A universal digital video system that allows us to "build, manage and enjoy... libraries of digital entertainment content purchased from multiple sources and playable on multiple devices" may at least be about to become a reality.
Some 55 technology companies, content publishers and content distributors have banded together to promote the format under the brandname Ultraviolet.
Ultraviolet - which is set to begin public testing in the Autumn, almost certainly in the US first - provides a unified framework for the storage, delivery and playback of digital video. Buy, say, a movie from Lovefilm or Tesco - both UV members - and you'll be able to play it back on Nokia phones, Panasonic TVs, Sony games consoles and Toshiba PCs.
UV isn't limited to net-sourced content. Buy a Blu-ray copy of a film, for example, and chances are you'll also get the ability to use the form too, so you can watch it on your PMP as well as your HD TV and BD player.
And you'll be able to buy UV movies in retail stores. But rather than take physical product home with you, you simply log on when you get back and view the films on whatever UV-compatible kit you have.
UV may or may not use a single format, but either way the choice will be hidden from users to ensure they don't have to worry about compatibility. UV-branded content providers will transfer material in a suitable format that can be played by the UV-branded device you're using.
The system will require you to have a UV-specific account which will allow you to manage your list of videos, irrespective of which content provider sold them to you. Your UV account can be accessed directly, or through, say, your Lovefilm account pages.
Ditch one provider in favour of another and your UV purchases will come with you.
And because the material resides on the internet - you just pull down copies as and when you need them, to populate a portable player, say - they're ready to be streamed to devices that lack storage and are available to any compatible device with an internet connection.
But don't expect to be able to fill up your Nas box with UV downloads. And the question remains, will consumers care about not possessing the files? There are clear advantages in not doing so: you don't need buckets of local storage, and you don't have to fear losing your collection to burglars or housefires.
Multiple devices can be registered to a single account, so net-sourced material can be accessed by different members of a family on different devices. Whether you'll able to do the digital equivalent of lending a pal the BD you've just been watching remains to be seen. There's no technological reason why not, provided they have a UV account too.
UV will be maintained and managed by a new organisation, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), which will act as the gatekeeper. At this stage, it is not clear what limitation it places on members - or how it decides who gets to take part.
Two firms that, so far, are not participating are Apple and Disney, both of whom want to go their own way. Apple would undoubtedly prefer to keep punters tied in to iTunes, but there's no reason why the iTunes Store shouldn't take on UV support should it be pragmatic for it to do so - if the public's support for UV impacts Apple's ability to sell them media playback devices, in other words.
But it's going to take UV some years to build up sufficient critical mass for that to happen, and in that time Apple will only increase its hold on digital media sales, especially if it adopts a more cloud-centric storage and delivery model - as a rumoured Apple TV update suggests it will - of the kind UV is based upon. ®