EDITOR'S NOTE: we've updated this review to fully clarify Apple's "free 4K upgrade" policy and how this relates to iTunes, Movies Anywhere, and Ultraviolet. Details below.
-Consolidates digital movie library across multiple platforms and devices
-Supports five major studios and four major retailers
-Works with existing UltraViolet codes and redemptions
-Some titles added to iTunes get upgraded to 4K HDR for free
-4K HDR playback not integrated directly into Movies Anywhere app yet
-Some resolution and version inconsistencies between retailers
-Missing a few studios like Paramount and Lionsgate
-No TV shows currently supported
As the push for digital movie distribution continues to grow, consumers have been clamoring for a simpler and more efficient way to consolidate and access their growing digital collections -- one that makes it easy to watch their content when and where they'd like regardless of what platform they bought it on.
After all, if a customer owns a digital title shouldn't they be able to watch it on a variety of services without having to pay for it again? And if a user already owns a physical copy of a movie, shouldn't they be able to receive a cross-platform digital version as well?
While UltraViolet was a solid start toward making this kind of all-in-one solution a reality, that system has yet to satiate all of the market's needs -- most notably due to a lack of compatibility with major retailers like iTunes and Amazon, and a lack of support from Disney. Likewise, the transition to 4K HDR has brought its own quirks and challenges that continue to cause some occasional headaches.
With that in mind, a new digital locker system has entered the arena hoping to solve some of UltraViolet's lingering issues. Serving as an evolution of Disney Movies Anywhere, the newly launched Movies Anywhere allows users to buy, redeem, and store digital films from five major studios and then sync those titles across multiple retailer apps and playback devices.
The platform supports a growing collection of over 7,300 digital titles from Disney, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal, and Sony, along with the ability to link to VUDU, Amazon Video, iTunes, and Google Play -- letting customers access all their content on the service and device of their choosing.
Signing up for Movies Anywhere is a very simple process. Customers just need to navigate to the service's website or install the mobile app. From there, users can then register using their existing Google or Facebook accounts, or an email address. It should be noted, however, that the registration process does require an agreement to share Video Data analytics and other account info with the participating retailers, studios, and service providers -- though some of these settings can be adjusted after the setup process is done.
After getting signed in, users are then given the option to start linking their existing video libraries from VUDU, Amazon Video, iTunes, and Google Play to Movies Anywhere. And as an added bonus, new users who link their accounts to a retailer can receive a limited time free digital copy of Sony Pictures' Ghostbusters (2016) and 20th Century Fox's Ice Age. Likewise, if new users link to a second participating digital retailer they can also receive a limited time free digital copy of Disney's Big Hero 6, Universal's Jason Bourne and Warner Bros.' The LEGO Movie.
Though VUDU was initially not working at launch time, this was corrected within a few hours. Once fixed, the linking process was quick and painless. Within minutes of syncing each service, all of my supported titles from each retailer were populated into my Movies Anywhere Library. Likewise, all of the supported titles I already had in each different retailer were then added to the others. For instance, all of my previously redeemed UltraViolet titles in VUDU (from the five supported studios) were added to my iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Video collections. Likewise, titles I had previously redeemed through iTunes, like Kingsman: The Secret Service, were also added to the other retailers. In essence, all of my existing digital titles from each of the four individual services were instantly available across all four apps.
And though customers can choose to access their content from any of those four retailers, The Movies Anywhere website and app also offers their own My Movies collection. Comprised of cover art for each title displayed together in a grid, the library is simple yet nicely designed and visually pleasing. Clicking on a title will take users to a more detailed page with a synopsis, cast/credit info, digital supplements (if there are any), and recommendations for similar movies. Likewise, playback support is built right into the website and app for up to 1080p streaming with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio.
For testing purposes, I tried casting content directly from the Android app to a VIZIO 2017 E-Series Display. Titles could take a little time to buffer to full HD, but playback was on par with other similar services. Unfortunately, however, 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos are not supported directly through Movies Anywhere at this time, but individual retailers may include support for those features with certain titles through their own apps.
Outside of the My Movies library, the site also offers an Explore section with popular titles available for purchase grouped together by different genre and other categories. Likewise, users can also simply search for a desired title. Once a movie you don't already own is selected, customers are taken to a more detailed page with links to buy the film from any of the four supported digital retailers.
In addition, a settings menu allows users to manage their linked stores, migrate their previous Disney Movies Anywhere account, add individual user profiles, and limit some of the Video Data information that they share with studios and service providers.
Finally, a Redeem section is also included for inputting digital codes included with many Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs (more on this below).
To fully test out how well the Movies Anywhere system works, I redeemed a bunch of digital copy codes from my Blu-ray collection. The majority of these codes were UltraViolet and in almost every instance the redemption process worked without a hitch. This means that, at least for the time being, Movies Anywhere and UltraViolet play extremely well together, allowing both systems to co-exist and cross-populate. To that point, adding supported titles to Movies Anywhere also brought them into my UltraViolet library and vice versa.
Throughout the process, I was most pleasantly surprised to learn that a code's expiration date didn't seem to matter at all. In fact, I was able to redeem codes that should have expired as far back as 2011 without any issues -- so other users who have neglected to redeem their collections for years shouldn't need to worry. Even old iTunes codes from before UltraViolet existed for Universal titles like To Kill a Mockingbird or Warner Bros. titles like Inception worked just fine when inputting them directly into the Movies Anywhere website.
And in addition to testing out a variety of codes through Movies Anywhere itself, I also put in some iTunes codes through the iTunes app and UltraViolet codes through VUDU, and in all cases, the titles successfully populated across all of the supported retailers -- usually within minutes of being input. At the end of the day, the only codes that didn't work were the ones found on older Fox titles like The Tree of Life that required a user to place in a digital copy disc to redeem them, and codes associated with TV shows. The lack of TV support is disappointing, but hopefully the service will expand to offer television series as well.
Meanwhile, outside of redemptions, I also purchased a 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision HDR digital copy of Sucker Punch through VUDU and the title was added to the other services quickly, painlessly, and in 4K HDR when supported.
With that said, I did notice a couple quirks here and there concerning the resolution of some movies on some retailers. For instance, I redeemed a Digital HD code for X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut through iTunes. And though the title appeared in iTunes, Movies Anywhere, and Amazon just fine, I only received an SD copy in VUDU and no copy at all in Google Play.
Similarly, I have a 4K HDR UltraViolet copy of Spider-Man Homecoming (originally redeemed via Kaleidescape) in VUDU, Google Play, and iTunes, but Amazon Video only gave me the HD version (they do have a 4K HDR copy available for purchase).
Titles with multiple versions or edits also proved to be a little troublesome, as I got both versions of Leon: The Professional in all of the retailers except Google Play (they don't seem to offer the theatrical cut at all), and I only received the theatrical version of X-Men: Days of Future Past to go along with The Rogue Cut in the Movies Anywhere app and iTunes -- not VUDU, Google, or Amazon.
Thankfully, the vast majority of my movies did show up across all of the retailers with the appropriate quality and version, but it appears that some titles will be still be impacted by certain individual retailer practices. Oddly enough, however, it turns out that may not always be a bad thing. As many readers have noted, some supported titles synced to your Movies Anywhere library will be upgraded to 4K HDR in iTunes when available, even if they were originally purchased or redeemed elsewhere. And hell, that might be reason enough to make this new system worthwhile on its own.
UPDATE 10/1717 DIRECTLY FROM APPLE:
Apple is ONLY upgrading **iTunes Store purchases** to 4K. Everything else "should" stay at the original purchase or redemption resolution, be it 4K or HD.
If you PURCHASED a movie or REDEEMED a Digital Copy IN iTunes AND it's available in iTunes in 4K, you get a free 4K upgrade and will be able to play that back in 4K on the Apple TV 4K.
If you PURCHASED a digital movie in 4K somewhere else, like VUDU, AND it's available in iTunes in 4K, you should be able to play this title back in 4K on the Apple TV 4K.
If you REDEEMED a Digital Copy code from a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray somewhere else AND it's available in iTunes in 4K AND that specific movie studio allows for 4K redemption on this specific title, you should be able to play that back in 4K on the Apple TV 4K.
If you PURCHASED an HD version of a movie on VUDU, or one of the other streaming services, it will only playback in HD even when there is a 4K copy available in iTunes.
If you REDEEMED a Digital Copy from an HD Blu-ray in Movies Anywhere or VUDU or Ultraviolet, it will playback in HD even when there is a 4K copy available in iTunes. Please also note that some studios sell 4K Blu-rays with "HD" Digital Copies included.
Please note that some of our readers did end up with free 4K upgrades for HD digital copies redeemed in Ultraviolet or somewhere else. We're not sure why this is happening, though it may be related to how specific studios flag their Digital Copy codes, and even some Apple techs to whom our readers have spoken are convinced it's 4K-upgrades-for-everything despite the company's official policy.
In other words, the Apple situation is still a little confusing and we're sorry that we can't give a 100% clear answer. There just isn't one now. Hopefully, there will be clarity soon.
Back to the original article:
With that said, it's still not always easy to actually check the resolution of redeemed Movie Anywhere titles -- especially since 4K HDR copies are only supported through certain equipment. For example, looking at my iTunes library on a Windows PC shows everything as being in HD. Likewise, since the Apple TV 4K upscales everything to HDR, it's not always a reliable way to determine what native version you own either. Instead, users might need to check the iTunes Store or TV app on their iOS 11 devices to see if the titles are listed as native 4K HDR or Dolby Vision.
To check the playback resolution of a movie on your Apple TV 4K, swipe down on your remote during playback; this reveals an INFO tab along with the playback resolution. Keep in mind that you can't check on your display because the Apple TV 4K is set up to output at one constant resolution based on your display's capabilities.
Finally, though I didn't experience any major delays when redeeming titles, some of my colleagues and our readers have experienced some hiccups in that regard. Our editor, Michael S. Palmer, noted a 32-36 hour delay before his redeemed copy of War for the Planet of the Apes was added to iTunes. Later redemptions for Bridge on the River Kwai & Close Encounters through MoviesAnywhere.com were instant across all the apps, though, so it looks like the delays are being fixed.
There are some minor quirks that still need to be worked out and a few improvements that could be made, but Movies Anywhere is off to a very promising start. While the system as a whole is quite similar to UltraViolet, the addition of iTunes, Amazon Video, and Google Play allows users to access their content on even more devices. And the inclusion of Disney alongside Fox, Universal, Sony, and Warner Bros., has united almost every major studio under one digital banner.
Likewise, the nearly seamless compatibility with existing UltraViolet collections and codes means that users don't actually have to pick between systems (at least for now). And If nothing else, with free upgrades to 4K HDR for many titles linked to a user's iTunes account, this has made the case for buying an Apple TV 4K that much stronger.
Though some users have experienced delays when redeeming titles, a couple of studios are still missing, and the lack of TV show support is disappointing, after less than a week on the market, Movies Anywhere has already surpassed UltraViolet to become the superior digital movie locker system. Recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.