Barely half a year after Blu-ray won the format war we're now being told that Pioneer is working on the next big thing, and when we say big, we really do mean it. The Japanese company has announced that it has successfully created a 400GB optical disc, similar in construction to Blu-ray.
The new discs aren't really designed for movie storage -- at least not for domestic use -- and if they were to end up being used in such a way they wouldn't play in existing machines anyway. But this new system is closely related to Blu-ray, as each of the discs' 16 layers can contain 25GB of data, the same as a single-layer Blu-ray disc.
This massive increase in storage has been made possible by better laser optics and vastly improved error correction. In order to read data through 16 layers you have to minimise the amount of 'crosstalk' between each layer, as well as have sophisticated electronics that can differentiate between signal and noise. The more layers you have, the harder this becomes, which was one of the things that prevented the 51GB HD DVD from reaching the market -- and possibly helped kill the format.
It's unclear at the moment what practical uses these discs will have, because they're designed as just read-only at the moment. We could see them being useful for TV companies and possibly even cinemas, which could use them to store movies for digital projection. If Pioneer managed to make consumer burners capable of creating these discs, it would be brilliant as a storage and backup medium, but with writable Blu-ray discs costing a small fortune, we have doubts it would be affordable.
It's possible that the Xbox 7530 and the PlayStation 2353 will use this system to provide insanely complex games in the future. With 400GB you'd easily have enough room to create the most graphically intense gaming experience known to man. Or record every episode of Big Brother ever, for repeat viewing from all the different cameras. Now there's a thought. –Ian Morris