Pioneer Announces 500GB Blu-ray Disc

From a technical perspective, the biggest advantage Blu-ray discs (BD) offer is more storage space--up to 25GB (for single-layer discs) or 50GB (for dual-layer discs). From a more practical standpoint, the best thing BD brings to the table is higher-quality, high-definition (HD) movies. More storage space means less data needs need to be compressed to fit on the disc--which is how we're able to get 1080p BD movies.

But what happens when Quad HDTV (3840x2160 resolution: 2160p) makes its debut in a few years? Or what if the proposed Ultra High Definition (7680x4320: 4320p) standard or something similar makes it to market? Does this mean we're back to the days of DVDs when movies had to be highly compressed just to fit on a 8.54GB (single-sided, dual-layer) disc? Will 2160p or 4320p movies need to be highly compressed to fit on 50GB BD discs? Not if Pioneer has anything to say about it...

Last month at the International Symposium on Optical Memory (ISOM) and Optical Data Storage in Hawaii, Pioneer presented research showing that a 20-layer, 500GB BD disc is feasible. This news comes on the heels of Pioneers recent demonstration of a working prototype of 16-layer, 400GB BD disc.

 Pioneer 16-layer disc (credit: Pioneer)
Even more amazing is that the Pioneer states "the multi-layered method is compatible with Blu-ray devices providing a long term future for the technology." It is not exactly clear if this means that future 500GB discs can be read by today's players or just that current production processes will be able to scale up as the technology transitions. This is was Arstechnica's take: "Since Pioneer claims the new demo involves proprietary technology, it is very unlikely current BD players can read 20-layer discs, even with new firmware. New players and drives will have to be distributed, but if the technology pans out, BD can scale to be more and more heavily multilayer for a goodly number of years."

The biggest roadblock to adding additional layers to BD discs, is that the more layers you add, the more difficult it becomes to read through the many layers without data from the different layers interfering with each other. Here is how Pioneer explaines how the new technology works, in reference to the 16-layer discs:

"For multilayer optical discs, it has been difficult to obtain clear signals from each recording layer in a stable manner due to crosstalk from adjacent layers and transmission loss. Utilizing the optical disc production technology that it has developed in the DVD field, Pioneer solved these problems by, among other things, using a disc structure that can reduce crosstalk from adjacent layers, resulting in a 16-layer optical disc that can playback high-quality signals from every layer.

As for the read-out system, Pioneer achieved stability in the playback of recorded signals by employing a wide-range spherical aberration compensator and light-receiving element that can read out weak signals at a high signal-to-noise ratio in the optical pick-up mechanism. Since the optical specifications of the objective lens, such as NA (Numerical Aperture), are the same as those for the existing BD discs, it is possible to maintain compatibility between the new 16-layer optical disc and the BD discs."

Pioneer 16-layer disc; Layers 0, 8, and 15 (left to right) (credit: Pioneer)

Even if Pioneer succeeds in developing this technology, it still needs to get buy-in from the rest of the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) partners, such as Sony, Philips, and Samsung. Unless the other members of the consortium have competing technologies, however, it is likely that Pioneer's technology will be future of BD. Of course, this means we also need to keep any eye out for 2160p and 4320p HD television announcements!