April 16, 2007 12:01 AM PDT

Microsoft gives bar codes a splash of color

Microsoft gives bar codes a splash of color
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After years of being decked out in monochromatic stripes, the bar code is going color.

The bar code has already undergone some changes. Though the standard, striped variety is still ubiquitous on supermarket goods, two-dimensional bar codes have become commonplace on shipping labels, airline boarding passes and all over the place in Japan.

Now, Microsoft is hoping to take things a step further by adding color to the mix.

Images: Microsoft's multicolor bar code

"We use color to store more information," said Gavin Jancke, director of engineering for Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., research labs. Jancke is the creator of the new bar code format, which uses either four or eight hues to pack more data into less space. The new bar code also uses small triangles, as opposed to the squares used in the 2D black and white bar codes and the alternating thin and thick lines used in traditional UPC symbols.

The color bar code is being targeted especially for use on commercial media such as movies, video games and other recordings. Microsoft said the High Capacity Color Bar Code could start showing up on DVDs by the end of this year, thanks to a deal it has signed with an organization that helps coordinate product labeling for audiovisual works.

The idea is that after adding the new bar code, then DVDs and their packages would offer added security or, potentially, links to a movie trailer or other bonus features.

There are some downsides to the colorful approach. In addition to the obvious need for color labels, it also requires fairly high-quality printing, making it unsuitable for, say, shipping labels. Standard bar code scanners also won't read the codes.

Such an expanded use is somewhat reminiscent of the ill-fated CueCat, which embedded bar code links in print publications.

But Jancke sees reasons why his bar code is better than the extinct digital feline.

"The CueCat required specific hardware that needed to be attached to a PC," Jancke said, noting that the Microsoft-developed bar code could be read by devices consumers already have, such as a Web cam or cell phone camera.

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8 comments

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how much data
Anyone know how much data this is supposed to encode?
Posted by joegerardi (4 comments )
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Capacity
And for comparison how much data does the old standard barcode hold?
And as long as we're at it- how much more data could a traditional barcode with 8 colors hold? Or vice-versa how much data could one of these barcodes with black and white triangles hold?
And finally, how much data is needed for conducting the business and what additional information does the commercial market demand. The consumers won't likely be scanning barcodes to access content at home- it's the commercial industry that will drive this as they're the ones that will all have to buy new equipment.
Sounds like a hard sell at this point.
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
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Not new....
The railroads in the US used a colored bar code in the 1960s to identify freight cars!
Posted by PeterCapek (5 comments )
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Microsoft Patentd Air
Another f*cked standard brought to you by the King of f*cked
up standards.
Posted by DemiHampster (29 comments )
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Clever
New or not, I think this is quite clever. It's nice to see signs of creativity at Microsoft - and no I'm not a fanboy.
Posted by zeusjones (1 comment )
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Don't think so...
Like mentioned in the article: you need color printers to make the labels. So you can throw away those thermal printers, the inkjet based printers that print barcodes on objects that pass by in fron of it.

Not to mention the possible problems when the label is read in condition where no white light is present. A black and white barcode can still be read if the environment illumination is yellow or red. Try that with a colored label.

The barcode will be replaced eventually, but I don't think it will be replace by a color book... RFID seems a more viable option.
Posted by Steven N (487 comments )
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RFID... no.
With RFID's current security problems I think the hype is starting to die down... significantly.
Posted by jessiethe3rd (1140 comments )
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RFID... no.
With RFID's current security problems I think the hype is starting to die down... significantly.
Posted by jessiethe3rd (1140 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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