Holographic data storage is a potential replacement technology in the area of high-capacity data storage currently dominated by magnetic and conventional optical data storage. Magnetic and optical data storage devices rely on individual bits being stored as distinct magnetic or optical changes on the surface of the recording medium. Holographic data storage overcomes this limitation by recording information throughout the volume of the medium and is capable of recording multiple images in the same area utilizing light at different angles.
Additionally, whereas magnetic and optical data storage records information a bit at a time in a linear fashion, holographic storage is capable of recording and reading millions of bits in parallel, enabling data transfer rates greater than those attained by optical storage.
Sensitivity refers to the extent of refractive index modulation produced per unit of exposure. Diffraction efficiency is proportional to the square of the index modulation times the effective thickness.
The dynamic range determines how many holograms may be multiplexed in a single volume data.
Spatial light modulators (SLM) are pixelated input devices (liquid crystal panels), used to imprint the data to be stored on the object beam.
When the information is to be retrieved or read out from the hologram, only the reference beam is necessary. The beam is sent into the material in exactly the same way as when the hologram was written. As a result of the index changes in the material that were created during writing, the beam splits into two parts. One of these parts recreates the signal beam where the information is stored. Something like a CCD camera can be used to convert this information into a more usable form.
Holograms can theoretically store one bit per cubic block the size of the wavelength of light in writing. For example, light from a helium-neon laser is red, 632.8 nm wavelength light. Using light of this wavelength, perfect holographic storage could store 4 gigabits per cubic millimetre. In practice, the data density would be much lower, for at least four reasons:
Unlike current storage technologies that record and read one data bit at a time, holographic memory writes and reads data in parallel in a single flash of light.
For two-color holographic recording, the reference and signal beams are fixed to a particular wavelength (green, red or IR) and the sensitizing/gating beam is a separate, shorter wavelength (blue or UV). The sensitizing/gating beam is used to sensitize the material before and during the recording process, while the information is recorded in the crystal via the reference and signal beams. It is shone intermittently on the crystal during the recording process for measuring the diffracted beam intensity. Readout is achieved by illumination with the reference beam alone. Hence the readout beam with a longer wavelength would not be able to excite the recombined electrons from the deep trap centers during readout, as they need the sensitizing light with shorter wavelength to erase them.
Usually, for two-color holographic recording, two different dopants are required to promote trap centers, which belong to transition metal and rare earth elements and are sensitive to certain wavelengths. By using two dopants, more trap centers would be created in the Lithium niobate crystal. Namely a shallow and a deep trap would be created. The concept now is to use the sensitizing light to excite electrons from the deep trap farther from the valence band to the conduction band and then to recombine at the shallow traps nearer to the conduction band. The reference and signal beam would then be used to excite the electrons from the shallow traps back to the deep traps. The information would hence be stored in the deep traps. Reading would be done with the reference beam since the electrons can no longer be excited out of the deep traps by the long wavelength beam.
For a doubly doped LiNbO3 crystal there exists an optimum oxidation/reduction state for desired performance. This optimum depends on the doping levels of shallow and deep traps as well as the annealing conditions for the crystal samples. This optimum state generally occurs when 95 – 98% of the deep traps are filled. In a strongly oxidized sample holograms cannot be easily recorded and the diffraction efficiency is very low. This is because the shallow trap is completely empty and the deep trap is also almost devoid of electrons. In a highly reduced sample on the other hand, the deep traps are completely filled and the shallow traps are also partially filled. This results in very good sensitivity (fast recording) and high diffraction efficiency due to the availability of electrons in the shallow traps. However during readout, all the deep traps get filled quickly and the resulting holograms reside in the shallow traps where they are totally erased by further readout. Hence after extensive readout the diffraction efficiency drops to zero and the hologram stored cannot be fixed.
The three main companies involved in developing holographic memory, as of 2002, were InPhase, Polaroid spinoff Aprilis, and Optware of Japan. Although holographic memory has been discussed since the 1960s, and has been touted for near-term commercial application at least since 2001, it has yet to convince critics that it can find a viable market. As of 2002, planned holographic products did not aim to compete head to head with hard drives, but instead to find a market niche based on virtues such as speed of access.
It is believed that Nintendo will be the first video game console maker to implement holographic data storage due to the recent uncovering of a Joint Research Agreement (a written contract, grant, or cooperative agreement entered into by two or more persons or entities for the performance of experimental, developmental, or research work in the field of the claimed invention) between InPhase and Nintendo.
Nintendo is also mentioned in the patent as a joint applicant: "... disclosure is herein made that the claimed invention was made pursuant to a Joint Research Agreement as defined in 35 U.S.C. 103 (c)(3), that was in effect on or before the date the claimed invention was made, and as a result of activities undertaken within the scope of the Joint Research Agreement, by or on the behalf of Nintendo Co., and InPhase Technologies, Inc."