Microsoft whips palette out; creates barcodes

The new colourful barcodes could be used on CD and DVD jewel cases, computer games and other media

Microsoft has created a new type of barcode that is based on colours rather than the current black-and-white technology. By using various colour combinations it will be possible to store more data in the codes than can be done today.

Microsoft said it doesn't want to replace the current barcodes but instead create a complementing system that will be able to take on larger amounts of information. The company quoted CD and DVD jewel cases, and computer games as two likely areas where the new barcodes will be used.

The new barcode technology, called the High Capacity Color Bar Code ( HCCB ), has already been approved by the International Standard Audiovisual Number system ( ISAN ).

"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," Jancke added.

The colourful barcodes use little triangle shapes that each have up to eight colour shades to store information. For example, a DVD film with a barcode on its cover could have information stored about the soundtrack and other related products.

The technology requires a particular type of hardware before it can be read, and current barcode readers will not be compatible. Microsoft said that users will be able to use a webcam or mobile phone camera to read the new barcodes.

The new multicolour barcode is expected to start appearing on DVD media towards the end of the year, Microsoft said.