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Massive storage discs unveiled

Innovative multi-layer technology enable discs to store up to seven full length movies

At a heated press conference at the DVD Summit in Dublin Monday, a little known storage company announced aggressive plans to produce discs that look like CDs but can store up to seven full length movies -- around 140GB of data.

Constellation 3D, based in New York, is working on what it terms fluorescent multi-layer storage technology which promises to turn the world of storage on its head by spring next year. At the conference, Patrick Maloney, business development manager at Constellation 3D announced the company's plans to release two high capacity storage mediums based on the technology.

The first is a disc that will store 50Gb of data -- compared with 17.5GB on a dual-sided, two-layer DVD disk -- which Maloney believes will be used initially to store digital cinema which can used upto 30Gb. These discs will be quickly moved toward 140Gb. The second is a credit card sized product, ClearCard, capable of storing 5Gb of data, easily enough for a single movie.

Constellation 3D's Fluorescent MultilayerDisc (FMD) was made public last year, but at the DVD Summit, Maloney reiterated his company's plans to launch the technology by spring 2001. His bullish predictions for FMD met with loudly voiced concern among gathered journalists. "If this technology is so close, why have we not seen any demonstrations?" asked one.

In fact the technology has been demonstrated in Silicon Valley where the company explained how it uses several layers to store data. FMD can currently utilise ten layers, compared with just two used by a DVD. It also uses green lasers which are better suited to picking up densely packed data than red lasers, predominant in CD and DVD players. Blue lasers -- even better at increasing the read/write density of a disc, perhaps by as much as four times -- is also part of C-3D's plans, although the company concedes it may be three years down the line. C-3D claims to have demonstrated 10-layer and 20-layer discs with 660MB per layer. It estimates a cost of around $2 per disc in volume.

Maloney says the first FMD discs will transfer data at least as fast as a DVD-ROM -- 10Mbits/sec -- and will eventually reach 100Mbits/sec.

So what does this technology mean to the consumer? According to Maloney, the first applications for the discs will be in digital cinema and HDTV, although he does expect some organisations to use FMD for enterprise data storage. Further down the line, the enormous capacity of FMD is set to make DVD redundant, although attendees at the DVD Summit were less certain about its future.

"The problem with all these announcements," according to one attendee, "is all we're getting right now is hype. Where are the major players endorsing this technology?"

To date, only Japanese electronics giant Ricoh has teamed up with C-3D. The pair will create write-once, read many (WORM) drives. Maloney says there are other deals with unannounced organisations.

And while the discs are being used for high-end applications, ClearCard will be aimed squarely at consumers. With 5Gb of data small enough to fit into a wallet, the uses for the ClearCard seem limitless. Maloney predicts ClearCard will make technologies like Sony's Memory Stick redundant. To back up his claims, Maloney suggested Microsoft could release an e-book as soon as summer next year and he says he is "confident" manufacturers working with portable MP3 players will be looking at ClearCard in the coming months.

So what's the catch?

While FMD sounds like a revolution in storage, it will not work with legacy systems, so in effect, if you want to take part, you'll have to fork out for a new player fitted with a green laser. That however is the least of the new technology's problems according to Geoffrey Tully, President of Multimedia Technology Consulting in Los Angeles. Tully says he has heard it all before. "I'll believe it when I see it and not before" he says. "I think we'll all be safe counting on the future of DVD. I just don't think this technology is viable right now."

5Gb of storage on a credit card... upto 140Gb on a disc... does this technology have a future? Tell the mailroom

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