Holy HDTV Holograph, Batman!

Okay, we’re going to look just over the horizon on this one, but the implications for HD content are huge. Earlier this month, Maxell announced plans to ship a 300 GB disc drive next year. Big deal, you say. Okay, it’s going to be a removable disc. Got your attention yet? Here’s more; it will be a 5.25-inch disc. That’s the equivalent of more than 60 single-layer DVDs. And the data transfer rate will be 160 Mbps, compared with the 4.7 Mbps required for a DVD movie. Hmmm… this sounds like this single disc could hold 60 SD movies with all the trimmings, or at least 15 HD movies using existing compression technology.

How do they do it? Not with magnetic fields like hard drives, or with dye-change layers like DVD+/-R, or phase change like DVD+/-RW or -RAM. Instead, the technology comes straight from Star Trek’s Enterprise. The new disc will use holographic storage. According to Maxell, “unlike other technologies that record one data bit at a time, holography allows a million bits of data to be written and read in parallel with a single flash of light.” Recording does not take place on just one or two layers within the plastic disc, but instead occurs through the full depth of the disc. In fact, the media apparently doesn’t even have to spin during recording or playback.

Now, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that whenever you announce a new technology a year in advance, it’s not smart to bet the farm on the product showing up on time. But Maxell must think they’ve got a good handle on this to come out this strong this far out. And I don’t expect the discs or the drives to be particularly inexpensive at the start; Maxell is talking about $100 a disc at the start, which isn’t bad compared with a stack of 63 DVD-R discs. And the roadmap calls for increased capacity and faster throughput over the following years.

All of a sudden, BluRay claims for greater capacity seems to have lost a little of their luster.