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Sensor To Monitor TV Watchers Demoed At Cable Labs 302

An anonymous reader writes "Cable operators at the semi-annual CableLab's Innovation Showcase have informally voted as best new product a gizmo that can determine how many people are watching a TV. Developed by Israeli company PrimeSense, the product lets digital devices see a 3-D view of the world (the images look like something from thermal imaging). In other words, that cable set-top box will know whether three people are sitting on the sofa watching TV and how many are adults vs. children. Do we really need cable and/or video service operators knowing this? It all happens via a chip that resides in a camera that plugs into the set-top box."
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Sensor To Monitor TV Watchers Demoed At Cable Labs

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  • by Tired and Emotional ( 750842 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:52PM (#29031223)
    I bet it can't tell the difference between someone watching the TV and someone sleeping in front of the TV.

    I bet it can't tell the difference between me, sitting at the kitchen table watching the Football and my wife sitting at the breakfast table with her back turned.

    I bet it can't tell that I am reading, not watching.

    How does it distinguish a large dog from a small child?

    If it uses infra red it can at least distinguish a human from a cardboard cut-out of the Duke of Edinburgh! I have seen award ceremonies have trouble with that one, so I guess that makes it smarter than some humans.

  • Re:Phone home (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HomelessInLaJolla ( 1026842 ) <> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:55PM (#29031269) Homepage Journal

    When the consideration is corporation vs. consumer, or government vs. citizen, FUD comes true nearly one hundred percent of the time.

  • 1984 (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:56PM (#29031283)
    The telescreen is only 25 years late.
  • Nielson boxes? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gudeldar ( 705128 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:56PM (#29031293)
    Perhaps these are going to go in next generation Nielsen boxes so that Nielsen can give a more accurate count of viewers instead of just assuming 1 box = 1 viewer.
  • Re:Phone home (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PolyDwarf ( 156355 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:56PM (#29031295)

    What would be the point if it *didn't* send the info to anyone?

  • Re:Limits? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clang_jangle ( 975789 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:57PM (#29031305) Journal
    Any limits set initially may well change. This is just another reason to resort to bittorrent.
  • Re:duct tape (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RetroGeek ( 206522 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:04PM (#29031373) Homepage

    And then the box detects its 'blind' and refuses to run your movie

    At which point I return the box/tv set, yell at the salesperson, and behave badly.

    This is like the Panasonic patent which blocks channel changing during commercials. Some *AA exec is wetting his pants, but the public WILL NOT put up with this.

    This kind of intrusion is a revolution just waiting to happen, sheeple or not.

  • Re:Nielson boxes? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:04PM (#29031381)

    What, are you kidding! That's way too sensible! As the other posters have surmised its an evil plot such that the cable operator can watch everything you do from their Skull Island fortress of doom!!!!!

    No, the other posters have surmised that if something can be abused by those in a position of power, it will be so abused, sooner or later.

    Whether it is first used for a "sensible" purpose or no, sooner or later it will be used for a malicious purpose.

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:05PM (#29031397) Journal
    Need I say more? Not their damned business, would NEVER give permission for such a thing in my home.
  • Re:Phone home (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:08PM (#29031435)

    The manufacturer's homepage seems to imply that the device could be used for gesture-controlled applications, such as changing the channel without a remote control.

    In other words, something like Natal.

    Or to rephrase that, what does this device do that Natal doesn't have the capability to do? And that being the case, shouldn't people be equally worried about Natal spying on its users?

  • Re:Phone home (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thiez ( 1281866 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:10PM (#29031459)

    I'm sure you'll get modded +5 for that, but it's simply not true. There are many, many countries where you can say you disagree with the government or some corporation in public without mysteriously disappearing the next day. Webcams have existed for a long time now and I know of no country where it is required by law to have one turned on 24/7 sending images to 'Our Glorious Leader, May He Live Forever'. You and I and the rest of /. may disagree with many things that happen in this world (mostly concerning surveilance, copyright, and software patents) but if you are from a western country like I assume most /.'ers are, chances are you actually have it very very good in terms of wealth and freedom. That doesn't mean we should sit back and do nothing, but to the whole persecution complex some of us have is ridiculous and an insult to those who have it far worse than us.

  • by nonregistered ( 639880 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:13PM (#29031485) Homepage
    "How would you like us to shave a dollar off your monthly cable bill?"
  • The Fix (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:17PM (#29031521) Journal

    "It all happens via a chip that resides in a camera that plugs into the set-top box."

    It all stops happening via a Craftsman five pound ball peen camera removal tool that resides in a box that sits on top the work bench.

    This reeks of leftover dot com fever outrageous idea development looking for thrown-cash funding regardless of viability. Though crippled beyond recuperation that mind set refuses to die along with some of its other goofy projects, such as the Nukem Dukem 3D of extraneous peripherals, the eternally vaporous Smell-O-Vision-like "products". If it weren't for the fact that the marketoids attending the conference are undoubtedly drooling over their imagined implications for advertising revenue, it would have all the impact and lifespan of all the items taken from patents and idea articles and sputtered across the What's New pages of Popular Science.

    But then I could be wrong. Cable operators could "require" these and tie the incoming signal to its continued operation. In which case it would behoove the prudent to invest heavily into manufacturers of big rubber asses with clamps designed to attach to the front of cable set-top boxes.

  • Nietzsche (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Experiment 626 ( 698257 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:19PM (#29031555)

    Friedrich Nietzsche once said that if you stare into the abyss long enough the abyss stares back at you. Now staring at the TV can have the same effect.

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:20PM (#29031563)

    cable need better guide software not this crap i-Guide is a joke and why does it look so bad on a hd tv. Direct tv guide and menus are 4:3 but they still look good in HD vs cable.

    And whats up with ad's on each page of the comcast on screen guide?

  • Re:Revolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:21PM (#29031583)

    Come on, you're messing with their opiates! If anything will cause them to riot it would be something like that.

  • The best part (Score:3, Insightful)

    by js3 ( 319268 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:26PM (#29031633)

    & the best part is you get to pay for the boxes lol

  • Re:Limits? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:34PM (#29031707)

    I suspect that would get defeated with the whole "I'll just watch it on netflix/DVD/bittorrent/whatever alternative there will be at the time." Maybe not for privacy's sake, but for "I'm not paying extra for when Jimmy comes over, fuck that."

    I suspect the actual uses of the device would be for advertisers to get some feedback and makeup of their viewing audience. The blurb linked to suggests it can tell between kids and adults. That doesn't sound like a tech to limit the number of viewers, that sounds like a tech to see "okay, how many kids versus how many adults are watching right now? More kids? Awesome, McDonalds pays more to run happy meal ads than value meal ads."

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:37PM (#29031741) Homepage

    And you should too. Stone cold seriously. Because if the cableco don't know what you're watching, then you have no Goddamn influence over them.

    That great new SF show that just rocked your socks off? If you're not in a Neilsen household, then they don't even know that you watched it, and buying the DVD box set 2 years later won't save it. The fat welfare whore next door with the Neilson box and the seven kids who watch re-runs of America's Fattiest Fatty 24/7? They're the people driving the content provision.

  • by j741 ( 788258 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:43PM (#29031795) Journal

    While this certainly has the potential to let TV programmers know that we do actually loose interest when a commercial is aired, and some programs that seem to get canceled are actually watched, there are far too many potential abuses for this technology. I don't want to suddenly become part of a reality tv show that is aired in some other country, and that I have no idea I am a part of.

  • by Bodhammer ( 559311 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:45PM (#29031811)
    'Smith!' screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. '6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You're not trying. Lower, please! That's better, comrade. Now stand at ease, the whole squad, and watch me.'
    A sudden hot sweat had broken out all over Winston's body. His face remained completely inscrutable. Never show dismay! Never show resentment! A single flicker of the eyes could give you away. He stood watching while the instructress raised her arms above her head and -- one could not say gracefully, but with remarkable neatness and efficiency -- bent over and tucked the first joint of her fingers under her toes.
    'There, comrades! That's how I want to see you doing it. Watch me again. I'm thirty-nine and I've had four children. Now look.' She bent over again. 'You see my knees aren't bent. You can all do it if you want to,' she added as she straightened herself up. 'Anyone under forty-five is perfectly capable of touching his toes. We don't all have the privilege of fighting in the front line, but at least we can all keep fit. Remember our boys on the Malabar front! And the sailors in the Floating Fortresses! Just think what they have to put up with. Now try again. That's better, comrade, that's much better,' she added encouragingly as Winston, with a violent lunge, succeeded in touching his toes with knees unbent, for the first time in several years.
    -George Orwell 1984
  • Re:Oblig: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ksatyr ( 1118789 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:02PM (#29031971)

    Comcast quite possibly will be watching you, but more likely for ratings gathering than for ensuring an audience of no more than x or at least y. I expect this box will be part of a voluntary program for monitoring household TV viewing habits. This would be similar to the existing Neilson electronic ratings system, only automatic, i.e. instead of requiring you to log into the system whenever you start watching TV and log out when you leave, it just detects how many are present.

  • Re:Oblig: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:05PM (#29032461)

    Comcast quite possibly will be watching you, but more likely for ratings gathering than for ensuring an audience of no more than x or at least y. I expect this box will be part of a voluntary program for monitoring household TV viewing habits.

    After all we live in the best of possible worlds, don't we Dr Pangloss? []

    Nothing to worry about here folks! You just keep on watching the tube.

  • Re:duct tape (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:21PM (#29032533) Journal

    That law exists now...

    But I was using duct tape as a very simple example. It could also be defeated by, for example, detaching the scanner and pointing it at a single lava lamp in a corner of the room with no one there. Thus, it sees one "person"...

    You get the idea. It would be broken. The more important point is that we shouldn't have to put up with this shit.

  • Re:Limits? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:48PM (#29032645)

    Yes, something that may or may not happen in your home in the future is a great reason to download something today!

  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @11:07PM (#29033073)

    So with the use of cable boxes to spy on me, it's time for me to get on the phone, get through arguing with the poor call center rep, and get rid of the problem for good.

    I actually did cancel my direct-tv subscription today. truly, I did. I was coming off a 6month 'off period' (that's their first way of trying to get you to not cancel). I got the card in the mail saying that they were going to auto-subscribe me again. bloody nerve of them!

    spent a good hour on the phone with 'retentions'. told them my views on DRM in no uncertain terms. told them that their systems have twice died and taken my hard drive data (shows) with it. twice. but no more, I'm getting out of this racket.

    call and cancel. tell them you want something 'myth-tv friendly' and that's a given, that they are not going to concede to. all I wanted was to not have the data encrypted so I can use my own tuner and save to my own drives, even keep backups if I wanted. instead, they get more and more greedy. so guess what - they LOSE my account, entirely.

    work WITH us or lose us. I don't 'download' but I could see many others doing this after being fed up with what cable/sat gives us.

    after 6 months of non-tv use, I just don't miss it anymore! the cable news was getting SO BAD, I could not even tolerate any of the networks. the shows were too full of mindless numbing ads. the fees keep going up. the show times are going down. quality is quite low. time to bail from this mess!

  • by ReverendDC ( 1547301 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @12:21PM (#29039793)
    There are so many problems with this.... 1. 10 people watching a moving = COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT 2. Someone is always monitoring your activities?!?!?! 3. Someone is always monitoring your activities?!?!?! 4. Someone is always monitoring your activities?!?!?! 5. Really? Seriously? Giving up your free rights to be observed so your programming is more towards your liking? 6. Someone is always monitoring your activities?!?!?! 7. Comcast and others already overcharge, hold their customer's hostage, charge for the month when the month isn't even over, cut off service for no reason whatsoever, limit your data usage or attempt to charge additional for "unlimited plans," treat their customers poorly, limit bandwidth, etc. Do we really want them knowing what we are doing all of the time? 8. Someone is always monitoring your activities?!?!?! Cable is the worst industry there is. I worked for the best of them at one point, and they sucked. Cable and cell phone companies take complete advantage of their customers, with little to no protection from government agencies because of the "non-essential" nature of their business. Electric, water, gas...regulated. In this day and age, internet and cell service is quickly becoming an "essential" service, and these companies should start to be regulated like electric, water and gas companies. The government is 5 years behind in tech advancement. It's about time someone reigns in these abusers of the "free" market.
  • by smchris ( 464899 ) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 @10:52PM (#29047063)

    "So, your family watches presidential addresses but never watches FOX News. What are you, socialists?"

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."