GE pushes ahead with 500GB holographic disc storage

But rival InPhase exec disses GE efforts a 'science project'

GE's technology development division is pushing ahead with plans to distribute its 500GB holographic optical storage disc technology and hopes to license it to manufacturing partners in the next few months.

Unlike Blu-ray discs and DVDs, which store information on up to four layers at the surface of the disc, holographic optical discs use the entire substrate to store holograms, or three-dimensional patterns that represent bits of information.

The GE discs offer the same recording speed as Blu-ray -- and 20 times the amount of storage space. GE first touted the technology in 2009.

Peter Lorraine, manager of the Applied Optics Lab at GE Global Research, said the "technology breakthrough" in holographic-recording speed could hasten its entry into the consumer electronics market.

Ultimately, GE said it is working toward holographic discs that can store 1TB of data, which amounts to enough space to store all of the X-ray films of a large hospital on a single disc.

"Future micro-holographic discs using GE's proprietary material will read and record on systems very similar to a typical Blu-ray or DVD player," the company said in a statement yesterday.

GE plans to show off samples of the new media to companies interested in the technology. Those partners would be responsible for building hardware, such as the drive technology, for writing to and reading the optical platters.

Not everyone is convinced holographic optical storage has a future, citing problems with the price-performance ratio of the technology in the past.

"So they're going to try this again?" said John Webster, a senior partner at market research firm the Evaluator Group. "It wasn't the media, but all the machinery you need to make it work. At a price-per-gigabyte or -terabyte level, it just didn't make sense."

GE is not alone in working on holographic disc technology. In 2007, for example, InPhase Technologies took aim at the magnetic tape drive market with the industry's first 300GB holographic optical disk. InPhase, which was spun off from Bell Laboratories, called its holographic product the Tapestry HDS-300R, and planned to sell the platters for $100 to $125 each.

InPhase had also planned a second-generation 800GB rewritable optical disc with data transfer rates of about 80MB/sec., with plans to expand disc capacity to 1.6TB by 2010. But the company vanished from the market before those products appeared. Last year, Venture Capital firm Signal Lake acquired a majority stake in InPhase and appointed its vice president of sales, Art Rancis, as the new CEO.

An InPhase board member called GE's efforts "a science project" and said his company is on track to redeliver its commercial holographic product within a year. The product map includes a library that can hold multiple drives.

"I have in front of me a product, a 130mm disc." said Bart Stuck, the managing director and co-founder of Signal Lake. "I can stick it into any drive and have it write and then stick it in any other drive and have it read. GE has no drive."

Holographic disc
GE's holographic disc technology at work reading a disc.
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