April 29, 2009 Many pundits proclaimed Blu-ray would be the last optical disc based storage medium we would see before the seemingly inevitable move towards Flash-based drives and online storage. Apparently GE isn’t buying into that prediction, forging ahead with the development next generation optical storage technology that can store a massive 500GB of data before Blu-ray has even gained widespread adoption with consumers.

Blu-ray takes advantage of the shorter wavelength of the blue laser used to read the surface of the disc. While this brings the storage capacity of a dual-layer Blu-ray disc to 50GB, GE’s micro holographic discs achieve 500GB of storage capacity in a standard DVD-size disc by storing data in three-dimensional patterns (ie.holograms). This approach enables the entire volume of the disc to store data instead of just the surface.

While the increased storage capacity of the holographic technology is the most obvious benefit, GE says the hardware and formats are so similar to current optical storage technology that the micro-holographic players will be able to play back CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs – a feature that is needed to appeal to consumers who already have libraries of discs in those formats. Backwards compatibility wasn’t the only focus for the GE researchers. They also worked to ensure the technology was easily adaptable to existing manufacturing techniques, which would hopefully keep prices of micro-holographic players and discs down when they start appearing.

GE has been working on the holographic storage technology for over six years and they aren’t stopping at 500GB, calling the demonstration a major milestone in making micro-holographic discs that ultimately can store more than one terabyte of data. However, the 500GB milestone does mean that GE will now seek to commercialize the technology, initially focusing on the commercial archival industry followed by the consumer market.

It was only a few years ago that the release of Blu-ray (and the now defunct HD DVD) had us marveling at its increased storage capacity. Could it be superseded before it’s even had a chance to establish itself in people’s homes?

Darren Quick