Japan's Optware advances holographic disc storage

While Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD technologies have yet to reach the mainstream, a Japanese company said it has made progress toward a more advanced holographic technology that may one day replace them. Optware claims to have achieved the world's first reliable recording and playback of digital movies on a holographic recording disc.

Optware plans to commercialize the technology in the first quarter of 2006 offering reader/writer players and 200G-byte HVDs (Holographic Versatile Discs) in 2006 for enterprise users. Much less expensive consumer versions could be on the market as soon as 2007, said Yasuhide Kageyama, manager of business development and marketing at Yokohama-based Optware.

The company has developed a so-called Collinear Holographic Data Storage System that uses a green 532 nanometer laser to read holographic data on a 12-centimeter disc. In the system, light from the green laser is split into two beams. Data to be recorded is encoded onto one of the beams while the other beam is used as a reference. The two beams interfere with each other inside the disc's recording layer and in this way data is stored.

Below the recording layer is a preformatted layer that stores servo data and is read by a second, red laser. This enables accurate tracking of the disc. Between the data layer and servo layer is a mirror layer, which reflects the green laser but is transparent to the red laser. It's this mirror layer that is the secret to HVD, said Kageyama, because it stops the scattering of light within the disc that could cause noise and deteriorate the signal quality.

The company is initially planning to use the technology for enterprise applications. Drives for this market will cost about US$20,000 and initially use 200G-byte HVDs, with a target cost of about US$100 per disc.

Drives for home users will cost about US$2,700, about the same as commercially available Blu-ray Disc players now. While Kageyama did not have a cost estimate of future home-use HVDs, he said that a number of Japanese, European and United States-based companies lead by Sony Corp. have expressed interest in the technology. Earlier in July 2004, Sony ordered collinear technology equipment from Optware to research and develop holographic storage technology and disc manufacture using blue lasers, according to an Optware company statement.

"Sony and some major Japanese electronics companies are studying holographic storage to replace HD-DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Sony wants to develop next-next generation storage technologies and we can say that our collinear solution is getting very popular," Kageyama said.

Future developments of the technology could take its capacity up to 1T-byte of data on 12-centimeter discs the company said.

Optware demonstrated a prototype of the system to investors and other electronics companies in early July, it said. It declined to name to companies that attended the demonstrations. It is planning to present technical details of the technology at the COST Action P8 (Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research) conference in Paris on September 16 and 17.

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