Skip to main content

Microsoft freakin' stored the 1978 Superman movie on a piece of glass

1978's Superman movie stored on a piece of glass with Microsoft's Project Silica
1978's Superman movie stored on a piece of glass with Microsoft's Project Silica (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft and Warner Bros. stored 1978's "Superman" on a quartz glass disc.
  • This is a proof of concept for "Project Silica."
  • Microsoft hopes to pioneer a cheaper method of long-term storage.

Microsoft showed off an impressive method of data storage today at its Ignite 2019 conference. Microsoft worked with Warner Bros. to store and retrieve the entirety of the 1978 "Superman" movie on a piece of glass. Just as impressive is the size of the glass; at 75 by 75 by 2 millimeters thick, the glass disk is "roughly the size of a drink coaster," Microsoft says.

This is a proof of concept for "Project Silica," a project at Microsoft to use a combination of laser optics and AI to store data in quartz glass. "A laser encodes data in glass by creating layers of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations at various depths and angles," Microsoft said in a blog post (opens in new tab). "Machine learning algorithms read the data back by decoding images and patterns that are created as polarized light shines through the glass."

Microsoft says Warner Bros. initially approached them to come up with new technologies to effectively store its library of films in a non-destructive way. The goal was to find a storage method that could "last hundreds of years," withstanding threats like floods and solar flares. According to Microsoft, the silica glass can survive, with data intact, through being boiled in water, baked, microwaved, demagnetized, and more.

Beyond films, Microsoft hopes that Project Silica can work as a potential storage method for the cloud, ultimately driving down the cost of long-term storage. "One big thing we wanted to eliminate is this expensive cycle of moving and rewriting data to the next generation," said Ant Rowstron, a paertner debuty lab director of Microsoft Research Cambridge. "We really want something you can put on the shelf for 50 or 100 or 1,000 years and forget about until you need it."

For now, Warner Bros. sees Project Silica as a potentially effective way for preserving its vast catalog of films and television. "If we can take the digital representation of those pixels and put it on a medium like silica and read it back off exactly as it was when it came out of the camera, we've done our preservation job to the very best of our ability. That's what I love about this," said Brad Collar, Warner Bros. senior vice president of global archives and media engineering.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

9 Comments
  • 3D scan and store a "moment" with this tech, then later playback using Holoportation... neat!
  • I love the idea of storing content that lasts like this, but I feel like we're missing some important details. Glass breaks. So what if your data can handle heat, water, and microwave, if it can't handle drops any more than an teenager's iPhone? Also, if it has a shelf-life of hundreds of years, who is to say the technology will be able to read from it? I can't even read my old 1980's 20MB hard drive since none of the interfaces work with a computer from 2000.
  • "We really want something you can put on the shelf for 50 or 100 or 1,000 years and forget about until you need it." The latter part of that sentence made me chuckle, as of course person would forget where they put it after 1,000 of years... as after all said person would be pushing up daisies 😅.
  • What resolution was it stored in, VHS or 4K, and in 1000 years who will have the gear to decode it again even if they wanted to?
  • I don't think this is meant for consumers, and companies using the technology will have no problem retaining that technology for as long as needed.
  • I just got back from 2922 and it still works, although they did misplace it for 500 years.I guess they forgot about it.
  • Just a thought. Glass particles flow albeit very very slowly. Just look at 80-100 year old windows in old houses. Sure microsoft might be using better glass, but how much distortion until it is unreadable? I'd love to hear how they solved that. Nevermind. Just fact checked myself and discovered flowing glass is a myth. Back to your regularly scheduled comment section.
  • So, its a square DVD?
  • This reminds me of Star Trek. In Star Trek, for portability vast amounts of information was stored on isolinear chips and data rods which essentially were glass-like storage mediums. This looks like a step in making that fiction reality.