Chapter 3

Optical Storage Technology

Sadik C. Esener


Optical data storage, which once appeared to be a failing technology in the marketplace, is quickly finding its way into homes and offices with the multimedia revolution. It has become one of the important enabling technologies fusing together the entertainment and computing industries. Although the basic concepts for optical storage were first proposed in the United States in the 1960s, over the last decade Japan has clearly pulled ahead in terms of development and production. In fact, optical storage developments are now fueling Japan's commitment to multimedia services and the underlying optoelectronics technologies for the twenty-first century. Optical storage R&D has contributed significantly to establishment of an optoelectronics infrastructure in Japan, an infrastructure now available for further development of optoelectronic components for the coming information age.

In view of the important role optical storage is likely to play in the future, it may be critical for the U.S. data storage and optoelectronics industries to design a catch-up strategy. To determine whether the United States should reenter the optical storage business, an area virtually forgotten during the 1980s, important questions must be addressed:

  1. Are the performance trends of optical storage devices posing any threats to the U.S.-dominated magnetic data storage markets?
  2. Are there any emerging applications where optical storage can open up new markets and initiate new profitable business areas?
  3. Is optical storage a key product enabling the overall establishment of a powerful production-oriented optoelectronics industry ?
  4. Are there any areas in optical storage uniquely pursued in the United States that can be utilized to rebuild a competitive industry?

In the past, most U.S. industrial policymakers based their R&D strategies for data storage on the tenet that optical storage, because of its long access times, would not be a significant threat to magnetic storage. Today, however, the latter three questions concerning the economic potential of optical storage have gained more importance than the question of whether optical storage is an immediate threat to the magnetic data storage industry. It was with the aim of shedding some light on questions concerning the benefits of optical storage that the JTEC panel studied Japan's optical storage industry. The panel concentrated on the relationships between Japan's optical storage programs and its multimedia thrust in particular, and on its optoelectronics technology thrust in general.

This chapter provides an overview of optical storage systems, outlining key performance- limiting components; it then describes the evolution of the optical storage market and summarizes the current and planned optical storage research and development activities in Japan, including such new "killer" applications as digital video storage; finally, it discusses some emerging optical storage technologies. Optical storage work in Japan is briefly compared to that in the United States in order to establish areas, particularly in the long term, that potentially need better focus in this country.

Published: February 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian