SeeQVault could be the next big thing in personal entertainment. It could change the way you watch TV, and it’s coming your way very soon.
In short it’s new technology standard that will allow you to save your TV recordings from your set-top box to your smartphone or tablet.
The new tie-up between Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and Toshiba (or PSST Company, for short) is called SeeQVault, and will be restricted to flash memory devices (Apple products won’t be included).
Sony’s Victor Matsuda (Chief Communications Officer for Next-Generation Secure Memory Initiatives, the joint company formed by PSST) says that SeeQVault has a very simple goal: "We’re just trying to help consumers to enjoy content in HD forms and beyond on their mobile devices.
What is SeeQVault?
"It’s a security and content management technology for any kind of flash memory product, be it SD, USB, HDD or even embedded memory," says Matsuda. "It handles hi-def, and 4k is on our roadmap."
The use-case scenario goes something like this: record a TV programme to your PVR, copy it to an SD Card, microSDHC Card or USB stick, then watch that content on a smartphone when you’re on the way to work the next day.
"We’re especially targeting those kind of applications for mobile and home devices," says Matsuda. "We’ve seen an explosion in the last three or four years in the mobile sector, so that’s our priority." Mobile-based products made up over 50% of the global market for consumer electronics for the first time last year.
Ostensibly a new encryption technique that can cope with mobile devices, SeeQVault has its own proprietary file format, though it’s possible to use it on ubiquitous video file formats like .mpeg4 and .avi. Nor is SeeQVault restricted to video or music – it works with any data.
Why do we need it?
Have you ever recorded something on your TiVo or Sky+HD box, then downloaded it separately over Wi-Fi from the BBC iPlayer to your phone to watch on the commute? SeeQVault gets rid of duplication and side-steps data caps, but it also prevents broadband speeds and bandwidth from getting in the way of mobile video.
With the arrival of 4k, that’s crucial. SeeQVault could also be useful if you’ve got an 8GB phone: a 4k movie downloaded over 3G or Wi-Fi would take hours, and fill up your phone.
"A data plan will be subject to heavy usage, especially with 4k files," says Matsuda. "The Wi-Fi option is sometimes the best option, but SeeQVault is much more stable – and 4k is coming very quickly." The industry also needs a next-gen digital rights management scheme that plays nicely with mobile devices while preventing piracy.
Will SeeQVault work with existing devices?
The October launch of SeeQVault will see the release of a bevy of natively compatible products, but a SeeQVault adaptor will enable any HDD to use the tech to playback SeeQVault-protected content PCs, TVs and set-top devices with integrated HDDs.
Are there any SeeQVault devices yet?
Actually there are three: two 16GB and 32GB microSDHC memory cards from Toshiba, and the Sony WG-C20 portable wireless server (designed to use with Sony Xperia phones in Japan), which has a SeeQVault-compliant SD Card slot.
"There are plans for a much grander launch in Japan," says Dean Short, Corporate Counsel and Business Development at Toshiba America Information Systems, and spokesperson for NSM.
All are sold only in stores in Japan, where mass-market devices will be launched by the end of this year. A rollout-to the US and Europe is planned for 2015. He also tells us that the aim is to get SeeQVault compatibility into TVs, Blu-ray recorders, smartphones and tablets: "it’s form factor-agnostic, as long as it’s flash memory."
Why is Japan getting SeeQVault first?
Largely because of the popularity of Blu-ray recorders, which haven’t caught on nearly as much in Europe or the US. "Japan has been the focus so far because it’s the low-hanging fruit," says Short. "Japanese consumers are very focused on recording digital broadcasts over the air and cataloguing that by burning to Blu-ray discs, so there’s an obvious fit to build devices to take those recordings on the go and to plug and play them on devices with an SD Card slot."
It’s not unusual in Japan for people to take train journeys of an hour or more to get to work. "Japanese consumers are very tech-savvy, and were hoping that they will work out any kinks in the technology so we can adapt it quickly for the rest of the world, adds Short.
What about Blu-ray?
Will you be able to transfer a movie from a Blu-ray disc to a SeeQVault-compatible SD Card to watch on a phone? "That’s a politically-charged question," says Short. "We are discussing the technology in certain forms with the Blu-ray Disc Association and the Advanced Access Content System, recognising that Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and Toshiba are all members of those organisations."
For now, then, it’s a no, but there’s a definite move to popularise SeeQVault in the industry. "It’s catch-22, but we think it’s going to be ubiquitous and global," says Short. Well, almost; SeeQVault won’t be completely industry-wide for it’s aimed only at Android and Windows smartphones, specifically from Sony and Samsung. But we expect the next round of Xperia and Galaxy flagship phones – as well as the next batch of 4k Blu-ray players – to include SeeQVault.
Will it work with UltraViolet?
"We’ve been talking to UltraViolet about approval of SeeQVault as a discrete media," adds Short. "The idea is that when you purchase UltraViolet movie and you get a token deposited in your account. You can then either burn a disc or transfer the file and download to a SeeQVault card to take it with you to play anywhere you have a SeeQVault device."
Are broadcasters buying into SeeQVault?
Yup. "We have four companies that have a major footprint in hardware," says Short, "but the bottleneck has always been content, so last October two broadcast associations – the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator (DTLA) and Japan’s Association for Promotion of Digital Broadcasting (DPA) – recognised and approved SeeQVault for the recording and subsequent playback in the home of HD broadcasted content."
Now it’s been approved by those associations, it doesn’t need the nod from specific broadcasters; SeeQVault’s presence at September’s IBC in Amsterdam is designed to introduce the tech to the European broadcasting industry.
Will consumers be aware of SeeQVault?
SeeQVault is aiming to be more than just an invisible specification. "It’s going to be a prominent technology in Japan," says Matsuda. "We’re trying to build a success story in Japan by the end of the year, and we’re doing the rounds at the IBC and next year’s Mobile World Congress to prepare Europe for SeeQVault."
"We don’t want to just be a behind-the-scenes technology," says Short. "We want to have the brand recognition that a Blu-ray disc has – every time a consumer sees the logo they know they can play a Blu-ray disc in any Blu-ray player. We want to have that for the SeeQVault logo."