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Holographic storage offers a way to cram hundreds of movies onto a single DVD-size disc, but the first commercial offering, due out next year, is a high-end archival system that costs tens of thousands of dollars and requires special playback machines.

Now researchers at GE Global Research, in Niskayuna, NY, say that they are closing in on a mass-market version that would be compatible with older DVDs and CDs–technology that GE says could reach the market in 2012. If the project pans out, consumers could hold vast video libraries on a few holographic discs alongside the regular DVDs in their living room.

GE expects an initial version of the holographic disc to hold 300 gigabytes of data, and future versions will hold as much as one terabyte–enough for 40 high-definition movies or 200 standard-definition movies. While the first buyers might be companies seeking simpler ways to archive their data, GE ultimately wants to target the broader market. “The average consumer will be able to buy a drive in the next three or four years that would have this technology, and they can play everything,” says Brian Lawrence, manager of GE’s Integrated Polymer Systems Lab. “It will go from audio CDs of the 1980s all the way to the new ultra-high-capacity terabyte holographic discs.”

Information is stored on a CD or DVD as a pattern on the disc’s surfaces. Holographic storage involves, instead, encoding data using patterns of light interference within the body of light-sensitive material. This leads to a much higher storage capacity, so holographic storage has the potential to eclipse even today’s leading high-capacity optical storage format, Blu-ray, which can be used to store 50 gigabytes of data on a single disc.

And yet, although several companies are working on holographic storage technology, the only imminent commercial offering is a high-end system from InPhase, of Longmont, CO, a spinoff of Alcatel and Lucent Technology’s Bell Labs.

InPhase plans to market an $18,000 machine and 300-gigabyte discs that cost $180 apiece. Art Rancis, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing, says that the system should be available to buy in late 2009. He adds that the company is also planning 800-gigabit and 1.6-terabyte versions, with the latter slated to reach market by late 2012. Despite the high cost, InPhase foresees big demand, initially in video production, medical-imaging storage, and government.

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Credit: GE Global Research

Tagged: Computing, memory, GE, lasers, data storage, Holographic

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