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The Technologies of Ultraviolet

Just about a year ago, word emerged of a way to buy and play movies electronically - but as effortlessly as we do DVDs, and before them, VCR tapes. Buy it, put it in the machine, play it.

The reason it’s simple to play a videotape in any VCR or any DVD in any DVD player - no matter what - is that the war about how it works happened ahead of time, and ended in standards. Beta vs. VHS; HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. In each case, one way of displaying copyright-protected video titles became the way.

Standards didn’t happen in the digital marketplace for video. No standards means no effortless way for consumers to buy digital video. It means fragmentation, which creates confusion, which smites the digital video marketplace.

Think about it: You or your family might have accounts with iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and maybe an Amazon locker for the DVDs you bought there. It’s a lot of logins to remember, just to get at a video you bought.

Fast forward to last July, when a consortium emerged, seeking to fix the problem: the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE). In it are the majors in retailers (electronic and tactile), movie studios (all but Disney still), gadget makers (all but Apple) and service providers (cable, satellite, telco.)

Their answer is the consumer-facing brand that is Ultra- Violet. The first major phase of it came out this month.

What’s in it: A digital rights locker, protected by five flavors of DRM (digital rights management). Also: More than 75 APIs (application program interfaces) for use to develop video storefronts, and to handle interoperability between the DRMs. It’s all managed by Neustar.

Let’s start with the digital rights locker itself. It’s nothing like Davey Jones’ locker, or anything big and heavy with a brass padlock. (Sigh.) It’s a room full of specialized servers somewhere in Virginia. It’s a cloud, in that sense, where Neustar manages rights and licenses. It doesn’t hold content.

The digital rights locker - called The Coordinator, in DECE-speak - is SAML-based. “SAML” stands for Security Assertion Markup Language, and is the login part: Are you who you say you are? (Prove it.) Are you authorized and is your credit good? If you login to your bank, it’s likely that SAML is behind it. People tend to say it as a word - rhymes with trammel.

As Neustar opens the doors of its digital locker, it’s the five DRMs that are the big deal, technologically. Until now, there’s been no “DRMs ‘R’ Us” way to accommodate the different choices already playing out in the marketplace.

The APIs, released by Neustar to UltraViolet and its 70-plus member constituents on June 27, are aimed at a major blemish of open standards: stifled innovation. If everyone uses the same ingredients and recipe, how do they innovate?

That’s why there are about 80, at launch, so as to satisfy the initial needs of the DECE ecosystem.

Watch next for that gray-and-purple UVVU logo to enter your digital world. Also, more licenses and specs. Ultimately, it’s one login, for all your digital stuff, to use whenever and wherever you are.

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