Plexiglas-like DVD to hold 1TB of data

A TeraDisc could hold up to 250,000 high-resolution pictures or 40 HD movies

At the upcoming CES conference in Las Vegas, one company plans to demonstrate the ability to store half a terabyte of data on a DVD disc that is made of a polymer similar to Plexiglas.

Israel-based Mempile said its TeraDisc DVDs will offer 1TB of storage for consumers in the next few years -- and corporations will be able to use the technology to permanently store data at a fraction of the price of spinning disk and tape, according to Dr. Beth Erez, Mempile's chief marketing officer. Today's high-definition DVDs hold a maximum of 50GB in formats such as HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

With 1TB capacity, a TeraDisc could hold up to 250,000 high-resolution photos or MP3s, or about 40 HD movies or 115 DVD movies. While that may seem like an unnecessary amount of capacity for anything but the largest professional needs, Tom Coughlin, a storage analyst at Coughlin Associates in Atascadero, Calif., said HD formats for movie distribution are already four times the current 1080-pixel resolution currently used for consumer HD retail movie distribution. Over the next 10 years, both studio and consumer HD products will multiply by 10 times the current resolution.

"If HD now is 25GB, you can easily have something that's 300GB or larger in the future. So I think we've not reached the limits of resolution that people want in their entertainment devices," Coughlin said.

Another company offering DVD storage is Cambridge, England-based Plasmon, which relies on the same blue-laser technology used by Blu-ray and HD DVD. Plasmon's technology, called Ultra-Density Optical (UDO technology) can write up to 60GB on a proprietary DVD format platter for corporate data archive use. Plasmon sells automated libraries, which can store terabytes of data. Pricing varies, but Computerworld found a 60GB UDO platter for US$60 on Pricegrabber.com. Plasmon's road map envisions 240GB discs, and it offers drives for use in automated libraries and stand-alone drives for desktops. The DVDs are available in both first-generation 30GB and second-generation 60GB models.

Similarly, TDK is working on next-generation Blu-ray Disc technology that will offer up to 200GB on a DVD platter.

Mempile's DVD drives will initially retail for between US$3,000 and US$4,000, and a 700GB platter -- the first model expected out around 2011 -- will sell for US$30, according to a Mempile spokeswoman. Until now, Mempile had demonstrated writing and reading data on 100 layers within a .6mm thick substrate material that in total can hold 500GB. The company plans to begin retailing its product next year. Over the next three years, the company expects to increase the disc's thickness to the industry DVD standard of 1.2mm, which will allow it to record 5GB on each of 200 layers, spaced 5 microns apart, for a total of 1TB of capacity. According to a company white paper, the technology road map calls for a 5TB DVD "a few years down the road."

Unlike HD DVDs, which use blue lasers to record and read data off a reflective surface on top of a polymer substrate, Mempile's TeraDisc drives use more powerful red-laser technology to write and read. The Mempile drive has two lasers, one that tracks and one that reads and writes. The drive uses a CD-like system for tracking data in the substrate. Erez said his company's technology writes bits at the molecular level, changing the color of florescent molecules in the Plexiglas-like material to record the data.

Erez said traditional HD DVD technology, which reflects light back to an optical reader, causes signal deterioration and background noise, where writing and reading through a clear substrate offers a cleaner signal that is more efficient for data transfer. "We have no noise in looking at the 200th layer or the second layer or the 10th," Erez said.

Erez said the TeraDisc technology can also be used for network-based backup for archive purposes. Mempile is manufacturing the TeraDisc technology using polymers produced by chemical developer Arkema, which also produces hoses and gaskets for cars and polyethylene packaging for foods, among other things.

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Lucas Mearian

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