October 01, 2009

General Electric has one terabyte micro Hologram Disc Readable by a Modified Blu-ray Player

GE announced it has been developing a 1 Terabyte DVD size disk that can be read by a modified Blu-ray player. Peter Lorraine, GE's lab manager, talking at an Emerging Tech conference last week, said that licence announcements could be expected soon. He also mentioned the notion of disks having the capacity of 100 Blu-ray disks, implying a 2.5TB or even 5TB capacity, gained by increasing the number of layers used for recording. The discs will be used for highend commercial niches initially and then migrate to consumer markets in 2012-2015.

The GE drive technology has a 3msec access period and transfers data at what is described as five times the DVD transfer rate. Assuming a 16x DVD writer runs at 21.13MB/sec, this implies 105.65MB.sec. At that speed, a 1TB GE technology disk would take 2.65 hours to write. However, GE says its disks could be replicated off a golden master in a factory at rates of 180 to 360 an hour.

Cost-wise, GE is suggesting 10 cents/GB or less for disk capacity when the drives and disks are introduced, as hopefully expected, in 2011/2012. At $0.10/GB, a 1TB disk would cost $100: far, far from cheap.

Holographic storage involves holograms, images of data being stored in layers on a DVD size disk. The drives work by splitting a laser beam into a reference beam and a signal beam, which is encoded with data. By crossing the two beams an interference pattern is created which is then stored on the disk.

Older versions of holographic drives store pages of a million bits stacked ten thousand deep at hundreds of locations on a disk. GE researchers discovered by reducing the page size to a single bit, called micro holograms, they could store as much data per unit area but was much easier to read. It turns out that the upper data layers can be read by a standard Blu-ray player and by slightly increasing the tracking range of the Blu-ray read head all layers can be accessed.

GE's researchers at its Applied Optics Laboratory managed to shrink these images, calling them micro-holograms. They achieved this to the point where the images were also reflective enough - 200 times more so than before - to be read by optics that could be used to read existing optical formats. A CD-size disk could store 500GB using this technology, with 1TB and greater capacity potentially possible in the 2011/2012 period

This compares to InPhase's 300GB capacity, although InPhase has predicted a ramp up through 800GB to a 1.6TB capacity point and a 120MB/sec transfer rate. This was said to be appearing in 2010, but that was in 2007, so we'd better assume a 2012/2013 date if InPhase holds to its course. There is a deal of overlap here between GE and Inphase capacities and capacity roadmaps.

The 500GB capacity equals ten double-layer, 50GB Blu-ray disks, or 100 5GB DVDs. GE believes that drives using its technology could also read Blu-ray, DVD and even CD disks. This makes them, in theory, usable by consumers and thus increases their volume dramatically, compared to the professional archiving market addressed by Plasmon's UDO and the InPhase Tapestry development. This volume should enable a per-drive cost far lower than the $18,000 InPhase has suggested for its Tapestry.

We should bear in mind that GE is suggesting that consumer drives using its technology wouldn't appear until 2014 or 2015, though, suggesting that drive cost will be a problem in the early years.

Holographic data storage at GE's site

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