New Microsoft Technology Could Let People Watch Different TV Shows On The Same TV—At Once

I’m at the Creativity Conference, a joint project of Microsoft, Time Magazine, and the Motion Picture Association of America, this morning, and I’ll have more to come on President Clinton’s remarks this afternoon. But one of the presentations I’ve been struck by most so far is that from Steven Bathiche, a distinguished scientist (seriously, great job title) on some of the technologies they’re developing. Specifically, he talked about how the company, in working on sending separate images to each eye for an individual user so they can see images in 3D, decided to also work on sending different images to different users from the same screen. The example he used to illustrate a potential application? Two people who resolve their differences about which television show to watch by watching different shows—on the same television, at the same time.

That’s a fascinating idea, of togetherness while having separate experiences. So much of the development of technology for the distribution about technology has been about allowing us to separate ourselves from each other, whether it’s DVRs that let us access content from any television in a house, or apps that let us watch television on any device we want, cloistering ourselves off from each other with headphones. Microsoft’s technology, if it gets fully developed and distributed in households, would bring us back into physical proximity, though it would probably still keep us separated from each other because we’d have to wear headphones—setting up your eyes and your ears to receive separate signals are very different projects. And I wonder if it might actually be more alienating to be sitting with someone who appears to be having the same experience with you, but in fact is off in an entirely different world.

But it’s a reminder of how valuable television that’s appealing enough to bring a critical mass of people together in a room at the same time slot still feels. It’s rare. But it still feels like a different and exciting experience.