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When Apple announced deals with all the major movie studios to bring rentals to its Apple TV device, it turned the device from a dud into a potential player in the living room. “Potential” is the keyword there. It’s a nice device, but it still lacks that certain something that could put it over the top. That something could be DVR functionality, more computing functionality (such as a native web browser, instant messaging, or the ability to run something like Google Earth), or perhaps gaming. A new patent uncovered by AppleInsider suggests Apple is looking into that last possibility.

Yes, we’ve heard this before. Rumors of Apple entering the gaming market are nothing new, but some of the best of those rumors suggest Apple should team up with Wii-maker Nintendo do create something for a living room. Well, it doesn’t appear a partnership between the two is coming, but this patent looks like Apple is more or less “borrowing” some of what has made the Wii a great console.

The images below probably look very familiar if you’ve seen a Wii (to be fair, the patent, which was just uncovered, was filed in November 2006 — right when the Wii was first coming out). You have a remote control-like controller that allows for full movement. A sensor placed near the television uses infrared technology to translate that movement in three dimensional terms.

While it is certainly possible that Apple is just working on a point and click remote to make navigating the Apple TV more intuitive, it did flat out state in the patent that: “the absolute x- and y-positions of [the] remote control can be used, for example, in video games to position a user’s character or to otherwise track the movement of the remote control in a user’s environment.”

AppleInsider also notes that this 3D remote technology could be used to mimic some of what Apple is doing with its software via Multi-touch technology. For example instead of pinching with two fingers to zoom a picture in or out, simply moving this remote forwards or backwards could have the same effect.

While Apple may be working its way into gaming, Nintendo may be working the other way, towards more of an entertainment console.

[photo: flickr/nicolasnova]

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