LAS VEGAS — While one group has been grappling with a next generation spec for an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format, another group has been laying out the ground work for a new standard for downloading up to 4K UHD content files that can be played back on multiple devices.
The Secure Content Storage Association (SCSA), which was founded by 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Western Digital, SanDisk and Cryptography Research quietly met with members of the press and CE industry at the recent International CES to plant the seeds for the pending rollout of SCSA enabled playback devices, movies and TV files within the first half of 2015.
Since its inception, the SCSA has added a Who’s Who of contributing member companies including: Samsung, LG, Comcast, Cisco, ARM Holdings, Seagate Technology, MediaTek, Akamai, Marvell, Dolby, DTS, Inside Secure, Discretix Technologies., Saffron Digital and Irdeto.
Later members include Walmart, Sprint, Toshiba, Broadcom, Pace, MStar Semiconductor, DivX, BluFocus, ST Micro, Kaleidescape and others. International contributors include Chili TV, Strefa TV and Wuaki TV.
The SCSA’s goal is to deliver the highest quality movies and TV shows for download on storage devices in users’ homes, as well as on mobile devices for playback on the go.
The system will avoid the hassle of collecting and storing hundreds of movies on individual Blu-ray Discs or DVDs, will offer comparable or superior picture and sound quality, and will provide multi-device playback rights flexibility, comparable to the UltraViolet system.
Like UltraViolet, which allows consumers to pay one price for a disc and receive access to multiple versions of the title via streaming and download, the SCSA is giving consumers flexibility of playback over TVs and tablets, but at its heart the system will rely on home storage devices equipped with hard discs, flash drives or SD cards, to store and playback the content. Streaming is also possible, but because the group anticipates Ultra HD playback as the key purchase driver, the group believes that playback from already downloaded files provides the most robust viewing experience available today.
“We are all about the 4K download experience, because we view it as the better way to go. You aren’t hostage to having a reliable Internet connection, and for us it provides better portability and mobility for your devices,” said David Huerta, SCSA general manager. “This is a method of better organizing and storing purchased movies and TV shows using the highest quality file format.”
Instead of buying a disc or a file, the SCSA system delivers “a pack” – a collection of digital files comprised of different resolution versions of a title for playback on the most appropriate display.
Currently the SCSA has three different modules for its content packs – a trial version in the market today is testing the group’s technology standards for 4K playback. The second module will incorporate the full feature set that will be delivered at the launch and the third extends to a 4K portable tablet from Qualcomm, representing mobile playback.
The approach allows seamlessly playing back a file over different devices and TVs of various resolution levels and capabilities. It also allows for immediately viewing a streaming title at a lower resolution level while the higher 4K version downloads.
“One of the core tenets within SCSA is flexibility, and being able to attach a digital right along with a download gives the consumer all of the power they need to view the title the way they want to,” Huerta said.
The SCSA defines “flexibility” as offering within “the package” different versions of a title – an SD version, an HD version, XHD version (FullHD at Blu-ray equivalent bit rates), and an Ultra HD version. Each version can be digitally “peeled off” and sent to another device for playback, or the entire pack can be sent in one lump.
The system was designed to support sharing – like a user might share a DVD with a friend – and each studio can specify the minimum number of copies that can be made to enable backups and transferring to other devices.
Each studio will be left to determine the bit rates it chooses to use for its 4K Ultra HD content – Fox has selected bit rates of 30 to 40 Mbps, but the spec will support up to 100Mbps. At average broadband speeds, the SCSA said it will take approximately five hours to download the complete package, but the SCSA is studying the possibility of pushing some titles out for caching on the drive so users can simply unlock a title for playback whenever they are ready to view it.
Fox has said it will leave the door open on the bit rates it chooses to use in the future, adding that it intends to deliver the highest quality experience necessary to pique consumer interest.
The system will work with a variety of storage system from network attached storage (NAS) devices to Samsung 4K Video Pack. When a device is made compatible, a firmware update is pushed out to allow the technology to work, adding a new “shelf” of title selections for purchase and download.
The format is also expandable so that different versions – perhaps including high dynamic range and expanded color gamut – can be added as required.
At launch, compatible devices will carry an SCSA brand to help consumers easily identify what devices will work with their SCSA content files.