We love 4K Blu-rays, but scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough for optical media: A research team from Shanghai just published a research paper on Nature that explains how we can use “3D nanoscale” storage to store 200,000GB (200TB or 1.6 petabytes) on one disc. 

The technology uses a light-sensitive material called AIE-DDPR and two different optical lasers — one blue laser with a 480nm wavelength and one orange laser with a 592nm wavelength — to read the data stored on the disc. Writing data to the disc requires a green 515-nanometer laser as well as a red 639-nm laser.

While traditional storage techniques use two dimensions, the new optical technology uses three and can have up to 100 layers that could be read — that equates to a 4,000-fold increase over the 3-layer, 100GB limit that Blu-ray discs currently have. 

Best of all, the scientists say that current disc fabrication plants could be used for the new technology, and a blank disc could be created in around six minutes. 

Don’t sell your Blu-ray collection just yet 

While cinephiles might dream of the day when we might get 8K Blu-rays (something that would only require around 1TB of storage) the team from Shanghai sees the breakthrough optical media as a storage solution for big data centers that need to retain large amounts of information. 

As it stands right now, large data centers can take up a huge amount of real estate due to the current limitations of optical media — but if they could all switch to AIE-DDPR discs, they could be substantially reduced in size from roughly the size of a football stadium to the size of a room.

But movie lovers and gamers shouldn’t write the technology off yet: Min Gu, professor of optical-electrical and computer engineering at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and the paper’s lead author, believes that the new technology will be manufacturable at commercial scales. 

“It has been a 10-year effort searching for this kind of material,” Gu said to the IEEE. “The difficulty has been how the writing and reading processes affect each other in a given material — in particular, in a three-dimensional geometry.”

The search for that material is now over and Gu’s team is responsible for the breakthrough. Unfortunately, however, the discovery is coming at a time when there’s an overall decline in physical media sales.

But with spotty internet speeds all throughout the nation and some services like Amazon and Netflix hiking up their prices for access to 4K streaming, physical media is still the most consistent way for folks to unlock the potential of the best 4K TVs

Here’s hoping optical media survives long enough to see this innovation through.

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