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Monday, January 09, 2006
Holographic Storage And the Future

"HVD" stands for "holographic versatile disc", a completely new optical format which a group of companies headed by Optware Ltd., an R&D organization in Yokohama, is sponsoring.

Numerous articles have appeared recently in the daily press and popular magazines, and on many websites, promoting what is said to be the imminent introduction of the first laser-based holographic players, recorders, and media. Some of these articles have even suggested that holographic players and related software, which conceivably could be introduced before the end of 2006, could challenge the two high-definition formats discussed above and offer the public a third alternative.

Frankly, such statements are pure nonsense. Although holographic recorders and recordings may indeed have a big future in both consumer and professional applications, that future is still some years away. The fact that a working holographic recorder or player may be introduced commercially in 2006 or 2007 is of little immediate importance, other than as a demonstration that the technology has reached the point where working units exist. Any introduction of holographic recording products in 2006 or even 2007 will involve drives and media intended entirely for professional applications and especially data-archiving, completely different from the applications for the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats discussed above. Prices for these holographic units will be far above consumer-product levels.

It is true that demonstrations of working holographic recorders have been made recently by such R&D organizations as InPhase Technologies. In mid-November, InPhase Technologies provided an interesting demonstration of the progress it has made in its holographic development efforts. The demonstration was made at Maxell?s booth at the 2005 InterBee Show in Tokyo. An actual ad from a Turner Broadcasting program was recorded onto an InPhase prototype holographic recorder using holographic media produced by Hitachi Maxell. This recording was then used to feed a broadcast server, marking the first time a holographic recording has been recorded, played back, and broadcast successfully. As explained by Mr. Ron Tarasoff, Turner?s vice president of broadcast technology, "This was done to investigate the feasibility of using holographic storage for broadcasting TV content."

While this was an impressive demonstration, and illustrates the progress being made in reducing holographic recording technology to practice, the key word in Mr. Tarasoff?s statement quoted above is the word feasibility. True serial production of equipment and media that meet professional needs and standards, much less consumer requirements, is still some years in the future. An immense infrastructure supports and makes possible the manufacture in high volume and at lowest possible costs of all professional broadcast equipment, enterprise-level data-tape drives and media, and consumer products such as CD, DVD, and high-definition 120mm products, that are now on the market. No such infrastructure exists for holographic devices, and it will take quite a few years to create it. Moreover, such an infrastructure cannot even begin to be created until there is general confirmation that holographic technology can compete with other advanced recording technologies, both in recording capabilities and in cost.

It is most likely that the first commercial holographic recorders and media will be used for data-archiving purposes. By restricting initial efforts to such applications, much can be learned about holographic recording and how and where it might fit in the overall recording products industry. The general consensus opinion in Japan is that holographic recording could be developed to the point where, by sometime between 2013 and 2015, it offered sufficient advantages to compete successfully with drives and media based on magnetic tape. It remains to be seen if holography can successfully challenge the magnetic hard-disk drive in future applications.

This is not to denigrate holographic technology, or deny that it may become a very important technology in the future. Very real advances in holographic technology have been made over the past several years, both in equipment and in media, but it will take time, considerable time, to turn these advances into commercial products that can compete in performance and cost with those already established. Optimistically, holographic products could become, sometime around the middle of the next decade, the successors to the new generation of high-definition Blu-Ray and HD-DVD products about to be introduced in 2006. It is even conceivable that holographic technology could, at some distant time in the future, find applications that today are served by magnetic hard-disk drives. However, those that believe HVD is a candidate for consumer applications in the near-term have simply fallen prey to the intense public relations efforts of companies like Optware and InPhase Technologies.

There are in fact many "DVD-like" developments under study at this time; a new one seems to be announced virtually every month! Ricoh, for example, announced in last November that it had developed a new 120mm disc recording system that would have an initial storage capacity of 200GB, using write-once or rewritable media. Ricoh has been one of the leading companies in the optical disc recording business to date, developing and marketing some of the most advanced drives and media in the industry. Many researchers are still convinced that optical recording systems and media with terabytes of storage capacity can and will be eventually developed and marketed. Holographic technology is just one possibility, and while it is a very fascinating one, it will have plenty of competition as time passes, and there is no guarantee that it will prove to be the successor technology to new magnetic or any of the many optical concepts now under study.


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