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Small company chases big holographic storage

InPhase aims for 300Mbpsi

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Tiny, privately funded, InPhase Technology is on the brink of replacing film tape with holographic storage in the broadcasting industries, offering densities beyond anything currently seen in other archival storage.

It is already working with industry giants like Hitachi, Sony, Sanyo, HP, IBM, Toshiba, Samsung and Matsushita and it says that by 2008 it will use the same technology to revolutionize mobile phone storage with postage stamp-sized storage platforms, holding from 2Gb to 20Gb.

This week at the IBC conference in Amsterdam it put the finishing touches to its first product after five years of research, with the selection of a Cypress Semiconductor CMOS camera chip which can read out 500 frames of uncompressed film a second.

The resulting InPhase Tapestry archival drive will hold 300 gigabytes of data with a transfer rate of 20 Megabytes a second in a single 5.25 inch storage cartridge, complete with RFID identifiers. This will be a write-once drive, but later there will be read-write versions of the system which should go up to 800Gb and eventually 1.6 TB levels.

The company has solved the puzzle of how to create an all polymer storage layer fixed between two poly carbonate substrates, using no metallized layer such as used in DVD storage. The outcome is that every major company doing serious experimenting with holographic storage around the world, uses the InPhase media. The Tapestry drive will hit the market next autumn.

So far InPhase has managed only to outstrip the storage density of existing disk drives. Perpendicular recording on disk drives, where the magnetic cell is written straight down into the surface, rather than strung across it, will take recording densities to around 240 Megabits per square inch (Mbpsi) from the 120 Mbpsi that disk drives are out now. But InPhase is confident of reaching 300 Mbpsi by the time its product is released.

The trick is to cross two separate lasers, and where they intersect to write in three dimensions across a 1.3 millimeter gap filled with a two chemistry photopolymer, between the substrates. The result are tiny pages of data holding 1.3 megabits, which form into books containing 80 to 130 of these pages. At the moment cheap red and green lasers are used, but Inphase will shortly move to blue lasers, working with Sony for the Tapestry product.

“When we talked to film makers about this, they got very excited. Currently to create film copies for distribution for a big Christmas film, they have to begin production in the middle of October,” said Art Rancis VP sales for InPhase. "We can do that in just a month.”

All the manufacturers that InPhase works with are likely to be better at producing these devices than InPhase, which so far has existed on just $62m of venture capital, but the company feels it needs to seed the market and that’s why it’s producing its own drive now. But the shift to offering mobile and other smaller form factor storage actually threatens Flash memory more than anything else.

A simple x, y arrangement moves the lasers to read the data and eventually read write versions of this will be available. The first of these products will come out in early 2008 and be postage stamp sized to read pre-written data. A blue laser read write drive would put 120Gb of data on a credit card sized drive, said Rancis, but would only be likely around 2015. The early read only drives would be perfect for GPS data, maps and entertainment.

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Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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