EDITOR'S NOTE: this article is being updated with info on Fox and FandangoNOW after conflicting reports from readers, personal experience, and FandangoNOW customer service.
Welcome to the latest installment of our Home Theater 101 Series, where we set out to educate folks on the nitty-gritty involved with enjoying emerging home cinema technologies. Today lets take a minute to chat about the current state of Ultraviolet, why there's an extra layer of confusion for anyone upgrading to 4K, and what you should do to get the best out of the Digital Copies included with your 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays.
HOME THEATER 101
ULTRAVIOLET IN 4K
WHAT IS ULTRAVIOLET?
Ultraviolet is a cloud-based digital locker that allows you to own (though many argue digital ownership isn't true ownership, but that's for another article) and manage a library of movie and TV titles that were either redeemed via codes included with a physical media purchase or purchased online.
Once you have an Ultraviolet account -- thanks a series of partnerships between STUDIOS (content producers) and RETAILERS (streaming services where you can purchase or rent movies and TV shows) -- you can enjoy your library on across a vast swath of Smart TVs, smartphone & tablets, Ultra HD Blu-ray & Blu-ray players, media streamers & sticks, gaming consoles, and compatible external hard drives.
Ultraviolet STUDIO partners include Anchor Bay, BBC, Fox, HBO, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros.
Ultraviolet RETAILERS include FandangoNOW, Kaleidescape, Paramount Movies, Sony Pictures Store, Verizon FiOS, VUDU, and WB Movies All Access (FKA Flickster).
iTunes and Disney are off doing their own things, but some studios like Universal and Fox offer the option to get an iTunes copy of your movie instead of Ultraviolet, while Disney Movies Anywhere can be linked to VUDU and iTunes accounts. So not totally separate, but not fully Ultraviolet either.
The confusion, hassle, and frustration with Ultraviolet and Digital HD, in general, is the simple fact that not every studio has partnered with every retailer AND not every retailer is available on your media streamer PLUS you have to sign up for several different accounts on poorly designed websites. Ultraviolet's partners set out to make DIGITAL OWNERSHIP easier and portable, but it's such a cluster only diehard enthusiasts care to keep up. Even then, it's a PITA.
WHY DOES ULTRAVIOLET STILL SUCK FOR 4K UHD?
One of the first questions we asked about the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format was about Ultraviolet redemption codes -- if HD Blu-rays earned you an HD copy to stream and download, would 4K Blu-rays get you a 4K UHD copy to stream and download?
The answer is, of course, complicated, varies by studio and retailer, and is far less consistent that the HD world because, while every streaming service offers a version of HD playback, there are only three major UHD streaming retailers with ties to Ultraviolet and each one requires different (sometimes exclusive) gear.
VUDU has the largest collection of 4K UHD titles with Dolby Vision HDR, some support for Dolby Atmos, and rumors of HDR10 support reportedly coming "soon". On VUDU, you'll find over 100 titles from Warner Bros, Universal, and Paramount.
FandangoNOW (fka M-GO) offers UHD titles with HDR10, but according to the company's website, only from Fox and only if you own a "VIDITY-enabled device" (basically, a compliant hard drive media streamer). They also have 4K UHD titles (NO HDR) from Universal and Amazon Studios (and possibly other distributors -- I didn't check every title) that are available on a wider range of devices.
Sony's ULTRA 4K UHD streaming service is an extension of the Sony Pictures Store, offers UHD movies with HDR10, and available on Sony 4K & 4K HDR TVs made after 2015 and **possibly** the PS4 Pro (EDITOR'S NOTE: I've read conflicting reports about the PS4 Pro and ULTRA -- can anyone double-confirm in the comments or on the forum whether ULTRA works on the console. Thanks!!!!).
Please note that Amazon Instant Video also sells and rents 4K UHD HDR video, in addition to titles included with Amazon Prime, while Netflix offers 4K content in Dolby Vision & HDR10, but at this point, and this is key, neither are related to Ultraviolet digital copies.
In short, Ultraviolet, in the 4K era, is extra confusing because every time you buy a 4K Blu-ray, you have to check the studio involved along with your preferred retailer to see if it's available in 4K (plus there's nothing on the packaging which indicates UHD or HD). Even then, you have to be careful about WHERE you redeem your code because, while retailers allow you to redeem Ultraviolet codes on their websites...
They don't warn you that redeeming 4K Ultraviolet codes directly through a retailer may prevent you from gaining access to the UHD version -- especially if it's a Warner Bros. 4K movie on VUDU -- and you can't fix it on your own once a code has been used.
LEGO BATMAN UHD... 3 WEEKS LATER
After hearing some complaints on our Facebook page from readers who were stuck with VUDU HDX copies of their Warner Bros 4K Blu-rays, I recently experienced the problem myself.
Even though I've redeemed dozens of HD and UHD Ultraviolet codes directly on VUDU.com with no troubles, my attempt to redeem The LEGO Batman Movie left me stuck with the 1080p HDX version. Not kidding, it took almost three weeks to resolve the problem thanks to lackluster VUDU customer service, who repeatedly refused to listen to my question, suggested I had the wrong equipment, and claimed Warner Bros. didn't offer the ability to redeem LEGO Batman in UHD on VUDU.com despite the redemption process working for some customers, including HDD writers.
In short, VUDU had no idea what was wrong, so they sent me back to Warners, which was actually fantastic. The WB Movies All Access folks, who are extremely prompt and helpful, were able to add the UHD version to my WB Movies All Access library, but by that point, I'd accidentally created an extra Ultraviolet library that needed to be merged and re-linked to VUDU.
In summary, my experience taught me two things:
1) In the 4K era, skip the retailer shortcuts, as helpful as they may have been for several years, and follow the studio/Ultraviolet instructions exactly.
2) If you do mess up, or did in the past, there's probably a way to get things fixed. In other words, hopefully, there are some readers out there, with lost UHD titles, who can still get access to them.
HOW TO GET YOUR UHD COPY FROM A 4K BLU-RAY
**UPDATED 9/17/15** As I write this, Anchor Bay, The BBC, Disney, HBO, and Lionsgate's home entertainment divisions do NOT support UHD streaming (Disney's first 4K Blu-ray won't be available until next month, so we'll soon find out how Disney Movies Anywhere handles things). For the rest of the major studios, here's an overview of what to do (and keep in mind, it's subject to change).
Disney -- DisneyMoviesAnywhere.com -- When Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 first premiered on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the digital redemption code included did not, per Disney's PR agency, unlock the 4K version of the film even though it was available for sale on VUDU with Dolby Vision & Dolby Atmos...
HOWEVER, Disney has updated its policty.
If you unlocked Guardians Vol. 2 AFTER September 9 (2017) and choose VUDU during your redemption process, you'll have access to 4K streaming. If you unlocked Guardians Vol. 2 BEFORE September 9 or if you don't get the 4K version automatically, please use the Contact US feature on the DMA site and they should be able to get this fixed for you.
Going forward, I suspect Disney will support 4K redemption with their codes, but nothing official has been confirmed. We'll have to see as they release more 4K Blu-rays.
Fox -- FoxRedeem.com -- Fox offers access to iTunes OR Google Play or VUDU/Ultraviolet, but you have to pick one and stick with one while redeeming. Here's where we add another headache -- I just redeemed my code inside Logan 4K as a test -- if you pick VUDU/Ultraviolet, your Ultraviolet library instantly updates with a note that says "VUDU SD, HD," but no mention of UHD. However, FandangoNOW customer service said if your Ultraviolet account was linked to FandangoNOW, you CAN watch certain titles in UHD (assuming you have the right gear). So even though Fox movies are available online IN 4K UHD with HDR on FandangoNOW, at this time it's unclear if your Ultraviolet codes unlock them or if you can ONLY purchase them separately.
If anyone regularly uses FandangoNOW, please feel free to chime in below or on the forums.
Paramount -- paramountmovies.com OR ultraviolet.flixster.com/paramount -- Paramount also offers you the chance to use Ultraviolet OR iTunes. However, although Paramount VUDU UHD titles available to purchase and rent, the first few Ultraviolet codes included with Paramount 4K Blu-rays only redeem in SD & HD. Hopefully this will change.
Sony -- sonypictures.com/uvredeem -- With Ultraviolet, you can link to your Sony Pictures Store account to stream via Sony ULTRA if you have the right Sony gear. FWIW, Amazon used to sell Sony movies in 4K UHD with Dolby Vision, but as I was researching this article, that seems to have ended. (NOTE: please let us know if I'm wrong.) Either way, the Amazon titles are/were not part of Ultraviolet.
Universal -- UPHE.com/Redeem -- Universal also offers Ultraviolet OR iTunes options with a purchase, but I've personally experienced the ability to redeem BOTH if you act quickly. With Ultraviolet, you can link your library to VUDU to enjoy in UHD.
Warner Bros -- WB.com/redeemdigital -- Warner Bros redemption instructions change per title. Some just say redeem or redeemdigital, while others like Suicide Squad or The LEGO Batman Movie have their own movie-specific pages. Either way, if you link WB Movies All Access to your Ultraviolet account and then link that to VUDU (way too many steps, I know), you can watch your 4K titles in UHD. Warners, at present, actually has the most 4K content available to stream.
HOW TO GET BACK A 4K ULTRAVIOLET COPY STUCK IN HD
If you made the same mistake I did and are now stuck with an HD Ultraviolet copy from a 4K Blu-ray, there's a good chance the STUDIOS (not the retailers) will be able to help you (though I can't make any guarantees, especially if your redemption code is older and/or expired). But remember: this assumes A) you know a movie is able to stream in 4K UHD and be unlocked by the studio's supplied code, B) you have the necessary gear to watch said content and C) you still have the paper insert along with proof of purchase.
If those assumptions are met, here's what you should do:
1) Go to the websites listed above (aka, follow the instructions on the paper insert included with your 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray).
2) Click on the HELP button to contact the studio in question.
Fox can be emailed at [email protected]
Paramount has a form you can fill out on the site.
Sony offers Live Chat, Phone, or email support.
Universal has a form you can fill out on the site.
Warner Bros can be reached at [email protected]
3) While you're waiting for a response, make sure you are signed up for Ultraviolet and whatever app/site each studio is running.
4) Double check that you only have ONE Ultraviolet library. If you have more than one, MERGE THEM in your account settings.
5) LINK your Ultraviolet library with your VUDU, FandangoNOW, and/or Sony ULTRA account(s).
6) If the studio says you should have the UHD copy and your Ultraviolet library is linked to the necessary retailer, but you still can't stream the UHD version, contact the retailer directly. (I know it's old-fashioned, but I'm listing phone numbers because it was, for me, faster than getting emails back a day later.)
FandangoNOW can be reached at 855-646-2580.
Sony Pictures Store can be reached at 800-860-2878
VUDU Customer Service can be reached at 888-554-8838
Home Entertainment has never been more amazing. We can literally build libraries of films and TV shows and play them back on gear that shames all but the best commercial cinemas. Or gear that fits in our pockets. The choice is ours. And while physical media is often frustrating, with its endless trailers and FBI warnings, streaming content in a 4K Ultra HD world is also confusing because Ultraviolet remains an over-complicated mess. Yet, for a service that's the result of competing businesses, I suppose it's not all bad. Without it, we'd be at the mercy of several different studios each trying to launch their own video apps, which would mean more gear exclusivities and less access to our favorite movies.
I hope this article helped you figure out the ins and outs of using Ultraviolet in 4K because, if you bought a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Fox (maybe), Paramount, Sony, Universal, or Warners, you should be able to enjoy a UHD Digital Copy as well. Cheers.