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Pioneer eyes 510GB optical discs

Discs would offer 100-times the capacity of today's DVDs, if they ever arrive

Pioneer has developed a technology that could allow it to cram 510GB of data onto a disc the size of a DVD. The technology uses an electron beam to make templates from which optical discs can be stamped, says Michiko Kadoi, a company spokesperson.

While Pioneer has no immediate plans to commercialize the technology, it believes it could be used to make both recordable and read-only discs with more than 100 times the capacity of today's 4.7in DVDs. "We successfully recorded 348GB, 424GB, and 510GB on [4.7-inch] discs," Kadoi says.

As with other recent advances in optical disc technology, Pioneer's method relies on cramming data closer together to achieve a higher capacity. Today's standard DVDs have a capacity of 4.7GB. The data is stored as "pits" in the disc which can be read as ones and zeros. The pits today are spaced 740 nanometers apart, Kadoi says. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.)

A newer disc technology that came to market recently uses a blue laser, which has a shorter wavelength, to achieve about five or six times the capacity of DVDs. The shorter wavelength means the size of the pits, and the spacing between them, can be made smaller.

Pioneer's electron beam allows the spacing between the pits to be made even smaller – as little as 70 nanometers – allowing the company to make discs with a capacity of up to 510GB.

That amount of disc storage may be overkill for the consumer market, but it could be useful for the enterprise market, according to Yasusuke Suzuki, a research manager for storage at IDC Japan.

"It's very interesting, especially if they can make it available in 2006 or 2007, and the market impact could be significant," he says.

In fact, even 250GB should be enough to make the technology competitive, he says.

Pioneer's technology is more advanced than the laser technology used for newer types of optical disc formats, including HD-DVD (High Definition/High Density-DVD), Blu-ray Disc, and UDO (Ultra Density Optical), the company says.

Single-layer versions of these discs can store between 20GB and 30GB of data, while dual-layer versions store about 50GB. Several companies have roadmaps to take the technologies out to 200GB discs by adding more storage layers.

If Pioneer brings its electron-beam technology to market it will compete with Plasmon, among others, which has used blue lasers to develop UDO discs a little larger than a DVD that can store up to 30GB of data. It should be able to increase the capacity of those discs to 60GB in mid-2006, and a 120GB version could be on the market by the end of 2008, Plasmon has said.


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