Remember Fluorescent Multilayer Discs?

In the early 2000s, a rival to DVDs was presented at COMDEX but they never came to fruition. What happened to Fluorescent Multilayer Discs (FMDs)?

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A Fluorescent Multilayer Disc

When it comes to data storage, the project management triangle comes to mind when I think about the winners and losers.

  • VHS vs. Betamax and Laserdisc
  • CDs vs. vinyl and MiniDiscs
  • DVDs vs. VHS and FMDs
  • Blu ray vs. all of the above

“Wait, FMDs? What the hell are they?” I hear you ask.

Fluorescent Multilayer Discs (FMDs) were a type of optical disc made by Constellation 3D. FMDs use fluorescent materials to store data rather than reflective components like CDs and DVDs. As CDs and DVDs use reflection over two layers to read, write, and store its data, there are limits to how much it can do as well as issues with interference.

But with Fluorescent Multilayer Discs, the fluorescence gives the discs the same properties as 3D optical data storage, allowing for up to 100 data layers. More data layers mean more storage space and the theory was FMDs could hold up to 1TB of data compared to up to 9.4GB on a double-sided DVD.

How does it work?

Here’s what makes a Fluorescent Multilayer Disc so cool:

  1. Fill the pits of an FMD with fluorescent materials.
  2. When coherent light from the laser hits a pit, the fluorescence activates and converts the light into incoherent light of a different wavelength.
  3. FMDs are clear so the light travels through multiple layers without interference. They can also filter out laser light and reduce noise compared to DVDs and CDs.
  4. As well as being faster and of higher quality in terms of reading and writing data, you also get up to 1TB of storage. Back in 2000 that was a huge deal. Following data from mkomo.com, 1TB of hard drive storage would have cost over $10,000.

A 50GB prototype was shown at COMDEX in November 2000. But what happened? Money.

RIP Constellation 3D

Constellation 3D shut down following “a failure to receive a committed investment by a Swiss-based investor” and nobody else bailed them out. The company later filed for bankruptcy and, in 2003, D Data Inc. acquired Constellation 3D’s patent portfolio, including the FMD. They rebranded it as the Digital Multilayer Disk (DMD) probably as it sounded closer to DVD and everything was “digital” at the time.

As Digital Multilayer Disks, the format’s ambitions aren’t as lofty. They still exist but can only store between 22–32 GB of data but can potentially hold up to 100GB of data. There’s also the fact that the market was saturated for discs that could be read by red laser technology such as:

  • Blu-ray
  • HD DVD (which lost to Blu-ray)
  • Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD) (same as above)
  • Professional Disc for DATA (PDD or ProDATA) (also obsolete)

So there you have it. Even if Constellation 3D had the money to carry on in the early 2000s, I don’t think they would have succeeded. Consumers had no need for storage that big and that’s where the money was. But I love the idea of a clear fluorescent disc.

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