Storage no longer skin deep

Holographic technology is heading to the broadcast industry next year, and, if InPhase Technologies, the company behind the development, is to believed, it's going to go a long way toward changing the way video is archived and stored.

Dubbed Tapestry, the system uses holography to improve storage capacity and transfer speeds by recording throughout the storage disk, not just on the surface (as is done on other optical media). InPhase says $50 write-once disks will be able to record 100 GB of video, or 7.4 hours of HD material and 44 hours of standard-definition material. The drive (which has not been priced yet) will be able to transfer content at 20 MB/s.

"That's the design goal, 100 GB, and there's no compression," says Vice President of Marketing Liz Murphy. "If data is compressed going in, it stays compressed, but we aren't adding any."

Companies have been working in the area of holographic storage for years, Murphy says, but have never been able to develop a robust media that can be recorded to and read from. She says this Tapestry is it.

InPhase is a Lucent Technologies offshoot that, Murphy says, is commercializing work that has been done at Bell Labs, which has developed "two-chemistry media."

According to Murphy, single-chemistry-based developments in holographic recording haven't held up well because they aren't environmentally stable. "When you try to optimize for photo-reflectivity, you destroy the environmentally stable attributes," she explains. "But two-chemistry is very robust, and it has good manufacturing quality."

The media resembles a 51/4-inch magneto-optical disk, but that is only on the outside. In the initial design, InPhase chose to use a round disk with an enclosure. But the size of the disk could change greatly since the enclosure is not really needed.

"If you wanted to distribute content on credit-card-size media, you could do that, or on a bare disk that looks more like a DVD," Murphy adds. Capacity on the credit-card media would be around 20 GB.

The media within the enclosure is clear and 11/2 mm thick.

"It's a parallel reading and writing process rather than a serial one," says Murphy.

The electronic stream is buffered into a 1.3-MB buffer, which is then written to the disk in one laser flash. "Our goal is to basically write a stack of approximately 700 to 800 pages in one location."

Applications for the system vary, but any facility grappling with the creation of systems based on online servers and nearline and offline storage seems to be a fit. Post-production editing suites could use the disks to move material off an editing system because it can write material at 20 MB/s. Digital cinema could use it as another distribution medium. And its large storage capacity makes it suitable for nearline and offline storage needs.

"I've talked to all the major networks and the studios, and they've all been interested in it. And it has a lot of archival potential," says Murphy. "Local stations think they could use it as an on-air log device."

Tapestry also has random access and an anticipated shelf-life of 30 years. "That would really open the door in terms of how people access historical data," she says.

One caveat: The system won't be available until late 2003 or early 2004. Murphy says the company plans to speak with asset-management companies like Kasenna and Virage, as well as Sony, "given Sony's position in the marketplace."

The rollout gives some time to work out OEM deals. "We'll sign up a couple of big vendors who have brand recognition in the marketplace."

Murphy says work is already under way on the next generation, which is expected to have greater capacity and flexibility. "We've already been in some early testing of rewritability, and the results were very positive. So we're very optimistic that we'll be able to have rewritable media as well."

The system can be used for more than just video storage, but InPhase is starting with video that gets optimum performance out of the system. "Because you're writing a stack of data at a time," Murphy says, "the more data you can send it, the better off you'll be in terms of performance."

InPhase will be at NAB this year but won't be on the show floor. The company will have a demonstration suite at the Venetian, where it will demonstrate reading a 30-second video clip off a 1-inch-square piece of media.