Constellation 3D could be disc storage star

It may let you fit a movie on something the size of a credit card, or cram seven onto one disc, but will FMD really capture the public imagination?

Watching films, listening to music or just playing around with data files will take a significant leap forward by 2001 according to a little-known company that is packing massive storage capacity into next generation CDs.

Constellation 3D announced a tie-in with Ricoh Tuesday which should propel products based on its fluorescent multi-layer disc (FMD) technology into consumers' homes some time next year.

FMD discs hold many times more data than a standard DVD. It can do this because data is stored on multiple layers within each track, each of which can hold 4.7Gb. These layers are coated with fluorescent material. Unlike DVD discs which are often double-sided, there is no interference between layers on an FMD disc and theoretically one could store data on up to one hundred layers.

Constellation 3D plans to launch two products next year. "In September we intend to conduct a demonstration of the first digital multi-layer disc which could be used to show movies in a cinema or to store high-density television", explained senior vice president Patrick Maloney. "In October we'll demonstrate our second product, the ClearCard, which will be no thicker than a credit card and hold nearly 5Gb on each side".

The first generation of pre-recorded media will be released next summer, and Maloney revealed the release of rewritable media and drives would probably be brought forward from December 2001 to around October 2001. FMD disc capacities will range from 25G to 100Gb, and second generation media could hold 150Gb. FMD drives will also be able to read DVDs and CDs.

Maloney believes pre-recorded media will complement DVDs, thanks to their portability. "They'll be an ideal solution for people on the move. The ClearCard reader will be inexpensive, and could be included in cars and aeroplanes." He believes rewritable FMD media will replace Flash cards, and become standard in PDAs, digital cameras and phones.

However Franco de Bonis, brand manager for Creative Labs, thinks that Constellation 3D's plans are unrealistic. "Even if they are in a position to release pre-recorded media next summer, where will they get content from?" he asked. "Hollywood studios have only just come to terms with DVD. I don't think they'll be rushing to embrace another new format".

De Bonis also emphasised that it takes time for consumer habits to change, and that Constellation 3D must persuade people that they have a real need for such high-capacity media. "CD-R and CD-RW drives are now popular because their usefulness overcame the public's resistance to new technology. FMD must do the same."

Maloney accepts that those with a financial interest in DVD will look to prolong its lifetime, but he is convinced that FMD disks and ClearCard will be affordable enough to succeed. "I believe that ClearCards will initally retail at $10-$20, dropping to $5-$10. This gives a massive cost differential over Flash. FMD discs could cost around £10, making the cost-per-Gigabyte considerably less than that of DVD."

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