The system, which is expected to also be compatible with DVDs and CDs, could be used by consumers as well as by professionals. A standard CD-size holographic disc could be used to store up to 200 DVDs or high-definition content. Its high capacity could also correspond to the requirements for content distribution, storing of medical records or in any other segments where storing information in bandwidth-hungry native digital format is required.
GE believes that the first Holographic system will reach the mass market in 3-4 years.
The pits and grooves of today's CDs and DVDs are imprinted onto a polycarbonate material and are read with a laser. Advancements from CDs to DVDs to new blue laser optical formats have involved using shorter wavelength lasers to read smaller marks, thus increasing the amount of stored data. But that's all going to change.
GE is abandoning the traditional two-dimensional "pits and grooves" mechanical approach and instead is working on 3D volumetric holographic storage technology using a chemical approach. GE scientists have developed specialized polycarbonate materials that chemically change when bombarded by a specific type of laser to "write" material onto the "disc." Another laser is able to "read" those chemical changes in the material to retrieve the data that has been stored. The major benefit of this approach is being able to use the entire volume of the material instead of being limited only to the visible surface area. If you would apply this new technology to a disc the size of a DVD, you could fit 200 times more data on a DVD. The other advantage is a huge increase in data retrieval speed through parallel reading schemes.
In order to build a holographic data storage system GE Global Research has made progress in the polymer chemistry, materials science, physics, optics and electrical engineering.
GE is not the only company that works on holographic storage systems. Inphase technologies has already announced its high-end "Tapestry" system are aimed at pro archives. The $18,000 machine uses 300GB disks that cost $180 apiece. Inphase has recently said that it is on track to start commercialization in late 2009.