The 9.4-gigabyte capacity on a standard double-sided DVD is enough to hold a motion picture in two formats and perhaps some outtakes and extras. But for years researchers have been looking for a way to cram even more data on a disc of the same size. One idea that’s been perpetually just around the corner is holographic data storage on a holographic versatile disc, or HVD. Instead of marking pits and grooves on the surface of the disk that are subsequently read by a laser, the technique uses special materials that chemically change the entire volume of the disc when it’s zapped by a laser in the ”write” stage. Using the entire thickness of the disc yields hundreds of times more storage capacity.
Now GE Global Research says it has hit upon a polycarbonate material that can be manipulated to store 500 GB on a single DVD. The breakthrough was figuring out how to create holographic pits and grooves one micrometer across with enough reflectivity to allow the laser light to bounce back to the sensor that reads the bits of data.
GE, which is designing new HVD players that will be backward compatible with CDs and DVDs, says the scheme will take a few more years of development before a commercial product is ready. Meanwhile, InPhase Technologies, which Spectrum reviewed in January 2007, looks set to meet its projected 2010 release date for its HVDs—which store 300 GB each—and a $18 000 reader.
Even if GE successfully makes the leap from idea to product, there’s no guarantee that consumers, paralyzed with uncertainty over choosing new formats after the Blu-ray/HD-DVD skirmish and overwhelmed by the ever-changing forms of music storage (vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3, and so on), will be willing to make the investment.
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