Darren Waters

A new format war?

  • Darren Waters
  • 27 Apr 09, 16:30 GMT

Readers of my Twitter feed will probably know that I've just bought some networked-attached storage to give myself 1.5 terabytes of back-up capacity.

Optical discIt turns out that I might be able to replace the small, but slightly noisy, hard drive in my living room with just three optical discs - thanks to a breakthrough in microholographic disc technology.

General Electric has announced a new optical disc that can store 500GB of data, equivalent to 100 DVDs. It's still in the labs, and there's a long way to go before it ever reaches the consumer market place, but I had to suppress a slight groan at even the thought of a new physical format on our shelves.

After enduring a painful "next generation DVD" battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray that led to blood on the carpet, many consumers have been put off replacing their existing DVD collections.

The Blu-ray brigade point to the fact that Blu-ray disc sales have doubled in the last year but the adoption of the technology is not at the same speed as DVD.

There is a feeling from some quarters that Blu-ray is an interim technology that is merely bridging the physical format and the digital delivery of content over the net.

And there's no evidence that GE's disc is being pitched as a Blu-ray rival. A disc that can hold 500GB of data, 10 times the amount on today's Blu-ray discs, is not going to find itself in HMV anytime soon.

A single GE disc could be used to package up a library of high definition movies but is there pent-up consumer demand for such an offering? I'm not so sure.

3D television and formats such as Super Hi Vision are a long way from being adopted in the mainstream and although they could be the reason we need GE's discs, many obstacles have to be overcome before this is the case.

This is why General Electric is pitching its new disc to the archive industry. Physical discs offer an alternative to hard drives and tape, and even 500GB is peanuts in the world of scientific research where petabytesof storage is needed.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry, off-topic, but your site thinks I'm someone else, and I'm not.

  • Comment number 2.

    In what situation would somebody need 500GB on a disk? i don't think this product will be aimed at the mainstream consumer, perhaps databases as another bbc artical mentioned. On another note - i haven't really picked up on the blu ray disks. Although i own a ps3 i still dont really see much difference in picture quality to justify the price jump. However that said everytime i buy a game im investing in Blu Ray.

    for the mainstream user, i think physical sales of cd's and dvd's are numbered as more and more sales are moving to online downloads. Do we really need another CD format?

  • Comment number 3.

    500GB on a "DVD", There are 1 TB drives out there for less than £70 - no degradation, or you can get a new 250GB solid state drives. General Electric seem to be wasting their time.

  • Comment number 4.

    I wonder what world these GE scientists are living in? As roofchopped noted, a 1,000 gigabyte hard disk drive can readily be purchased for under US$100 so by 2012, when this optical product may arrive, the price per gigabyte may drop by another factor of 10 making the optical product even less attractive.

  • Comment number 5.

    They may well be useful for archival, although the media will need to be shown to be highly stable.

    Also, fwiw, 1TB disks are already available from the Israeli company Mempile, with 5TB disks in development, apparently.

  • Comment number 6.

    There are certain business areas where archiving or backup to permanent media is mandatory -so these technologies will find an application almost independent of cost.

  • Comment number 7.

    There are many potential uses for such a data dense disk. One comes quickly to mind. Can you imagine, your life's medical history located on such a media. While I wasn't sure of the ability of these disks to be written to multiple times, data like trash seems to accumulate to fill voids. We will need to store Gb's, if we are to adequately maintain and personally transport our medical data. Given the complexity of image data and the truly unknown data needs of molecular genetics, 500 Gb may not be sufficient. We may need to carry multiple disks to cover our lifespan.

  • Comment number 8.

    To the posters before me... By any chance do you have a playstation 3 or praised blu-ray. As it is said, these are interim technologies. Nothing more nothing less.

  • Comment number 9.

    I started my computing life with a zx spectrum then a flopy disk of 360 kb and a hard disk of 10 mb was considered big storage. At that time there circulated a joke about how long it would take a programmer to fill a 1 Tb hard disk and the answer was 'about a month'.
    Of course a 500 Gb dvd will be wellcome i think by every one. I agree absolutly with above 'usretiredsientist'

  • Comment number 10.

    I think these discs will be very niche products or a waste of time. Flash solid state drives will be up to this capacity soon and a money no object archive project could probably use that technology now. The only purposes I can see for them are bulk archiving or moving digital movie footage to cinemas not blu-ray / DVD consumer applications. Even if consumers want discs with this much data there are better methods. Both applications could conceivably done better by hard drives & flash drive.

    My experience with optical drives has been that they are slow to load, awkward to use and suitable really as playback material. VHS may have had poorer definition but was easier to use, and if all you want to do is watch the fil the 'special features' and menus are a nuisance.

    The best archive system for digital information would be a large storage system able to compensate for media wear using RAID type techniques and automatically re-write itself on a continual schedule to prevent the sort of degradation NASA had with early Voyager data. Part of the job should be to monitor trends and update the system as new technologies come along and prevent data being lost because nobody can read the storage media.

    This is a clever development but my gut feeling is that it is a technological blind alley that will be superseded by flash type solid state systems and undercut by magnetic hard drives.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great news! I own the PS3 and some Blue Ray disks. If they can resist the calls of un-HollyWood to screw the players up - just like they did for DVD and even worse for BD then they may end up with something that could spread like wild-fire. Those things need to end up in linux boxes as standard drives, and the price per disk less then 1$.

  • Comment number 12.

    Readers of my Twitter feed will probably know that I've just bought some networked-attached storage to give myself 1.5 terabytes of back-up capacity.

    That is a lot of back-up space...

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 13.

    "A new format war?"

    Hardly, this is just another rich boys play thing, much like your 1.5Tb backup NAS Darren.

    Most people on the high street buy cheap HDDs if they want a backup medium and the cost of such high capacity DVDs will put most people off buying them because they have a very small and tight budget for their "technology needs". Something that "techy" and "well off" people such as yourself (and many others in tech journalism and the industry itself) conveniently overlook...

    So I can't see this "new format" being any different.

    The fact is that people do not want to spend x amount of money every few years to "upgrade" just to use the latest mediums, so unless these high capacity DVDs can be used in a bog standard DVD player I don't see how they will take off.

    And of course they'll be hijacked by a consortium who enforce proprietary BS in the same way they do with Blu Ray...

  • Comment number 14.

    Darren, the main article states that Blu-Ray can holds 25-50GB. This is true, but there are also Blu-Ray discs with a capacity of 100GB, 200GB and 400GB, and they too will be compatible with current blu-players.

    The Blu-Ray Association anticipite the 800GB Blu-Ray disc soon, and that is not with all 25 layers being used.

  • Comment number 15.

    As a working DJ (our numbers have been growing), my storage capacity needs for music files is endless. So 500GB can be easily filled. Not to mention the increased need of storing video and photo files amassed by obsessive digital camera usage. The need for a reliable, durable and increased digital storage is very broad and I'm not convinced harddrives are a permanent enough format.

  • Comment number 16.

    No point putting your company's data on a format that will be obsolete in < 5 years. That's why tape still lives on. It's still widely available and supported, and cheap.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Blu-ray brigade point to the fact that Blu-ray disc sales have doubled in the last year but the adoption of the technology is not at the same speed as DVD.

    There is a feeling from some quarters that Blu-ray is an interim technology that is merely bridging the physical format and the digital delivery of content over the net.

    I don't think it's even anything to do with Blu-Ray being perceived as an interim technology. I think it's more that people think DVDs are good enough for their needs, and having just amassed a library of films on DVD (possibly rebuying ones they had on VHS), there's no justification for switching to Blu-Ray just so you get a slightly better picture. You can go into a shop and get a decent film for as little as £3 in a sale these days; conversely, foreign film buffs like myself stand no chance of finding what they want on Blu-Ray, giving even less reason to switch.

    People can't afford to go switching formats any quicker than once every 10-15 years, even if the desire is there (which it isn't.)

  • Comment number 18.

    I have a PS3 and a steadily increasing library of Blue Ray films, about half of which really benefit from the higher definition format. The Bond films and Batman Dark Knight really show off the HD format, as does Kung Fu Panda. Films like Mongol & Kung Fu Hustle don't really look any different to the DVD versions. I suspect that because they're shot on film, all you're getting is higher definition grain. There's also no way I'm going to spend money on a film I've already bought just to have it in Blu-Ray. My next purchase would probably be a Blu-Ray Writer writing to 400GB disks once they become available.

  • Comment number 19.

    Panasonic have manufactured a Blu-ray disk with 16 layers on it, holding 400GB of data, this disk will be usable in any Blu-ray drive/player that is capable of receiving a firmware update, such as the PS3, ones on computers, and the better standalone players.

    The public will not stomach another physical format

    Panasonic have also said it will be possible to cram in even more layers of data, bring the potential Blu-ray capacity up to 1TB or more

  • Comment number 20.

    It doesnt matter anyway... Flash Media is the way forward. 32gb flash drives are already in the market for reasonable prices. When the technology is needed for things like games consoles, it will have advanced again.

    That's the next big storage. Discs are slowly coming to an end

  • Comment number 21.

    I still can't understand the talk of Blu-Ray being an interim format, as how exactly are downloads a better format? And the world of downloads features an infinite amount for file format wars (just look at music downloads and the normal of formats there and the incompatibility with particular players).
    The Blu-Ray market is different to the DVD market and so are the purchasers, as they simply buy certain features and are not looking at upgrading their entire collection. Most Blu-Ray owners buy both DVDs and Blu-Rays, they don't just move completely over to the new format.
    Blu-Ray isn't there to replace the whole DVD format and that is why adoption is slower (also Blu-Ray is dependent on people buying HD TVs).

  • Comment number 22.

    At last, and so much better than tape drives. This would be a very good backup solution if the error rate is low, even better if there are RW and RW discs.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think this disc will be great for the gaming industry. While few games ever take more than 10-20GB at best, if they had that much data room, they could include plenty of extra features, and much more room for much longer, more enjoyable storytelling. Also, 3D will likely be adopted by the gaming industry as a whole, mainly because of the constant search for more immersion into a game's world. While it may be years off, I figure a similar format will be used for almost everything at some point.

  • Comment number 24.

    Any mass, stable storage is welcome.

    Any one with kids who like making HD movies on their small cameras will know that disc space can vanish at an alarming speed!

    Mind you, as a composer, I use a frightening amount of disc space!


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