The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a cross-industry consortium aiming to build the equivalent of an ATM network for digital entertainment content, expects its UltraViolet-branded system will be ready to support commercial services and devices by mid-2011.
UltraViolet is supposed to let someone buy a piece of digital media once and then download or stream it to different devices -- such as PCs, connected TVs, game consoles, smartphones and tablets -- after logging into an account, similar to the way cash machines authorize bank transactions.
DECE now has more than 60 members including Comcast, Cox Communications, CableLabs, Sony, NBC Universal, Best Buy and Netflix. The group announced that several additional companies have joined in recent months, including Akamai Technologies, Arxan Technologies, BSkyB, Dell, Fujitsu and Fanhattan.
"As a founding member of DECE, we're proud of the tremendous progress that's been made to expand the ability for households to view their collections of content across so many current devices and to provide the platform for future devices yet to come," Comcast senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz said in a statement.
Six of Hollywood's largest studios -- Lionsgate Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment -- are DECE members.
However, The Walt Disney Co. is currently sitting out from the DECE initiative. Apple, whose iTunes represents one of the biggest retail channels for digital media, also is not on board with UltraViolet.
On Thursday, DECE provided more specific details on the UltraViolet Account system. Under its current plan, each household will be able to create an account for up to six members who can access the household's UltraViolet movies, TV and other entertainment via participating retailers, streaming providers and devices. Consumers also will be able to register up to 12 devices so UltraViolet content can be downloaded to those devices, or shared among UltraViolet devices.
In addition, DECE released an evaluation suite of technical specifications for the UltraViolet ecosystem. These include: the DECE Common File Format, which allows the use of multiple DRMs on the same encoded asset; and technical design specifications for each major category of company spanning content providers, retailers, streaming services, device and application providers, and digital distribution infrastructure providers.
To promote the format's adoption, DECE intends to make the Common File Format widely available for use in other areas of video content preparation and delivery. The consortium said details of this effort will be announced in the coming months.
"Today's announcement that UltraViolet is ready shows that the entertainment and technology communities have made good on their promise to give the world a new, user-friendly digital standard for collecting movies and TV shows in the digital age," DECE general manager Mark Teitell said.
Beginning in mid-2011, DECE member companies and other UltraViolet licensees are expected to introduce UltraViolet products and services.
Initial offerings will gradually expand to include a slate of UltraViolet titles from studios for purchase from retailers, either electronically or as digital copies included with Blu-ray Disc or DVD purchases, Teitell said. Initially, UltraViolet retailers will let consumers use downloaded copies on many devices they already own. Additionally, initial streaming services will allow consumers to access their UltraViolet collections via websites or "linked" devices like set-top boxes, Internet-connected Blu-ray Disc players, smartphones and tablets.
Later in 2011, according to Teitell, UltraViolet-optimized media player apps are expected to roll out via software updates to PCs, game consoles and smartphones already in the market as well as on new devices for sale.
In early 2012, the first designed-for-UltraViolet consumer electronics devices are expected to become available. These devices will be immediately compatible with UltraViolet out of the box. Potential offerings in this category include connected Blu-ray Disc players, set-top boxes and Internet TVs.
Meanwhile, DECE plans to begin operations in the U.K. and Canada later in 2011, with deployment timelines for additional international markets expected to be announced in the coming months.
"UltraViolet will provide consumers an easy way to access their content without the limitations of a physical product, in the same way that the ATM network provides consumers access to their money -- anytime, anywhere," said John Calkins, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment executive vice president of global digital and commercial innovation. "It's a tremendous leap forward in consumer control and flexibility."
Also at CES Thursday, DECE is hosting a panel discussion with executives from member companies to discuss UltraViolet and the future of home entertainment.
Members of DECE, which was formed in 2008, include Adobe, Best Buy, CableLabs, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Cox Communications, Fox Entertainment, IBM, Intel, Liberty Global, Lionsgate, Microsoft, Motorola, NBC Universal, NDS, Netflix, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Samsung Electronics, Sony, Technicolor and Warner Bros. Entertainment.
In July 2010, DECE announced the UltraViolet brand, which was selected from some 3,000 different options. The group has a consumer-facing website for consumers at uvvu.com, which is supposed to be spoken as "you view."
DECE selected Neustar Media, which operates the directories for telephone-number portability in North America, to handle the multiparty "digital rights locker" infrastructure. That system is a network-based authentication service and account management hub that will authenticate users' rights to view content from multiple services and on multiple devices.
Users will be able to access UltraViolet content from uvvu.com and create an account on the site free of charge. But the expectation is that most consumers will access their UltraViolet libraries through service providers and other retailers.