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Holographic Storage on the Horizon

by April 29, 2009
No, not that type of hologram but thatd be cool too.

No, not that type of hologram but that'd be cool too.

General Electric has announced that they have a made a breakthrough in holographic storage technology according to the New York Times. While not an new technology, it has been outside of the reach of the home market because of cost and complexity. GE has addressed this, however, with the introduction of microholographic storage.

The way that normal DVDs, CDs, and even Blu-rays work is through reading the data off the surface of the disk. This is done by reflecting light off the disk. Blu-ray (names such because of the blue laser) can store up to 50 gigabytes, DVDs (use a red laser) about 5GB, and CDs (red/infrared laser) about 700MB. The new holographic storage should be able to store up to 500GB - 10x's more than Blu-ray and 100x's more than DVDs. Provided they can keep the cost down, this could be the next affordable storage medium and one that might open up whole new horizons in the home theater and video game market.

Holographic storage works by not only implanting the data on a disc but by "color coding" it so that data can be packed more densely. Past problems have included finding a medium that would be reflective enough so that the small colors/data could be read. GE's breakthrough comes in the form of using less complex holograms to net a 200% increase in reflectivity which gets them into the range of what a current Blu-ray player can read. The are barely in that range but have "crossed the threshold so we’re readable," according to GE storage program lead scientist Brian Lawrence.

When Blu-rays were released, the discs cost about $1 a gigabyte ($25 a disc) though that has decreased (the price is the same but the storage capacity has doubled with the introduction of dual layer Blu-rays). Experts estimate that the new holographic disks might come in a around 10 cents a GB (or $50 a disk - ouch!). The exciting part (other than the amount of storage) is that this new technology can be backwards compatible with CD, DVD, and Blu-ray.

While there are plans in the works to bring this technology to market soon, you won't be seeing it in your home for a while. Right now InPhase Technologies is planning to bring a system to market consisting of machines that cost $18,000 and use expensive discs. Specialized companies (with big pockets) that have huge data storage needs would most likely take advantage of this tech. Medical imaging and movie studios are likely candidates.

With the new push to bringing 3-D into the home, holographic storage could be the answer to what is sure to be a data heavy medium. Currently, DDD is working on technology to take current 2-D material and convert it into 3-D. While that sounds great, with display manufacturers not yet able to do 120Hz processing 100% correctly, you have to wonder how it will look. If you think about the timing, this might be a perfect storm. 3-D is in its infancy and content providers are just now starting to push for more outlets. It is likely to take a few years for the movement to gain momentum. This might be just enough time for GE to test and perfect their holographic storage medium. Or holographic storage might end up just another good idea that never made it. We'll have to wait and see.

Of course, this is just one piece of the puzzle. 3-D content is available but they'll need to finalize a format, display technology, funky glasses, and Silicon Image will have to come out with three or four more HDMI specs until we all have to replace our in-wall cable runs and HDMI cables will be the size of garden hoses. But to watch movies and play games in 3-D, it might just be worth it.

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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