Physical film media, 4K Blu-ray, and the potential of the 1TB disc

Share this Article:

John Moore wonders whether the movie world needs just one more physical format, and looks at a potential option – the 1TB disc. 


Try three issues of Film Stories magazine – for just £1: right here!

Whether 4K UHD Blu-ray may end up being the last physical format for distributing movies has long been a topic for discussion among film fans and frequenters of AV forums. The convenience of streaming has certainly eaten into the appetite for discs and giving up the space they take up in our homes. However, could a new format, or a new display standard, push us towards just one last iteration?

Over the past months, tech publications have been covering the work of Folio Photonics, an Ohio-based company that recently announced it had been granted patents for innovations in optical disc storage. These innovations, it is claimed, could see affordable optical discs that can each hold up to 1TB of information come to market on a relatively short timeline.

By way of comparison, that is something like 10x the capacity of the most capacious current 4K UHD Blu-rays, and something in the region of 4x the (totally theoretical) capacity of any potential 8K disc that mayor may not be on the horizon.Of course, no such format yet exists beyond a drawing board – despite the seeming enthusiasm of screen manufacturers to push us towards higher pixel counts in our living rooms.

For its part, Folio apparently has plans to bring its product out in cartridges comprising ten such discs (thus a 10TB capacity) to market in 2024.

According to reports, its advances are centred around the number of physical layers that can be placed on existing physical disc dimensions. Way back in the mists of the times we now know as the ’90s, the original DVD format was a single layer, allowing around 4.7GB of storage, with the shift to the (now-defunct) HD-DVD and (victorious) Blu-ray technologies leveraging improvements in laser wavelength, track spacing, spin speed, and compression technology to allow more storage per layer – which, when twinned with multi-layer architectures, got us to where we are today.

Current 4K UHD Blu-ray discs offer up to three such layers of accessible information (holding a max of 100GB), but Folio claims its advances will allow up to 16 discrete layers of information to exist on a disc simultaneously for a combined storage capacity maxing out at 1TB.

Initially, the market for any such new product would appear to be in the long-term archiving of data for business. It has been said that the new technology –designed for ‘Write Once Read Many’ applications – could bring the price of storage down below $5 per TB, around a fifth of the current price of equivalent hard drive capacity (though that is, of course, dynamic and rewritable).

Stock image of a DVD player with inserted disc and remote

This would make them ideal for long-term storage of large amounts of digital information. This will be especially true if the media is proven to have a similar life-expectancy as good-quality, properly stored DVD-R (c. 100 years) and rewritable Blu-rays (up to 50 years). This would be perfect for keepers of large media archives, which are especially storage hungry. It offers the potential for storing around a hundred 4K movies on a single cart, which would obviously appeal to some.

Manufactured Blu-rays and DVDs offer nowhere near as long a projected life-span, however: most predictions for the discs we have on our shelves max out at the 20 year mark. Mileage may vary, of course, and hard drive life is finite too.

While the need for such a system is perhaps somewhat esoteric, there is potential for it to be licensed and parlayed into something more commercial for media distribution at some point in the future. A large driver for this would be the ever increasing demands for data capacity that would come from the take-up of larger screen sizes and pixel counts in our living rooms and beyond, adoption of higher frame rates, or an explosion in VR media.

While the last of those is outside of our wheelhouse, the idea that Folio’s technology could be employed to bring us 8K/60 frames per second movies on disc definitely isn’t.

Without knowing more about the details of Folio’s proprietary tech, it’s impossible to know if that’s possible, but it would be easy to see such a large capacity archival format would be of interest to enthusiasts – many of whom are expressing their dismay at media disappearing and migrating between streaming services, and espousing the need to own any media you don’t wish to see disappear from your screens at the whim of a new board of directors.

Another driver would be that TV manufacturers have an almost insatiable lust to sell early adopters shiny new things. 8K TVs have been a thing for a while, but the chicken and egg conundrum is always at play. It’s perfectly valid to ask ‘why should we invest in any new format that has hardly any media to take advantage of its attributes beyond showroom show-reels?’

At the moment, 4K is far from standard across streaming services, and many people are still struggling with straining infrastructure in their neighbourhoods that simply cannot support the data transfer rates required for it  consistently. That makes 8K streaming distribution purely experimental and extremely rare (YouTube is the only major platform currently supporting it). Amid the different approaches to bitrates and encoding across the streaming market, users still can be heard bemoaning the use of compression and the quality they receive even at ostensibly 4K resolutions from some services.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Chris Pratt as Starlord and Dave Bautista as Drax in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 was one of the first films shot on an 8K camera.

8K screens generally utilise a pixel resolution of 7680 x 4320 – which amounts to 8x standard HD, and 4x the number of pixels of 4K. This makes them, to all intents and purposes, the bleeding edge of current screen technology. It is a standard that has led graphics hardware firms Nvidia and AMD to express that, even in close-to-the-screen usage typical of gamers, 8K is about as high a resolution as the human can perceive and that 16K resolutions would be a fruitless task in that application.

With its propensity for lower resolutions (and certainly lower frame rates) than gamers require, and the fact movie-watchers generally sit much further away from the screen, you could extrapolate from that opinion to a point that movies are already close to being the limit of their demands with 4K. And you’d probably be right – especially as for many people, screen size is limited by their physical living space, and they have no desire to be ‘immersed’ in a wall-sized picture.

Even the IMAX cinema format, which is designed specifically to provide a wider range of vision for the viewer (to around 70° from the standard average cinema viewing range of 54°), and which dedicates the design of its theatres to placing all viewers closer to the screen, currently only uses 4K digital projection even in its premium ‘with Laser’ facilities, while many other ‘standard’ IMAX screens use just 2K.

Such immersive angles in the home, where for them to be achieved viewers must be much closer to the screen, are somewhat known for causing nausea in many applications –and IMAX has been notoriously vocal in its attempts to distance its specification from any attempts to recreate the effect in the home, instead seeking to showcase the spectacle of the cinemagoing experience.

Currently, THX recommends a 36° field of view for viewing of movies, while 26° FOV is considered suitable for general viewing. This means you need something around an 80-inch screen to be at an ideal movie FOV when 9ft away – though Sony says with that size screen at 4K or 8K, you could potentially sit as close as 5ft to the screen and still get non-pixelated images – which,of course, questions whether we actually need the extra resolution.

Furthermore, while films are beginning to be shot on 8K hardware – Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 being one of the first, following James Gunn’s decision to utilise the RED Weapon 8K camera for its principal photography (a choice he justified as an artistic one during a long Facebook post defending the decision not to shoot on film) – and other films have been re-scanned or AI upscaled to 8K for remastering, this is really only for the benefit of production teams and their digital workflows rather than the end viewer at the moment.

If Folio can build its 1TB cart of discs, and bring it to market, media companies will definitely sit up and take notice – if they aren’t already (they are). However, we’re a long way from getting a new physical format in our hands (especially given the early pricing involved). Development and long-term testing are two hurdles, but the biggest battle it’s facing will be against the tech companies highly invested in seeing streaming prevail.

Certain images: BigStock

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

Related Stories

More like this