Microsoft patents tech that watches viewers

Cameras used to count number of people watching on the couch; failure to acquire license stops playback.


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A patent application by Microsoft for "Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User" has surfaced. The filing, which was made with the US Patent and Trademark Office on April 26, 2011, and was spotted by Eurogamer, outlines a system designed to monitor viewers as they watch; ensuring compliance with licensing for music, games, and film.

The technology works by using cameras (no explicit mention is made of the Kinect or a Kinect successor) found in home and mobile devices to take still or moving images of the consumers and their environment. The system then compares the number of viewers visible in the frame with the licensing terms attached to the product; prompting watchers to purchase additional licenses (as required) for each person watching.

Excerpts from the application are listed below, while the full version can be read on the USPTO website. Warning: contains legalise.

"Consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of the content. The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken."

"Content is distributed to consuming devices, such as televisions, set-top boxes, and digital displays, with an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content. The limitation may comprise a number of user views, a number of user views over time, a number of simultaneous user views, views tied to user identities, views limited to user age, or any variation or combination thereof, all tied to the number of actual content consumers allowed to view the content."

The patent covers home and mobile digital content, both streamed and downloaded to a device, as well as various types of physical storage. Failure to acquire the additional licenses required for multiple viewers when prompted will result in the content stream or playback stopping.

"…a license validation is performed by comparing the user count and any view or performance limitation against that allowed by the license. If the license is satisfied, the content presentation begins. If not, then the user is presented with an option to adjust the license terms. If the license is updated, then the content presentation begins. If not, the presentation is halted."

The patent filing also makes numerous mentions of at least one type of head-mounted display. These match those found in the purportedly leaked (now taken down) Xbox 720 documents from June this year, which showed concept drawings of players wearing armbands and glasses while playing.

Images from a reportedly leaked Xbox document from earlier this year.
Images from a reportedly leaked Xbox document from earlier this year.

"Head mounted display device 502, which in one embodiment is in the shape of glasses, is worn on the head of a user so that the user can see through a display, and thereby have an actual direct view of the space in front of the user. The use of the term 'actual and direct view' refers to the ability to see the real world objects directly with the human eye, rather than seeing created image representations of the objects. For example, looking through glass at a room allows a user to have an actual direct view of the room, while viewing a video of a room on a television is not an actual direct view of the room."

"In one embodiment, processing unit 504 is worn on the user's wrist and includes much of the computing power used to operate [the] head mounted display device…"

"A head mounted display device 502, may include microphone and/or camera 5110 for recording sounds and transmitting that audio data to [a] processing unit."

As a technology patent, the document doesn't disclose any specific devices or services, but may provide a glimpse into the direction of Microsoft's next generation console, as well as how users may be required to engage with games and entertainment.

GameSpot contacted Microsoft, but the publisher was unable to provide comment at time of publication.

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