Photo: Stephen Bowler via Flickr
It looks like 2011 will be a hot year for services that let you store TV and movies online so you can watch them on any device you own. A movie and tech industry consortium and upstart RealNetworks both revealed more details about their plans to build their services this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. The only question: where’s Apple?When you buy a video online, it tends to stay locked on the device you downloaded it from. There’s an obvious technical solution to the problem: upload all your video to the Web, where you’ll then be able to grab it from any device.
The idea has been around with music for some time, but the music industry hasn’t supported the idea, suing early movers like MP3tunes. Plus, tech companies don’t always want to make it easy share to media between devices–they’d prefer you to buy their products exclusively.
So a group of movie and TV studios (Warner, Sony, Lionsgate, NBC Universal, and others) have decided to take things into their own hands. A consortium called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) is creating a system called UltraViolet that will let users buy movies and TV shows on one device, then store them online so they can watch then from other places and devices. UltraViolet also has a lot of big backers from the technology side, including Microsoft, Netflix, Comcast, Samsung, and Akamai.
The service was announced last summer, but at CES, the consortium said it would begin to roll out in 2011.
Of course, there’s a catch: the service and all the devices have to support UltraViolet, and there’s no guarantee it will work with your existing stuff–the Web site only promises that “a simple software upgrade may enable you to upgrade many devices you already own to be UltraViolet devices.” In other words, this is probably going to require new gear–and a lot of cooperation among companies that more often compete.
Worse yet, Apple is not among the list of supporters, so there’s no reason to expect UltraViolet will work on the Mac, Apple TV, or the iPhone or iPad.
That’s where a company like RealNetworks comes in: instead of waiting for the content and tech industries to work out the details, Real is simply building its own service, Unifi, that works with the video (as well as photos and music) and devices you already own.
The company revealed a few more details about the service in a video and press release this week, clearly pointing out that Apple devices–the Mac and iPhone–will be supported. The catch here: most movie and TV show downloads are copy-protected, so they may not work with the service.
RealNetworks has run into legal problems with content owners before–remember the RealDVD ripper?–so it will be interesting to whether it even tries to overcome the copy-protection challenge this time, or simply accepts it. Of course, there’s always BitTorrent, but don’t expect that to show up in RealNetworks’ marketing.
Will Apple jump into the fray? Nobody knows, but the company recently built a huge new data centre in North Carolina, and the rumours of a cloud-based video storage and streaming service have been circulating for months.
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