Microsoft turns to colour for data-rich barcodes

High Capacity Color Barcodes to provide information on product versioning, ratings identification and parental control, for movies and games

Simon Aughton
17 Apr 2007

The International Standard Audiovisual Number International Agency (ISAN-IA) has agreed to license the new High Capacity Color Barcode (HCCB) technology developed by Microsoft to aid the identification of commercial audiovisual works such as movies, video games, broadcasts, digital video recordings and other media.

Current ISAN codes allow an audiovisual work to be uniquely distinguished from other works through a simple identification system, but they do not allow additional features or functions to be incorporated. The multicoloured HCCB identifier allows more data to be included in the barcode, data which consumers can access by scanning the code with webcams and, eventually, mobile phones equipped with colour cameras.

For publishers, identification and tracking technologies will provide detailed data that can be used to facilitate royalty payments, anti-counterfeiting efforts and market analysis and a host of other business functions. For consumers, the barcodes can be combined with Web services to offer additional information such as product versioning, ratings identification, parental control, product availability, special releases, contests, pricing and promotions.

Microsoft and ISAN-IA plan to release software to that effect.

The ISAN-IA co-ordinates a globally recognised identification system for audiovisual works and will make the HCCB available to other organisations and the barcodes are expected to start appearing on DVD media toward the end of 2007.

The services enabled by HCCB are expected to become more prevalent as lens quality advances in cell phones to capture these small bar codes (for existing cell phones to read a black-and-white bar code, a practice that is widespread in Japan, the code must at least 38mm square, making them impractical in small spaces or where visual appeal is important).

Eventually, consumers should be able to scan the new, smaller bar codes directly from television, phone or PC screens, movie posters, DVD and CD jewel cases, magazine ads and billboards - in fact any medium which is capable of displaying the barcodes.

Security features can be incorporated into the new barcodes. DatatraceDNA plans to provide technology for anti-counterfeiting security protection features through nanotechnology that is invisibly embedded within the material and ink of the code.

'The capability of these new bar codes to store more data in a smaller space should provide a rich resource for the industry and consumers alike,' said Gavin Jancke, director of engineering for Microsoft Research and inventor of the HCCB format. 'The new code offers several advantages over existing black-and-white bar codes most people are accustomed to seeing on product packages, enabling new consumer experiences, more visual appeal where aesthetics are important and the ability to incorporate advanced security features.'

Patrick Attallah, chief executive officer of ISAN-IA agrees: 'The capabilities enabled by this combination of bar code technology and supporting software are important for everyone,' he said.

'This includes content owners tracking the use of their work and media publishers seeking to connect to consumers using interactive services and provide a combination of DatatraceDNA counterfeit protection in a single package. This technology provides a way to identify commercial programming and improve the consumer's experience.'

Read more about: