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InPhase delays holographic storage to late 2009

As GE spins own technology

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Holographic storage developer InPhase has put its first drive ship date back to late 2009. Meanwhile GE thinks it has a CD/DVD-compatible holographic technology that can be made into a commercial product.

InPhase is developing a Tapestry holographic drive which uses a $180, CD-size disc with data stored as holograms within the depths of a recording medium. The holograms store pages of data which co-exist in the same physical space and are read or written by altering the angle of the lasers. The development of the sophisticated and highly precise optics involved has delayed development consistently with the Longmont, Co, company laying off people in June this year while a last-minute development problem was sorted, and intending to ship its first drive, costing $18,000, in December this year.

Now the company has moved the first ship date back a year or so to late 2009. That means the investors behind the company have probably stumped up more cash.

InPhase sales and marketing VP Art Rancis reiterates the 3-generation roadmap, with 800GB and 1.6TB discs planned. There should be an 18-24 month interval between generations, meaning a 1.6TB Tapestry disc in late 2012 or 2013.

Meanwhile another holographic disc wannabe has popped up in the form of GE. Its Integrated Polymer Systems Lab, part of GE's Global Research unit, in Niskayuna, NY, has a layered approach to holographic storage with multiple layers in a recording medium holding individual bits, rather than pages. The initial capacity is 300GB using 21 layers, with a terabyte disc on the cards for 2012, which would use 50-100 layers.

The discs are made of polycarbonate, like CDs and DVDs and, in theory, should be readable by drives which can read CDs, DVDS and Blu-Ray discs too - if the drives ever get built. GE is looking for potential drive manufacturers to build the drives for its discs. The technological difficulties involved in finding and tracking layers with absurdly small distances between them, and doing it reliably and repeatedly in an affordable drive must be immense.

The GE concept is to have its discs used as a consumer and business archival storage medium. InPhase on the other hand is targeting archival needs in the high-end video production market, as well as looking at medical imaging and various government applications.

Optical storage seems to be all smoke and mirrors. Call/Recall, which in May this year announced that it was looking for licensees to produce its multi-layered 1TB holographic disc technology has gone quiet. Blu-ray sales have not taken off following HD-DVD's demise, with neither Apple nor Microsoft willing to climb on board. Other recent optical storage news includes Sanyo thinking it can build a 4-layer, 100GB Blu-ray optical disc drive and Plasmon having a financial restart to keep its UDO technology life support system functioning.

Building affordable and reliable high-capacity optical drives is proving exceptionally difficult. As InPhase's development difficulties have demonstrated, the disc chemistry is the easy part. ®

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