet in Australia and New Zealand.
Jul 2013 “Pacific Rim” was the first SuperTicket offering (from Cineplex and Warner Bros.), allowing moviegoers to purchase a movie admission ticket and pre-order the UltraViolet digital version at the same time.
Aug 2013 EzyFlix added UltraViolet support in Australia and New Zealand.
Sep 2013 Target Ticket launched in the US with UltraViolet.
Kaleidescape added Canada.
Nov 2013 Over 14 million users and 11,000 titles.
UltraViolet launched by Flixster in France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with Pacific Rim.
Jan 2014 Over 15 million users and 12,000 titles.
DivX DRM granted conditional approval for use in CFF.
Jan 2015 Nolim Films (Carrefour) launched with UltraViolet in France.
Mar 2015 UltraViolet launched by Flixster and Sony Pictures in Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
Target Ticket service shut down.
Apr 2015 Wuaki.tv launched in the UK.
Aug 2015 Over 20 million users and 17,000 titles.
EzyFlix (Australia and New Zealand) ceased operations.

[7.2] Notation and units

DECE and this FAQ use the term "content" to refer to movies, TV shows, and any other form of video. This FAQ often uses the terms "video" or "movie" to refer to any form of video.

Data transfer rates when measured in bits per second are almost always multiples of 1000, but when measured in bytes per second are sometimes multiples of 1024. This FAQ uses "kbps" for thousands of bits/sec and "Mbps" for millions of bits/sec (note the small "k" and big "M").

In December 1998, the IEC produced new prefixes for binary multiples: kibibytes (KiB), mebibytes (MiB), gibibytes (GiB), tebibytes (TiB), and so on. (More details at NIST, also released as IEEE Std 1541-2002.) These prefixes may never catch on, or they may cause even more confusion, but they are a valiant effort to solve the problem. The big strike against them is that they sound rather silly.

[7.3] Acknowledgments

This FAQ is written and maintained by Jim Taylor. Everything here can be blamed on Jim. This FAQ is not an official publication of DECE and is not endorsed by DECE.

Thanks to Mitch Singer, Mark Teitell, and Gary Mittelstaedt for their early support of this FAQ.

[7.4] Dedication

This FAQ is dedicated to my long-time colleague and friend, Scott Fierstein, who died of cancer in October 2012, two days before UltraViolet's first birthday, and long before his time.

Scott was one of UltraViolet's most ardent champions and one of the earliest driving forces behind DECE, representing Microsoft in DECE work for 6 years. Scott had a passionate vision of how UltraViolet could meaningfully change the way people are entertained and educated. In dozens of DECE meetings over many years, Scott pushed hard to go the extra mile and make UltraViolet that much easier, that much friendlier, and that much greater. Sometimes it drove him crazy that we couldn't do everything with UltraViolet that we wanted. I always told him his problem was that he cared too much.

Much of what's best about UltraViolet is because of Scott.


Copyright 2010-2015 by Jim Taylor. This document may be redistributed only in its entirety with version date, authorship notice, and acknowledgements intact. No part of it may be sold for profit or incorporated in a commercial document without the permission of the copyright holder. Permission will be granted for complete electronic copies to be made available as an archive or mirror service on the condition that the author be notified and that the copy be kept up to date. This document is provided as is without any express or implied warranty.


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