The storage advance, which G.E. is announcing on Monday, is just a laboratory success at this stage. The new technology must be made to work in products that can be mass-produced at affordable prices.
But optical storage experts and industry analysts who were told of the development said it held the promise of being a big step forward in digital storage with a wide range of potential uses in commercial, scientific and consumer markets.
A crucial challenge for the team, which has been working on this project since 2003, has been to find the materials and techniques so that smaller holograms reflect enough light for their data patterns to be detected and retrieved.
The recent breakthrough by the team, working at the G.E. lab in Niskayuna, N.Y., north of Albany, was a 200-fold increase in the reflective power of their holograms, putting them at the bottom range of light reflections readable by current Blu-ray machines.
“We’re in the ballpark,” said Brian Lawrence, the scientist who leads G.E.’s holographic storage program. “We’ve crossed the threshold so we’re readable.”
In G.E.’s approach, the holograms are scattered across a disc in a way that is similar to the formats used in today’s CDs, conventional DVDs and Blu-ray discs. So a player that could read microholographic storage discs could also read CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs. But holographic discs, with the technology G.E. has attained, could hold 500 gigabytes of data. Blu-ray is available in 25-gigabyte and 50-gigabyte discs, and a standard DVD holds 5 gigabytes.
Technically not likely to be used in the mainstream, but a huge step in storage media for those of us that still can't warm up to storing data on hard drives.