Sony and Panasonic have announced that they are teaming up to produce a next-generation writeable optical format that will boost storage capacities to an impressive 300GB within the next two years.
Currently, the state of the art in mainstream optical storage is Blu-ray. Favoured for film distribution, the format allows for up to 50.1GB to be stored in a disc no larger than a CD. The BDXL format, which has not yet gained mainstream traction, expands this to 128GB for a write-once disc or 100GB for a rewritable disc, but lacks compatibility with existing Blu-ray devices.
Sony and Panasonic are looking to surpass Blu-ray, rather than expand it as with BDXL, with the announcement that a recordable optical disc with a storage capacity of at least 300GB will be produced by the end of 2015 - representing a three-fold boost in capacity over BDXL rewriteable discs.
Both companies certainly have a track record in developing optical disc technologies: Sony and Panasonic have both produced numerous Blu-ray products, while earlier efforts include some of the first Compact Disc systems and Sony's ill-fated MiniDisc. More recently, the two companies have been looking to using optical discs for archival purposes: Sony's XDCAM storage system, released last year, uses a series of 25GB-capacity discs in a 12-disc cartridge to offer up to 300GB; Panasonic's LB-DM9, meanwhile, launched this year with a 20.8mm-thick magazine holding 12 100GB BDXL discs and room for 90 magazines in the system for overall storage of 180TB at speeds of up to 216MB/s.
It's there that the first hitch in the plan becomes apparent: both Sony and Panasonic are targeting a 2015 production timescale for the 300GB format, but will be concentrating on the lucrative enterprise end of the market. As a result, it is likely that the first products to come out of the partnership will be high-end archive systems rather than home-user burners or retail-ready pressable discs.
That's a shame, because the need for high capacity removable storage has never been greater. Increases in the complexity of computer systems mean a corresponding jump in the storage capacity required: as graphics cards get more powerful, textures get more complex to support higher-resolution display devices; as digital cameras increase the resolution of their sensors, the space required to store images also increases; and with the current push towards affordable Ultra HD - also known as 4K - displays continues, there's going to be a need for a high-capacity storage format for video too.
That's not to say that Sony and Panasonic's new format - which has yet to be detailed, beyond offering increased storage capacities in what is hoped to be the same physical format as current Blu-ray, DVD and CD optical discs - won't make it to the consumer level at some point, of course; merely that it won't be arriving in 2015.