Holographic storage ships next month. The technology was in the works for decades before becoming a reality. Every now and then I read about something and go "wow - that's the future!". I remember when I was a kid in the 80's and my day telling me about computer storage and memory doubling nearly every six months. He also told me "someday you'll be able to carry your 30 albums or your entire record collection on a small postage stamp sized chip in your pocket." It seemed like something out of the movies back then, and yet my 4GB SD Flash card for my digital camera can hold about 1,000 songs which I guess is about 75-80 CD's (and it's about the size of a postage stamp).

We've all seen a holograph in a sci-fi movie. A holograph is a projected image that, if you moved around it, would actually have perspective form different angles. A holograph is a true "3D image". So, how do you turn a holograph into storage? Technically a holograph IS storage, because it stores information about the image to be projected. A hologram uses 2 laser beams. A reference and illumination beam create an interference pattern on photo sensitive media. Shine a laser on that reference pattern and get an image in 3D - simple as that. Robin Harris brings up to good points in that article, the first being that a small fraction of the reference data can reconstruct the entire 3D images (you just can't move as far around it). This means that unlike a CD or DVD, if the photo sensitive media is scratched it doesn't (completely) destroy the data. Imagine data that can "reconstruct itself" from the remaining bits. His other point was that the amount of storage is just about limitless. By changing the reference point and illumination of the beams different holographs can be produced - so hundreds (or more) could be stored in the exact same space on the media.

Oh - did I mention the fact that photographic media has a lifespan of over 100 years, so holographic storage has the longest lifespan of any media to date. The company that created this holographic storage technology is "InPhase" and the first units will be shipped for $18,000 next month. One disk costs $180 and stores 300GB.

Why do we care? For the same reason that both CD and DVD players were thousands when they first came out. This is the future of technology. Movie studios with long term storage needs will gladly pay $18,000 for this device, but as the prices drop I think that this kind of technology will be something that consumers need. You can buy a half-terabyte drive at your local Wal-Mart now for $100. I think it's great to be able to back up all of our digital pictures and music on an external drive for our home network. But as time goes on I will need multiple ones, and eventually some will fail - and eventually I'll lose some really cherished memories. I think that's why a lot of people I know print out so many digital pictures on photo paper - they know that if somehow the digital copy is lost, the printed version should last a lifetime. If InPhase eventually created a consumer version holographic storage drive, wouldn't you buy one? I mean come on, you could store you family digital photos knowing that the media would be good up to 100 years. I know of no other storage technology other than printed photos themselves that could give you that kind of piece of mind.

Think about the industry uses this could bring. Movie theaters could ship out their blockbusters to the theaters on these disks knowing the quality wouldn't diminish no matter how many times they were rented out. Web hosts could practically offer "uncorruptable backups". You may not know this, but your local cable company usually has movies "downloaded" on their local server for the video "on demand" services you can watch. With holographic storage they could store tens of thousands of movies for you to watch, and not just hundreds. Unbelievable amounts of data could be stored in black boxes of planes, trains, and automobiles. You could possibly take your entire entertainment system from your living room to your car on one disk. Entire textbooks could begin to be stored on disk cartridges to be read in standard readers and books in schools and universities would not only be cheaper, but the quality of the content would never diminish (just the hardware readers to view them).

So that's why I think holographic storage is a future BluRay killer. How many years will that be? I don't know. It took 20 years for holographic storage to become a real piece of hardware you could buy. I don't think that it will be 20 more years before what I envision comes true, but it's certainly possible within the next 5-10. But you never know, something might just come along that's even better than this! Read Robin Harris' report on Holographic Storage at c|Net.

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