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Pioneer Reveals 400 GB Optical Disc
July 7, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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There are two philosophical principles fighting each other for Internet dominance. One is net neutrality, a philosophy which dictates that all internet traffic, regardless of its size or source, should be treated fairly and equally. ISPs shouldn't force large bandwidth consumers, such as BitTorrent or Google, into a higher priced tier of service.

Conversely, there's the antithesis of net neutrality. We're seeing the beginnings of this philosophy crop up with more vigor lately, exacerbated by the growth of BitTorrent, file-sharing, and the ever increasing demand of bandwidth. Comcast has been accused of violating the principals of net neutrality by managing the upload speeds of the BitTorrent protocol, unleashing a torrent of criticism against the company. Net neutrality isn't an enforceable law however, and much of the debate surrounds whether the government or the market should decide the ultimate destiny of this principle.

Depending on which study you believe, the file-sharing community consumes anywhere from 40% to as much as 80% of all internet traffic. That traffic consumption varies during the day; during peak hours ISPs claim to see numbers close to 80%, while off peak may see something closer to the lower estimates.

As modern file-sharing gets ready to celebrate its 10th year online, P2P has changed remarkably. Napster and its millions of MP3 sharing users shared relatively small files. Depending on the quality of the MP3, the largest files consumed no more than 5-10 megabytes each. Full albums wee perhaps 60 megabytes. Even with Napster's peak population of 1.5 simultaneous users, the bandwidth drain wasn't directly detrimental to an ISP's bandwidth allotment, yet it gave a glimpse into the future.

Human nature being what it is, the ability to share MP3s gave rise to the desire to share other files. Why can I share MP3s but not AVIs? Why AVIs and not ISOs? This demand gave rise to Gnutella, FastTrack, eDonkey2000 and eventually, the BitTorrent protocol. Accompanying this demand was cheaper and fast broadband speeds. The file-sharing revolution helped fuel this demand, which in turn benefited the consumer with greater accessibility. Compared to many industrialized nations, however, the United States lags in broadband penetration, especially in rural areas.

Much like Napster offered a prelude to the current state of file-sharing, the ever growing data capacities of optical discs and hard drives indicate the bandwidth and technological needs of the future. Take for example, Pioneer's successful development of a 400 gigabyte optical disc announced today.

The optical disc uses the same optical technology as Blu-Ray, however has 16 layers of 25 gigabyte data discs. And there’s good news for those enjoy burning data (in the non-flammable sense), as the technology is writable. The prototype revealed today isn't writable, as it was used for demonstration purposes only. Writing devices will have to experience a minor industrial revolution though, as current Blu-Ray disc writers are notoriously slow. A several hour affair for a standard Blu-Ray disc will translate into a daylong event for a 400 gigabyte disc.

Since the technology behind the 400 gigabyte optical disc uses the same technology as the standard 25 gigabyte Blu-Ray, the newer technology should “maintain compatibility between the new 16-layer optical disc and the BD (Blu-Ray) discs.” Backwards compatibility in these days of rapid technological progress is increasingly important, as frequent revolutions in optical disc technology have the ability to render an otherwise expensive Blu-Disc collection obsolete in a matter of months. The press release is unclear whether the new 16 layer disc will be compatible with older players.

One major stumbling block to blowing open the high definition online trading market, with terabytes of bandwidth potential, is broadband speed. The US is rather slow compared to the Japanese market, where ~80 Megabit/sec download speeds are considered average. That’s about 10 megabytes a second, and a full 20 gigabyte Blu-Ray movie can be downloaded in about a half hour. Those fortunate enough to have a 10 Megabit connection in the US can taste a glimpse of the Internet’s potential, however, full mainstream penetration of full HD sharing is still at least a year away.

Blu-Ray isn’t a static technology. Layers can be added, and just when you thought 16 layers was enough, Pioneer, or someone else, will add some more. There’s no saturation limit to the desire to fill plastic discs with information. 4.7 gigabytes wasn’t enough, 25 gigs aren’t enough, and 400 gigs will be enough, but only for a short while. The limits of 400 gigabytes have the potential to include multiple 1080p movies, full HD TV show series, or millions of MP3s. With the entertainment industry failing to appreciably contain file-sharing and larger storage capacities encroaching on the market, the problems faced now by ISPs will pale in comparison to what’s coming.

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Technology News :: Hardware

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