With so many of us toting laptops and iPads, many of us are now watching movies on the road.
But Hollywood hasn't made it easy - or cheap - to watch movies on our gadgets. You bought Eat Pray Love on Blu-ray or DVD. But if you want to store a copy of Eat Pray Love to watch on your laptop or iPad while on a plane, you'd have to buy a second digital copy from iTunes or Amazon, or use a program such as HandBrake to create an illegal copy from your DVD, or find an illegal digital copy online to download.
It's the loss from this illegal online movie market that prompted Hollywood to hear our complaints about having to re-buy a movie for each device we want to watch it on.
So the five biggest studios - Warner, Sony, Fox, Universal and Paramount - along with little major Lionsgate (responsible for the Twilight series and now The Hunger Games series as well as TV's "Mad Men") got together and came up with an interesting concept called UltraViolet.
UltraViolet lets us buy the rights to a movie we buy on Blu-ray, to watch it at home or away on a variety of devices. And in most cases, these all-access UltraViolet versions are free as long as you pay for the original Blu-ray copy.
The UltraViolet organization now boasts 74 members - the aforementioned Hollywood studios, Blu-ray hardware makers, Sony (PlayStation 3) and Microsoft (Xbox 360), software companies such as Adobe (the Photoshop and Flash people), movie streaming sites such as Flixster and Vudu, cable operators, and other hardware companies such as Intel, Cisco and IBM.
Conspicuous by their UltraViolet absence is Disney, which has initiated a similar Magic Code program, and Apple, which of course has iTunes. But you can watch UltraViolet movies on Macs or iDevices via apps.
In other words, a lot of heavy hitters are behind UltraViolet.
How UltraViolet works
You buy a movie on Blu-ray with an UltraViolet digital copy - right now there are around 50 UltraViolet movie titles, but nearly every new release from the UltraViolet studios going forward will be UltraViolet enabled. According to the UltraViolet people, there will be hundreds of UltraViolet Blu-rays by the end of the year.
There is no physical conversion of your disc involved. All the UltraViolet digital copies already exist - all you're doing through the UltraViolet program is getting permission to access these cloud-stored digital copies.
First, you have to sign up for an account at the UltraViolet Web site.
To watch your UltraViolet movie on an iPad, you have to download the Flixster app and create another account.
Inside the UltraViolet-enabled Blu-ray jewel case is slip of paper with a 12-digit code. Go to the Flixster Web page; at the top you'll see a "Redeem Your UltraViolet Digital Copy" area. You enter your movie's code to activate the UltraViolet copy of your movie, which you can now stream to any Internet-connected portable device, on a connected Blu-ray player, smart TV or videogame console.
You also can include up to five family members in your UltraViolet account. If you're visiting family, you'll be able to access your UltraViolet library on their gadgets.
Your movie library everywhere
Plans for UltraViolet are actually quite extensive.
As I reported a month ago, Samsung is about to start selling a new Blu-ray player with a disc-to-digital capability that creates UltraViolet editions from your old DVDs. Other Blu-ray players are likely to add this disc-to-digital feature later this year.
On April 16, you'll be able to schlep your DVDs to Walmart to have them upgraded into UltraViolet copies - just make sure you check the UltraViolet site to see if your movies exist in digital form. According to the UltraViolet folks, there are around 3,000 UltraViolet digital catalog titles available.
At some point, you'll be able to access your UltraViolet movies via the program guide on your TV; Cox and Comcast are among the cable companies who are members of the UltraViolet group, for instance.
Also at some point, you'll be able to upgrade your old DVDs via the Web or some special software.
I'm currently playing with the entire UltraViolet ecosystem and will have a complete report in a couple of weeks.