InPhase Technologies is one step closer to bringing holographic storage drives to market. On Wednesday, the company plans to demonstrate the first fully functioning prototype of its Tapestry holographic drive, which the company expects to begin shipping next year. The drive will be demonstrated at the 2005 Storage Visions conference, being held in Las Vegas.

InPhase's holographic storage media stores data in three-dimensional holograms cut into a polymer material 1.5 mm (0.06 inch) thick that is placed between two 130 mm (5.1-inch) plastic discs. Because holographic devices are able to store data in three-dimensional "pages," they are expected to have a much larger capacity than CDs or DVDs, which store data only on the disc's surface. By 2009, InPhase hopes to be shipping drives that can store as much as 1.6TB on a single disc, she said.

Although scientists have been able to demonstrate working holographic storage discs under controlled conditions, the technology is not yet mature enough to be commercialised, said Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. "Holographic storage in general has been this sort of Star Treky science project discussion for 10 years," he said.

With the Tapestry prototype, however, InPhase has taken an important step toward commercialisation. "What InPhase was able to demonstrate was that they can write and read in order," he said. "This is what makes data usable."

InPhase built the prototype using components from a number of different companies. Tapestry includes a media cartridge developed by Hitachi Maxwell, a loading mechanism designed by ALPS Electric and a "spatial light modulator" from Displaytech, which is used to write the holographic data to disc.

Founded as a spin-off from Lucent Technologies in 2000, InPhase also uses technology developed at Bell Labs during the mid-1990s, said Liz Murphy, vice president of marketing at InPhase.

"We've developed all the electronics that manage and make all the components in the drive operate, " she said. "It has all the functions of a normal drive, and that has never existed before."

InPhase expects to begin shipping its first holographic drives by the end of 2006, Murphy said. The drives will be able to read and write, but not rewrite, data on the 130 mm discs. The company will follow those drives with a rewrite-capable product in 2007, she said. The first drives will have a 20Mbit/s data transfer rate, which means they will be able to read data much more quickly than do today's DVD drives, she added.

Tapestry initially will be marketed as an alternative to tape, but as the technology evolves, InPhase expects holographic storage to be used on a wider range of devices, Murray said. "We can make it in any form factor," she said. "Think about getting a gigabyte on something that's smaller than a postage stamp. This has the potential for fitting into handheld applications."

While the InPhase technology holds a lot of promise, it will still take time for the company to perfect its technology and convince sceptical customers that they should entrust their data to such an novel storage technique, Duplessie said. "It's going to be years and years before they truly leapfrog what existing capabilities are today."

InPhase is not the only company developing holographic storage. In August, Japan's Optware claimed to have achieved the world's first reliable recording and playback of digital movies on a holographic recording disc. Researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center are also developing holographic storage devices.